Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s aggressive push for new pro-gun laws has set him up with an opportunity to outflank former president Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary.
This week, DeSantis signed new regulations into law that prevent banks from denying loans and accounts to people for lawfully owning guns or operating gun businesses. It also bars banks that use social credit scores that factor gun ownership into lending decisions from doing business with the state government. It is the second major gun reform that DeSantis has signed into law this session.
Last month, DeSantis signed a bill eliminating permitting requirements for lawful adults over 21 to carry a concealed firearm. He made Florida the 25th state to do so and the second-largest behind Texas.
That is a remarkable turnaround for a state that had been tightening its gun laws just a few years prior in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. Florida had banned those under 21 from buying guns and instituted a “red flag” law, which temporarily seizes guns from those deemed to be a threat to themselves or others. And it came on the back of a Republican supermajority in both houses that has come into power since DeSantis became governor.
This sets up an obvious argument for DeSantis should he decide to run for president. His electability helped win him re-election by nearly 20 points and put Republicans in firm control of the levers of state government. That let him address the top priorities of the gun-rights movement and the gun industry.
Not only that, but he has not called for new gun restrictions of any kind since becoming governor.
These are all areas of significant contrast with his leading opponent Donald Trump. Trump lost the 2020 election, and losses by his top proteges cost Republicans Senate control in 2020 and 2022. He has few pro-gun legislative accomplishments to show from his time as president. And he not only endorsed stricter gun laws in the wake of the Parkland shooting–saying “take the guns first, go through due process second” in approval of “red flag” proposals–but unilaterally instituted the bump stock ban in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting. That ban has now been found unconstitutional by two federal appeals courts, including by judges Trump himself appointed.
Republican voters say these contrasts matter to them too. 66 percent of Republicans prefer a presidential candidate who “opposes any gun restrictions, according to a new CBS News/YouGov poll.” That’s second only to a candidate who “challenges woke ideas.”
All of this suggests there is an opening for DeSantis to the right of Trump on gun policy.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Trump is without a viable defense. He has consistently sought and received the support of the National Rifle Association. He signed a repeal of Obama-era regulations that sought to deny guns to some Social Security recipients. He declared gun ranges and stores essential businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
He also has a trump card in that he appointed three of the Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of instituting a new stricter test for the constitutionality of gun laws in 2022’s New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen.
That CBS News poll also shows Trump running far ahead of a potential DeSantis candidacy. 58 percent said they’d vote for Trump if the election was held today to just 22 percent for DeSantis. The Florida governor gets to 52 percent when those considering voting for DeSantis. But Trump dominates here as well, with 76 percent considering voting for the former president.
But DeSantis hasn’t even announced his candidacy yet, and actual voting is very far off.
DeSantis also isn’t the only Republican governor with a similar track record of rolling back gun restrictions. In fact, Texas Governor Greg Abbott enacted both of the gun bills DeSantis did and several more before he did it. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp also passed permitless carry shortly before being re-elected in an increasingly purple state.
Still, Trump is vulnerable on gun policy, and there’s reason to believe DeSantis is well-positioned to exploit that.