The Slatest

The Florida Senate Race Is Already About Guns

And Rick Scott hasn’t even declared yet.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott. GASTON DE CARDENAS/Getty Images

It was overlooked following Wednesday’s “Teens Roast Marco Rubio” special on CNN, but that night also saw a significant development in what’s expected to be one of the most-watched Senate races in the country. Florida Gov. Rick Scott hasn’t yet declared his candidacy against Sen. Bill Nelson. But if and when he does, gun control will play a central role in it.

Much to the pleasure of the strongly pro-gun control crowd at the CNN event, Nelson mentioned his co-sponsorship of an assault weapons ban that would take some 200 specific makes off the market. He mentioned, for example, the AK-47, one of the rifles that the Parkland gunman Nikolas Cruz had recently purchased, and which Kalashnikov USA recently began assembling in Florida.

“Did you know that the state of Florida, the governor’s office, gave financial incentives for them to come into the state and manufacture?” Nelson said.

Without ever mentioning Scott by name, Nelson drew the same connection to the shooting at Stoneman Douglas.

“And did you know that the state of Florida, the governor’s office, gave financial incentives for the Colt corporation to come to Kissimmee to manufacture AR-15s— the same one that wreaked such havoc here at and that you all are suffering so terribly from?” Nelson said.

Later, when one student was pressing Rubio about why Congress didn’t change gun after previous school shootings, Nelson interjected to steer the conversation towards “Tallahassee.”

“You could ask the same question,” Nelson said, “why two years ago when 49 lives were taken in the Pulse nightclub, and nothing was done; not in Washington, not in Tallahassee, not one thing offered by the administration in Tallahassee.” Mention a failure to act in Washington, and Nelson will meet you with a failure of leadership from “the administration in Tallahassee.”

Much like Rubio, Scott is feeling the pressure to soften his posture on guns from the maximalist position of the National Rifle Association. On Friday, Nelson and state legislative leaders called for a series of gun-safety measures similar to those that Rubio opened himself to earlier this week. One, a so-called “red flag” proposal, would bar “violent or mentally ill” people from purchasing weapons. Another would raise the age of purchase for long guns from 18 to 21. Neither of those proposals are beloved by the NRA. Scott also said that he disagreed with arming teachers, and preferred to boost school security through a greater law enforcement presence.

What Scott would not do is support a ban on assault weapons. That made Nelson’s response fairly straightforward. And no, it did not give Scott partial credit for his minor infractions against the NRA.

“Students, parents and teachers across our state are demanding action—but instead of listening to them, it’s clear the governor is once again choosing to listen only to the NRA,” Nelson said in a statement. “The governor’s plan doesn’t do one thing to ensure comprehensive criminal background checks or ban assault rifles, like the AR-15. His leadership is weak and by recommending raising the age to 21 he is doing the bare minimum.”

As you might expect, certain pundits have declared Nelson’s hammering of Scott to be unseemly in a time of mourning. Here’s another way to look at it: It’s totally appropriate to attack a political opponent for a poor record on guns in the wake of a shooting if you believe that a better record might have prevented such a shooting.