Gov. Rick Scott has become a favorite of the Florida gun lobby during the past seven years by lifting restrictions on guns, preventing doctors from asking patients about their weapons, opposing stricter background checks and cutting the cost of getting a concealed weapon license.
Scott secured backyard gun ranges, expanded a self-defense law known as “stand your ground” and allowed people without concealed weapon licenses to carry guns in emergencies like hurricane evacuations for 48 hours.
The National Rifle Association returned the favor with its highest compliment, an A-plus rating, as the NRA flooded Florida homes with millions of mailers to help Scott clinch reelection four years ago.
“Governor Scott has stood strong to protect your right of self-defense,” the mailers said. “This election is our chance to make sure it stays that way.”
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But after one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history, Florida is now at the center of an intense national debate over guns, and Scott faces accusations that his pro-gun policies helped enable the horror at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland that took the lives of 14 students and three faculty members.
Scott has consistently opposed longer waiting periods for gun purchases, but even fellow Republicans were shocked to learn that accused mass murderer Nikolas Cruz, 19, legally bought a semi-automatic assault rifle and extended magazines over the counter — even though he’s not old enough to buy a beer.
“Why on earth is there no waiting period to purchase an assault weapon?” state Rep. Bill Hager, a Boca Raton Republican, tweeted Monday. “At the very least, there should be a 30-day waiting period on these weapons.”
Former Gov. Jeb Bush tweeted that 18-year-olds should not be able to buy semi-automatic weapons, but Scott has been silent on that question.
Suddenly, the NRA’s A-plus rating looks like an albatross, a potential drag on Scott’s expected run for the U.S. Senate.
“These people who are being funded by the NRA are not going to be allowed to remain in office when midterm elections roll around,” Emma Gonzalez, a Stoneman Douglas student, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.”
“They’re going to be voted out of office.”
A day after the slaughter, Scott stood with Broward Sheriff Scott Israel and other community leaders and promised a “real conversation” about school safety and meetings with state and local leaders.
“My goal is that these meetings and conversations will help us move forward and protect our schools, our families and our students,” Scott said.
But when CNN invited Scott to appear at a town hall in Sunrise Wednesday, he said no.
With three weeks left in the legislative session, his office said, Scott is busy “meeting with state leaders to work on ways to keep Florida students safe, including school safety improvements and keeping guns away from individuals struggling with mental illness.”
By avoiding CNN, Scott also avoids his U.S. Senate opponent, Democrat Bill Nelson.
Instead, Scott will hold roundtable discussions Tuesday with educators, child welfare experts and law enforcement officials in a controlled environment more to his liking than the spontaneity of a live TV studio.
Scott also has repeatedly called for the resignation of FBI Director Christopher Wray after the agency admitted it botched a tip about Cruz that was phoned into a West Virginia call center.
The Valentine’s Day attack in Parkland, an affluent and peaceful suburb of Fort Lauderdale, is at least the third mass shooting in Florida during the tenure of Scott, who regularly says that violent crime in Florida is at a 45-year low.
After the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando that took 49 lives in June of 2016, Scott’s solution was to hire 47 more anti-terrorism experts. The gun laws, however, didn’t change.
Nothing substantive changed after five people were killed at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport more than a year ago.
The pressure on Scott could soon intensify. About 100 determined Stoneman Douglas students will descend on Florida’s Capitol this week, bringing their message of change.
The League of Women Voters, Equality Florida, the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and other groups will stage a rally on the steps of the historic Old Capitol Wednesday, demanding broader gun restrictions than Scott supports.
“He has a chance to change his legacy for the better,” said Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach. “That’s up to him.”
Scott’s office had no comment Monday on a series of proposals by the Senate that include raising the age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21 and requiring a three-day waiting period for all rifle purchases.
It also wouldn’t comment on an upcoming conference where he’s listed as a possible speaker. The NRA lists Scott as an invited speaker at its annual meeting in May in Dallas. According to the NRA’s website, the conference is “a must stop for candidates seeking the highest levels of elective office.”