After the February shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., Gov. Rick Scott (R) was one of the first Republican politicians to cross sides on gun politics. Now, Scott could become one of the first Republican politicians post-Parkland to campaign on having changed his stance on guns.
Scott signed a gun-control bill Friday that raises the age limit for buying long rifles, among other measures. "This is a time for all of us to come together, roll up our sleeves and get it done," he said.
Scott's political advisers stress that the governor did not decide to support gun-control measures based on politics. But politics will follow him all the same if the term-limited governor decides to run for the Senate in November, which he's seriously considering doing.
So, will Scott's new views on gun control be a political pro or con? Because he's one of the first high-profile Republican politicians to face this situation, let's weigh both.
PRO for Scott: He may have neutralized any Democratic accusations that he didn't act after a deadly mass shooting.
Democrats have strongly hinted that going after Scott over Parkland will be part of their campaign strategy. At a CNN town hall the week after the shooting, his would-be Democratic opponent, Sen. Bill Nelson, repeatedly slammed Scott for not appearing.
But Scott just signed Florida's most significant gun-control package in two decades.
“He's not going to have to ride this into the fall with Bill Nelson and Democrats saying, 'Why didn't you do anything?’ ” said GOP strategist Rick Wilson, who is based in Florida.
On Friday, Nelson's official Senate office issued a tentative statement calling the legislation “a first step.” “If we really want to do something to combat gun violence, like what we saw in Parkland,” Nelson said, “we must require universal background checks on the purchase of a gun and get these assault rifles off our streets. Until we've done that, we still have a lot of work to do.”
CON for Scott: He also just signed into law a controversial proposal to arm some teachers.
Arming teachers is exactly what Scott said he didn't want to happen after Parkland.
It's an idea supported by the most extreme in the gun rights debate, such as National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre and, depending on the day, President Trump. It's so radical that it could become what this gun package is known for, rather than the relatively modest gun-control measures Scott supported.
PRO: Scott may have struck the right balance between trying to prevent future shootings and protecting the Second Amendment.
The moderate approach fits a narrative the governor tried to nurture in the lead-up to his 2014 reelection, says Steven Schale, a former top Barack Obama campaign official in Florida. “It's in the playbook for Scott, during years when he has to go on the ballot, to redefine his image as a little more moderate than his brand has been at times.”
Republican strategists think that's generally a smart play in a perennial swing state. Florida supported Trump by just a percentage point in the 2016 presidential election.
“If Rick Scott is looking to pop the steam valve and relieve the pressure on guns,” Wilson said, “he's doing the right thing.”
CON: Scott might not have gone far enough to get credit from gun-control supporters.
The No. 1 demand of the Parkland community after the shooting is to ban the weapon used, the AR-15, and similar assault-style rifles. But while this law raises the age limit for assault weapon purchases from 18 to 21, it doesn't ban them.
Gun-control activists argue that Scott is ignoring Parkland students and that he's doing too little too late. Scott, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats' campaign arm said in a statement, “spent eight years opposing every gun safety measure he could.”
If their message resonates with the Florida electorate, that could further drag down Scott in a year when polls show that voters prefer a generic Democrat to represent them in Congress over a Republican.
But was this group going to vote for Scott anyway? Gun policy is so politically divided now that the side supporting stricter laws tends to vote for Democrats.
CON: Scott has bucked the powerful NRA.
And that risks making him persona non grata to the NRA's active, typically conservative, grass-roots members in Florida.
From the NRA's perspective, raising the age limit on rifles is taking away the rights of legal, law-abiding gun owners.
“It's certainly a bit of give to the left,” Wilson acknowledged.
The NRA hasn't given any indication whether it would support Scott, after all this, in a Senate bid. The group has stayed out of competitive Senate races in the past because it didn't like the Republican running.
But, says GOP consultant Alex Conant, Scott has an eight-year record of siding with the NRA, and that may give him some leeway with its supporters. “It's likely to get a second look from some voters for whom guns are a big priority.”
PRO: Gun laws might not even be an issue come Election Day in November, which is some seven months away.
That's like a century in politics years. And that could mean whatever cons come for Scott for shifting his position on guns could melt away with time.
“It would be highly unusual for an event in February to still dominate the political discourse eight months later,” Conant said.
Actually, the timing of the election might be a con for Scott, too, Democrats say. It's possible that, come November, the independent voters he might have won over with his stance on guns will be thinking more about how much they dislike Trump. And Trump has been vocal about getting behind Scott's Senate run.
“It's hard for me to see the voters of Florida electing one of Donald Trump's most vocal champions,” Schale said, “in a year where they are trying to reject Trump. Things just get overtaken by bigger forces.”