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Florida's 'red flag' law, 'constitutional carry' top issues in GOP primary race for SD2

Grand Old Party Guns Bay County GOP.jpg
Valerie Crowder
Bay County Republican Party volunteers say one of their members created bumper stickers featuring Gov. Ron DeSantis with a rifle to encourage people to vote.

The issue of gun rights is on the minds of Republicans in Bay County as they get ready to choose their candidates in next month’s primary races.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has promised to sign “constitutional carry” legislation, allowing people to openly carry firearms without a permit, if Republicans in the legislature pass it. Both GOP candidates running for state Senate District 2 have promised to support it. However, they’re divided on Florida’s “red flag” law, which allows law enforcement to temporarily take away someone’s guns if they pose a “significant danger” to themselves or others.

“I am absolutely opposed to that,” said political newcomer Regina Piazza, who announced her candidacy for Senate District 2 in the spring. “And I will work just absolutely tirelessly to eliminate that.”

Piazza is facing state Rep. Jay Trumbull (R-Panama City) in the GOP primary to run for outgoing state Sen. George Gainer’s seat. Primary Election Day is on Aug. 23. The primary winner will face Democrat Carolyn Zonia in November.

District 2 covers Walton, Bay, Holmes, Washington, Calhoun and Jackson Counties and most of Okaloosa County. The district is heavily conservative, one of the reddest senate districts in the state, voting for former President Trump by more than 30 percentage points in 2020.

Some voters have taken issue with Trumbull’s vote in favor of the state’s “red flag” law. Republicans in the legislature passed the measure in 2018 in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 people dead. The law has been used thousands of times since then to keep guns out of the hands of those deemed dangerous.

Matt Gaetz DeSantis Gun Poster Bay County GOP July 2022.jpg
Valerie Crowder
A poster depicting drawings of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Pensacola) and Gov. Ron DeSantis holding a rifle is hanging up at the Bay County GOP headquarters in Panama City. Gun rights is a top issue among Republicans in the county.

“That was probably one of the worst things they ever came up with,” said Bay County GOP volunteer Tim Bruner. “Red flag law says you’re guilty until proven innocent, and to me that’s a very big thing.”

Bruner explained that the issue will influence how he votes in the upcoming primary election. “Jay Trumbull voted for that, which I am totally against,” he said. “His opponent Regina Piazza has already said that she was against that and would like to see it repealed.”

Trumbull did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Debbie Wood, who leads the Bay County GOP, says the "Second Amendment" is a top issue on Republican voters' minds in federal races, too.

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio turned off some local voters when he expressed support for "red flag" legislation, Wood said. "We've got people here that are very hell-bent on not wanting to support Rubio because of that stand."

During the recent debate between the two GOP state Senate District 2 candidates, Piazza promised to push for repealing the state’s “red flag” law if elected. Trumbull, however, didn’t address his vote in favor of the law in 2018. However, he promised to support “constitutional carry” when he was asked directly about that policy proposal.

“We have a right to assembly. We have a right to free speech. We have none of those rights without our Second Amendment,” Trumbull explained. He was asked specifically if he would sponsor a bill similar to the one that fellow Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini of Orlando filed earlier this year. Trumbull responded that if the governor’s office sends lawmakers a “constitutional carry” bill, “then I would absolutely sponsor it.”

When asked the same question, Piazza promised to lead the way in pushing for “constitutional carry” legislation if elected to the Senate.

“We will have constitutional carry in the state of Florida because we are conservatives, right?”

The National Rifle Association has given Trumbull a “B” score for his votes on gun legislation. DeSantis has endorsed Trumbull.

Republican voters, however, will have the final say next month when they pick their candidate.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.