Florida Governor Ron Desantis (R.) moved to address another issue gun-rights activists care about this week in a clear attempt to bolster his Second Amendment credentials.
He announced on Tuesday that his administration would attempt to use the Florida government’s considerable spending power to pressure big banks into continuing to do business with gun companies. Alongside the state’s top legislators, Desantis promised new legislation that would bar major financial institutions from doing business with the state government if they refuse to do business with companies or individuals over their political beliefs. He singled out how banks have tried to affect what guns are made and sold by denying services to gun companies.
The move naturally incorporates guns into Desantis’s strategy of using state power to push back against political activism by major corporations. It fits well with the governor’s overall strategy.
“This also ends up going when a bank evaluates different companies,” he said. “They’ll use things called ‘social credit scores.’ This is actually something actually more likely to find use in the CCP. It doesn’t have use in the US of A. They’re ranking you about what you’re doing to basically conform your behavior to their ideological imperatives. And that’s not something that is acceptable here in the state of Florida.”
Certainly, this use of government power to punish private companies is likely to turn off more libertarian-minded voters. But the last several years have shown most Republican voters are more interested in finding ways to combat “woke” corporate policies than the libertarian ideal of small government. Showing those voters that you’re fighting the people they believe are trying to fight them is likely to win many over.
At least, Desantis is betting on that idea.
Going after banks for dropping gun businesses isn’t the only thing Desantis is doing to boost his bonafides. He’s also committed to signing permitless carry, often called Constitutional carry, into law this year as well.
These two policies are more important to Desantis’s chances in a potential Republican presidential primary than it may seem at first glance. Florida has a reputation for being pro-gun. It’s often called the “gunshine state.”
However, the most recent significant gun reforms came in 2018 when state Republicans passed new restrictions in the wake of the Parkland shooting. At a time when other red states have been repealing most of their restrictions, Florida still has a waiting period for gun purchases and bans on AR-15s for anyone under 21 years old.
It is among the last states where Republicans have total control of the state government that still requires a permit for concealed carry.
Now, Desantis hasn’t added significant restrictions as governor. But he hasn’t removed any to this point either. His recent quote on supporting permitless carry sums up how he’s approached the issue with little urgency.
“Basically, this was something that I’ve always supported,” DeSantis said, according to The Tampa Bay Times. “The last two years, it was not necessarily a priority for the legislative leadership. But we’ve been talking about it, and he’s (Renner’s) pledged publicly that’s moving forward, and it’ll be something that will be done in the regular session.”
Alongside a recent misstep in trying to quietly ban guns from one of his speaking events, this lack of accomplishments leaves him vulnerable to potential competitors who’ve acted more aggressively. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R.) got permitless carry through ahead of his reelection last year. Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R.) did permitless carry, a banking law similar to what Desantis is proposing, and a slate of other novel gun-rights reforms too.
Either would have space to go after Desantis on guns. That is… if they run.
Former President Donald Trump (R.), who is already in the race, has more of a mixed record on guns. He didn’t get much done legislatively on firearms. He has spoken to the NRA every year since 2015 but has also expressed openness to taking potentially dangerous people’s guns and doing due process later. He declared gun stores an essential business during the early days of the pandemic, but he also unilaterally instituted the bump stock ban, which the Fifth Circuit recently ruled is unconstitutional.
Of course, Trump also appointed two of the six Supreme Court justices who were in the majority of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen ruling. That’s easily his most significant accomplishment on guns while in office.
If Desantis is able to follow through on permitless carry and his banking proposal, it won’t put him at the top of the pro-gun Republican heap. But it will go a long way toward shoring up his right flank on guns. That will be important if he does enter the race, as everyone expects he will.