The Biden Administration took aim at Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on Thursday.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre opened her press briefing with an attack on Florida officials for pursuing the repeal of concealed carry permitting. She said an attack in the state that left three, including a Spectrum News reporter and a nine-year-old girl, dead last week was evidence the state should implement more gun restrictions, not fewer.
“The President continues to call on Congress to act on gun safety and for state officials to take action at the state level,” Jean-Pierre said. “But instead of following in the footsteps of so many other states taking commonsense action to enact state-level assault weapons ban and other gun safety measures, Republican state officials in Florida are currently leading an effort to pass a permitless concealed carry law, which would eliminate the need to get a license to carry a concealed weapon. This is the opposite of common sense gun safety.”
Jeremy Redfern, deputy press secretary for Governor DeSantis, said he didn’t have a response to the White House but noted the perpetrator would not have been allowed to carry a gun under the permitless carry proposal because of his criminal record, nor did he use a gun that would have been illegal under the president’s “assault weapons” ban proposal. He also pointed to the governor’s comments on the shooting from Monday, where he complained the suspect was not given stricter punishments for dozens of previous arrests, including eight felony arrests.
“You have to hold people accountable,” DeSantis said. “I know the state attorney in Orlando thinks that you don’t prosecute people, and that’s the way that you somehow have a better community. That does not work. And you have these people when they’ve had multiple arrests, multiple times where they could be held accountable, and you keep cycling them out into the community, you are increasing the chances that something bad could happen.”
His remarks come alongside several interviews in recent days where DeSantis has promoted gun reforms he hopes to enact this year.
“If Wall Street banks will not give a loan to someone, say in the firearm industry, that’s effectively changing the gun rights in America,” he told host Mark Levin. “They’re not getting any votes to do that. They’re not winning any elections to do that. But they’re bringing power to bear in a way that does affect public policy.”
On Monday, he told conservative radio host Dana Loesch he would sign the carry bill this session.
“There was not the appetite for them to do constitutional carry,” DeSantis said about his first term. “So, I worked with the current speaker. Last campaign, I said, ‘he’s committed; if we can get a big majority, this is gonna get done.’ So, it will get done.”
The White House’s swipe at DeSantis over guns is just the latest the Biden Administration has directed at one of the top contenders to take on the president in next year’s election. While DeSantis has not declared a run for president, he is consistently polling in first or second place among Republican primary voters in the early stages of the race. Attacks from the White House combined with the gun reforms may bolster DeSantis’s position among those voters.
Should he get in, DeSantis will have to overtake former President Donald Trump (R.) to win that race. The showdown appears to be inching closer with Trump repeatedly trashing DeSantis in rants on his personal social media site while The New York Times reports the Florida governor is planning a new tour featuring stops in key primary states, including Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire.
Passing his gun reforms could burnish DeSantis’s credentials against Trump, especially given that Florida had passed new gun restrictions shortly before DeSantis became governor–something he said at the time he would have vetoed. Both men signaled some support for so-called red flag laws in the wake of the Parkland before backing off those positions later. Trump told lawmakers in 2018 they should “take the guns first, go through due process second” when confronted with troubling behavior. Governor DeSantis told Fox13 in 2019, most mass shooters exhibit red flags, and “I think we need to identify that and do something about it.” Trump’s record also includes the unilateral implementation of the bump stock ban, which was recently ruled unconstitutional by the Firth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the appointment of two Supreme Court Justices who voted with the majority in 2022’s landmark New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen recognizing the Second Amendment protects the right to carry a gun in public.
Successfully implementing the reforms could also help DeSantis fend off other potential Republican primary challengers who have already passed pro-gun bills during their tenure. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp passed permitless carry last year in the lead-up to his re-election. Texas Governor Greg Abbott passed permitless carry and a banking bill similar to DeSantis’s proposal last year, as well as a number of other pro-gun bills.
The gun bills would also provide an even starker contrast between DeSantis and Biden in any potential general election matchup. President Biden has shunned more moderate gun-control proposals, such as universal background checks, in favor of new gun bans during his first term. House Democrats passed a ban on “assault weapons,” including the popular AR-15 rifle, at his urging shortly before losing control in the midterm elections, and Biden singled out that ban as his gun policy demand during his 2023 state of the union address–despite its waning popularity among Americans. His administration has continued to push for those reforms in the immediate aftermath of high-profile shootings like the one in Pine Hills.
“The people of Florida, who have paid a steep price for state and congressional inaction on guns, from Parkland to Pulse Nightclub to Pine Hills, deserve better,” Jean-Pierre said.
DeSantis is expected to make a trip to Iowa in the first half of March, according to The Times.