Over the weeks that followed the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, concerned residents of Florida, one of the most pro-gun states in the country, began to email their state representatives about the possibility of new nationwide restrictions on firearms. President Barack Obama had just released an ambitious proposal that included universal background checks and strict limits on ammunition magazines.
Florida has been under full Republican control since 1998, and the party there has been unstintingly loyal to the positions of the National Rifle Association. But there was no precedent for the events in Newtown, which left GOP state senators unsure how to respond to their constituents, according to documents obtained by The Trace.
On January 16, 2013, Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto, then the majority leader in the Florida Senate, sent an email to her caucus members. At their “request,” she said, “we have created Talking Points for Second Amendment/Gun Control Issues. We understand that some Senators have received form emails concerning action by President Obama to further regulate firearms. Attached is a reply template for Pro Second Amendment/Pro Gun Control messages.”
The first talking point applies to constituents who opposed new gun regulations.
Pro 2nd Amendment Response
Thank you for contacting my office regarding the important issue of Second Amendment rights. I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms. I share your concerns regarding many of the proposals being discussed in our Nation’s capitol. Many of the proposals would seek to infringe on our constitutional rights and should not be enacted.
The Florida Legislature has a long history of standing up for the Second Amendment. I will closely monitor this issue and the news from Washington; if action is needed at the state level I will carefully consider proposals in the Florida Legislature that add additional protections to our Second Amendment rights.
Again, thank you for contacting me.
The second response applies to constituents who supported new regulations.
Pro Gun Control Response
Thank you for the email, I appreciate when constituents write me to share their views.
When terrible events occur, especially in the case of children, our natural reaction is to do something immediately. We are all grieving in the wake of the Newtown tragedy and all want to find practical ways to stop something like this from occurring again. While we consider what happened, it is important to consider how our decisions today could affect our future.
The original purpose of the Second Amendment was to give citizens a means to protect themselves when under threat. We cannot claim to know the unintended consequences of weakening one of our most fundamental rights. As legislators we swore an oath to protect the Constitution, and because of that we should not support measures that impede those freedoms.
Again, thank you for contacting me.
Senator Greg Evers, a staunchly pro-gun Republican who died last year, sent the talking points to Marion Hammer, the Florida NRA lobbyist whom I profiled last week, is the most influential gun lobbyist in the country.
“Thought u might want to see,” Evers wrote. “God Bless.”
Florida Republicans have allowed the relentless pro-gun operator to become a de facto member of government.
The talking points show the extent to which Florida Republicans had absorbed Hammer’s no-compromise position on matters concerning gun regulations. In the wake of one of the most horrifying moments in modern American history, the party held steadfastly to her platform.
Now the state Legislature is considering how best to react to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, on February 14. In the final weeks of the 2018 session, as lawmakers work to pass a bill that may include modest new restrictions on firearms, like raising the minimum age from 18 to 21 to purchase rifles in the state, the talking points help explain why Republicans are unwilling to take more severe measures. On Monday, to jeers and boos, Republicans on a Senate committee blocked a bill amendment that would have banned assault rifles, while voting through a measure that would allow certain teachers in schools to be armed.