Gun rights advocates win in Florida, but both sides say debate isn't over

MIAMI, Nov. 8 (UPI) — Despite a flood of gun control activism in Florida following the Feb. 14 massacre at a Parkland high school, gun rights proponents won the two state’s two biggest races in Tuesday’s election.

However, gun rights advocates are viewing the victories with caution and vow to keep fighting against well-funded gun control organizations that spend big money in Florida.

Republican Ron DeSantis beat Democratic challenger Andrew Gillum for governor and current Gov. Rick Scott holds a slight edge over incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in the Senate race, with a recount pending. Guns were an issue that drew the starkest divides between the Republican and Democratic choices, with Gillum and Nelson known for supporting gun restrictions in Florida — sometimes mockingly referred to as the “Gunshine State.”

Gillum and Nelson’s pro-gun control stances were in line with the goals of groups like March For Our Lives, an organization set up in response to the Parkland shooting, which killed 17, and Everytown for Gun Safety, which is bankrolled by billionaire gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg’s group supports candidates who are strong on gun control and spent at least $ 2 million in Florida during the midterms to support gun control candidates, including a separate $ 250,000 on Gillum alone.

“Money can buy a few votes with a bunch of ads and mailers, but gun rights voters are among the most consistent and reliable voters and they don’t need ads and mailers to be reminded,” Eric Friday, general counsel for Florida Carry, a gun rights group, told UPI. “Despite what the media and the gun banners like to claim, the fact is that people just aren’t willing to give up their civil rights.”

DeSantis and Scott won without money from the National Rifle Association, whose political action fund didn’t make any direct campaign contributions to either, according to Federal Election Commission data through Aug. 31.

The NRA is known to be relatively hands-off when it comes to campaign spending in Florida. But its coveted endorsement — both DeSantis and Scott received “A” ratings, while Gillum and Nelson were each given an “F” — can be more influential than money.

“Once again NRA members and Second Amendment supporters made a difference by showing up to the polls and voting,” NRA Political Victory Fund Chairman Chris W. Cox said in a statement congratulating DeSantis. “Today, Florida voters rejected the extreme gun control agenda backed by Michael Bloomberg and sent a clear message in support of our Second Amendment right to self-defense.”

Earlier this year, the Parkland shooting resulted in stronger gun control legislation than Floridians are used to on the state level.

In March, Scott signed a bill that raised the gun-buying age from 18 to 21 (the Parkland shooter was 19), extended wait periods for rifles and shot guns to three days and banned bump stocks.

D.J. Parten, director of legislation of Florida Gun Rights, said his group is making a “full push” to repeal what he described as “knee-jerk legislation.”

“While Republicans maintain control of the Legislature, this does not mean that there will not be further attempts to pass gun control,” Parten said. “After all, it was the Republican-controlled Legislature, led by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, that championed the largest expansion of gun control in recent Florida history earlier this year.”

Parten also pointed out that Senate President Bill Galvano, a Republican, received $ 200,000 from Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety in September.

And Friday of Florida Carry said he’s looking forward to the recount numbers in the Scott vs. Nelson recount to see how many voters chose to write-in a candidate.

“Most members of Florida Carry vote primarily on the issue of gun rights. However, with Scott, despite his NRA endorsement, I know a lot of our members couldn’t stomach the idea of voting for him after he signed that bill,” Friday said. “If the write-in numbers are high and Republicans ignore it, they do so at their own peril.”

Meanwhile, although Parkland activists lamented the results in Florida, they vowed to continue their efforts to promote candidates in favor of gun control.

“Things didn’t necessarily go our way but we know that this is the start, that it’s going to be a long road,” activist David Hogg, who was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the shooting, told The New York Times. “The Florida elections were very close, which is encouraging. For us, the loss in Florida is a call to action.”

And while the Florida results on Tuesday appear to have favored gun rights, March for Our Lives estimated that its voter outreach efforts helped lead to the largest youth voter turnout in 25 years. In addition, Everytown for Gun Safety celebrated victories elsewhere across the country, including victories by gubernatorial candidates it backed in nine states.

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