In a phone interview, Jolly excoriated lawmakers in both parties for failing to enact policies he believes can blunt gun violence, which has propelled a never-ending carousel of mass killings in Las Vegas, Orlando and now Parkland, Fla. But he also made a counterintuitive proposal for Democrats: Flank the National Rifle Association’s cash-flush lobbying efforts by seeking ties with law-enforcement groups.
“We are a broken nation tonight on the issue of guns,” Jolly said on CNN Wednesday night hours after the killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, telling host Don Lemon that the American people are “begging for leadership” from lawmakers and the White House as they debate the nation’s gun murder problem.
Jolly elaborated in an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday, saying he believes rigidity among both parties has sunk efforts to act on gun policies. “Democratic leadership have been the loudest voices on gun control but are really unwilling to consider compromise,” he said.
For instance, Jolly sponsored a 2016 bill restricting gun purchases for people on the FBI’s terrorist watch list that included a measure for a due-process hearing if purchasers felt they were wrongly denied a firearm. Jolly believed he had bipartisan support, but, he said, Democratic leadership withdrew support because elections were months away and they did not want to help pass legislation drafted by Republicans. The issue remains unresolved, he said.
The due-process component was backed by the NRA. Jolly acknowledges support from the lobbying group, which contributed $9,600 during the 2016 special election for Florida’s 13th District that drew millions of dollars from outside lobbying groups, he said. The NRA spent at least $108,000 to prevent the election of Democrat Alex Sink, who, the group said, would “curtail our freedom” if elected. Jolly narrowly won the seat.
Jolly said his consultants insisted that he join the group to appeal to more conservative voters and obtain the coveted “orange card,” a notice sent to NRA members announcing candidate endorsements. He never joined, Jolly said, because of the group’s refusal to consider how gun laws might evolve amid calls for more stringent background checks and restrictions on semiautomatic rifles, such as those used in Las Vegas and during the Pulse nightclub killings in Orlando.
“I’m more on the Bush 41 side of things,” Jolly said, referring to President George H.W. Bush’s resignation as a member of the NRA in 1995 after the group’s leadership attacked federal law enforcement. Bush wrote that the criticism “deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country.” The NRA did not return requests for comment.
Jolly offered advice to Democrats, saying they should build a coalition with law enforcement groups that align on gun regulation. Police officers are typically conservative-aligned, he said, but their dangerous jobs in a country awash in guns often translate to support for gun-policy measures and restrictions often championed by Democrats.
Bob Gualtieri, a Republican sheriff of Pinellas County, Fla., near Jolly’s former district, opposed a 2015 measure that would have allowed licensed owners to carry firearms in the open, suggesting it would complicate police responses to active-shooter situations and other tense scenarios, like bank robberies. “At a minimum, they’re going to be thrown down on the ground with a gun pointed at them — or worse,” he said, a concern raised a year later by Dallas police after a gunman killed five officers during a demonstration in which bystanders were armed with AR-15 rifles.
The statement drew sharp condemnation from the NRA, which amplified a blogger who called Gualtieri’s words “official sanction” to shoot and kill law-abiding gun owners. The episode was indicative of the intractable gun debate, Jolly explained.
“The moment there is movement on gun legislation, you hear very loudly from the NRA,” he said.
Jolly said other gun measures could be discussed with more attitudes of compromise, such as deeper background checks for purchasing semiautomatic rifles. He also said that Gualtieri told him that, at least in Florida, domestic-violence accusations are not flagged in background databases, a problem for both the victims and police responding to potentially deadly confrontations. “Police can pick up a husband on spouse abuse three times. But if the wife declines charges, the background check doesn’t see it,” he said. “So the fourth time, he buys a gun and kills her.”
Any measure that changes the law on those cases would need to include due process in cases of wrongful denials, he said.
More than half of mass shootings are linked to domestic or family violence, the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety said, including a gunman who killed more than two dozen people in Texas in November. He had been jailed for domestic abuse, but the Air Force failed to notify the FBI about his crime, which allowed him to legally purchase a firearm used to kill churchgoers outside San Antonio.