Florida Insiders Poll: Yes, the NRA is weaker, but don’t expect any new gun laws

‘Guns are always a volatile topic in the halls of the legislature,’ one Republican said.
In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. Josh Edelson  |  AP
In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. Josh Edelson | AP
Published September 20

Florida’s political class agrees: The National Riffle Association doesn’t carry the same sway as it used to. And the gun reform movement is gaining strength.

So as lawmakers begin a months-long debate on how to address gun violence, should Floridians expect a bunch of gun bills to make it to the governor’s desk?

Don’t count on it.

A vast majority of the 180-plus campaign operatives, fundraisers, political scientists and other veteran politicos recently surveyed told the Tampa Bay Times that they doubt Florida lawmakers will pass any new restrictions on firearms in the next year.

Really? But after El Paso and Dayton, state Sen. Tom Lee, the Republican asked to oversee the conversation on mass shootings, said “nothing is off the table." This week, he said strengthening background checks appears a viable option. Apparently, those in the know aren’t buying it.

“If anything, I think there will be another attempt to allows guns in churches on leased property,” one Democrat said.

The NRA is in crisis over its finances and its leadership. Reports that the organization has spent lavishly on its leader’s luxury suits and $6.5 million mansion have damaged its reputation even among supporters. About 56 percent of Florida Insiders say the organization is less powerful than it was two years ago.

One Republican said: “I wouldn’t dream of sending them a penny. The corruption at the top and money wasted on clownish acts like Dan Bongino instead of smart advocacy are infuriating. They owe America’s gun owners an apology and frankly I don’t care if they shut down. Another group will step up.”

Meanwhile, gun safety groups are growing in numbers. In Florida, they hope to flex that strength with a 2020 ballot referendum to prohibit certain semi-automatic firearms. And two-thirds of Florida Insiders agree that the movement is more powerful now. They “have greater energy and voter intensity on their side today,” a Republican said. “The reverse was true 5+ years ago.”

Despite all that, just 28 percent of Florida Insiders expect the Legislature will change gun laws. Here’s a few theories on why:

  • “The media has always overestimated the political power of the NRA," one Republican said. "It’s not the NRA’s power that’s feared among Republican politicians. It’s Republican primary voters. Republican primary voters will vote out any Republican who betrays the Second Amendment.”
  • A Democrat offered: “The fact the Parkland bill passed a few years ago with restrictions on gun sales — and no one lost because of that — is proof the NRA is a shadow of what it once was. That doesn’t mean anything will pass this year though.”
  • “The NRA has power because gun owners vote,” a Republican said. “Furthermore look at the Democrat-run cities were dozens of people are shot to death every weekend. They have no credibility on this issue.”
  • From a Democrat: “Even though the NRA is slightly wounded because of their internal scandals and the mass shootings that have taken their toll on public opinion in favor of stronger background checks, I’m skeptical that the Republican majority in the Legislature that’s strongly beholden to the NRA will do anything constructive about gun control.”
  • Said another Democrat: “Guns are always a volatile topic in the halls of the legislature. Nevertheless with the GOP is control in both chambers, nothing significant will pass to limit the rights of gun owners.”

There were some dissenting opinions. One Republican said lawmakers in his party, “must find a gun control package they can pass and sell to moderates - otherwise Democrats will paint them as in the pocket of the NRA and every other corporation.”

As for what this all means in the 2020 election, Insiders were mixed.

There’s no consensus as to whether either party would turnout in higher numbers if an assault weapon ban is on the ballot next fall. And they don’t think President Donald Trump’s response to the recent mass shootings will have much bearing on the race at all.

Which Democrat has responded best to recent violence? Three in 10 picked former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who was visibly upset by the shooting in his home state and the response to it. In last week’s debate, O’Rourke landed the biggest applause when he said, “Hell yes, we’re taking your AR-15.”

As one Republican put it: “Beto is keeping his scant chances for the nomination alive by pounding his anti-AR15 message.”

Former vice president Joe Biden scored the next highest followed by Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg. No other candidate topped 10 percent.

“Given that there are a lot of pro-gun Democrats and Independents out there,” a Republican offered, “Joe Biden is wise to have a more moderate approach to gun control.”

The Times regularly surveys some of Florida’s campaign staff, party leaders, consultants, operatives, fundraisers, prognosticators and other well-known politicos. We allow participants to weigh-in anonymously to encourage honesty from people closely involved in the political process, but we always print the name of all the participants. This month’s Florida Insiders are:

Tom Alte, Jason Altmire, Fernand Amandi, Scott Arceneaux, Dave Aronberg, Brad Ashwell, Rick Asnani, Jon M. Ausman, Roger Austin, Ryan Banfill, Christina Barker, Michael Barnett, Scott Barnhart, Patrick Baskette, Ashley Bauman, Geoffrey Becker, Alan Becker, Samuel Bell, Allan Bense, Wayne Bertsch, Taylor Biehl, Barney Bishop III, Katie Bohnett, Paul Bradshaw, matt bryan, Bob Buckhorn, Bill Bunkley, Dominic M. Calabro, Tim Canova, Al Cardenas, Betty Castor, Kevin Cate, Jill Chamberlin, Brad Coker, Mike Colodny, Hunter Conrad, Gus Corbella, Keyna Cory, Brian Crowley, Husein Cumber, Fred Cunningham, Darrick D. McGhee, Jim Davis, Mark Delegal, Richard DeNapoli, Pablo Diaz, Victor DiMaio, Anthony DiMatteo, Michael Dobson, Paula Dockery, Doc Dockery, Brett Doster, john dowless, Bob Doyle, Ryan Duffy, Pete Dunbar, Barry Edwards, Eric Eikenberg, Alia Faraj-Johnson, Peter Feaman, Mark Ferrulo, Damien Filer, Marty Fiorentino, Marty Fiorentino, Mark Foley, Kirk Fordham, Towson Fraser, Keith Frederick, Ellen Freidin, John French, Jack Furnari, Eduardo Gamarra, Wayne Garcia, Stephen Gaskill, Josh Geise, Steve Geller, Julia Gill Woodward, Susan Glickman, Brian Goff, Susan Goldstein, Alma Gonzalez, Ron Greenstein, Stephanie Grutman Zauder, ralph haben, Mike Hamby, Marion Hammer, Chris Hand, Abel Harding, Jeff Hartley, Rich Heffley, Cynthis Henderson, Max Herrle, Tyler Hudson, Erin Isaac, Aubrey Jewett, Jeff Johnson, David Johnson, Christina Johnson, Stafford Jones, Eric Jotkoff, Fred Karlinsky, Henry Kelley, Omar Khan, John Konkus, Jeff Kottkamp, Kartik Krishnaiyer, Stephanie Kunkel, Zach Learner, Jaxkie Lee, Bill Lee, Matt Lettelleir, Jack Levine, Alan Levine, Tom Lewis, Susab MacManus, Javier Manjarres, Roly Marante, Beth Matuga, Kim McDougal, Seth McKee, Kathy Mears, David Mica, Paul Mitchell, Lucy Morgan, john morgan, Janee Murphy , Ana Navarro, Pat Neal, Samuel Neimeiser, Edie Ousley, Maurizio Passariello, Alex Patton, Brandon Patty, Darryl Paulson, Jorge Pedraza, Scott Peelen, Juan Penalosa, Kirk Pepper, Evelyn Perez-Verdia, Gretchen Picotte, Ron Pierce, JC Planas, Van Poole, David Ramba, Susannah Randolph, Nan Rich, George Riley, Jim Rimes, Terrie Rizzo, Patrick Roberts, Jason Rosenberg, Sarah Rumpf, Ron Sachs, April Salter, Steve Schale, Tom Scherberger, April Schiff, Jack Seiler, Kathleen Shanahsn, Stephen Shiver, Kyle Simon, Patrick Slevin, Adam Smith, Susan Smith, Roger Stone, Amber Stoner Nunnally, Nancy Ann Texeira, Phillip Thompson, Cory Tilley, Greg C. Truax, Frank Tsamoutales, Greg Turbeville, Ryan Tyson, Christian Ulvert, Jason Unger, Matthew Van Name, Ashley Walker, Peter Wallace, Nancy Watkins, Screven Watson, Jonathan Webber, Andrew Weinstein, Mike Williams, Leslie Wimes, Jon Woodard, Zachariah Zachariah, Mark Zubaly.