WASHINGTON – The leader of the Senate Republican campaign arm came out against a bipartisan gun compromise on Thursday, calling the bill “soft on crime” for not permanently banning gun ownership by domestic abusers.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) criticized the bill as both too strict, because it would encourage states to enact “red flag” laws confiscating guns from dangerous people, and not strict enough, because it would allow abusive dating partners to get their guns back after five years.
“People who have been accused, tried and convicted of beating their significant other would automatically get their gun rights back after just five years,” Scott said in a statement. “I will not support soft-on-crime policies like this.”
Scott’s statement ― a likely preview of future attacks on Democrats for supporting the legislation ― is somewhat surprising, since the part of the bill addressing the so-called “boyfriend loophole” is one of its strictest provisions.
Federal law prohibits gun ownership by anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence against a spouse or someone with whom they live or share a child. However, a dating partner convicted of the same crime can keep their guns under current law.
The bipartisan bill would close the boyfriend loophole, something Democrats have long wanted to do. But as a compromise with Republicans, the proposal would allow misdemeanor-convicted dating partners to get their guns back after five years if they avoided another conviction for a violent crime.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the lead GOP negotiator on the deal, dismissed Scott’s characterization of the provision on Thursday.
“That is ridiculous,” Cornyn told HuffPost.
As governor of Florida, Scott signed into law a suite of gun restrictions following the Parkland shooting in 2018, when a 19-year-old slaughtered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School using a legally purchased assault rifle. The reforms included a red flag law allowing law enforcement or family members to petition a court for an order taking away someone’s guns if they posed an imminent threat. (Scott said the new bill’s red flag provisions would encourage states to violate gun owners’ rights, supposedly in a way that Florida doesn’t.)
Florida also raised the age for buying long guns from 18 to 21 – a reform Scott pointedly refused to endorse at the national level in the wake of two recent mass shootings by 18-year-olds in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.
But even though 19 states have laws addressing the boyfriend loophole, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, Florida doesn’t. (The state does bar domestic abusers from gun ownership if they are subject to a restraining order.)
As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Scott is in charge of efforts to get more Republicans elected to the Senate, and is part of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership team. This puts Scott at odds with his GOP colleagues.
McConnell (R-Ky.) supports the bipartisan gun bill, saying on Thursday that it would “make our country safer without making it any less free.”
Fourteen other Republicans have indicated that they would support the legislation, including several who are running for reelection this year, like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Todd Young of Indiana.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va), another member of GOP leadership who is supporting the bill, rejected the notion that it is lenient on criminals.
“I certainly am not soft on crime,” Capito said.
Democrats, meanwhile, noted that the restoration of gun rights to those convicted of domestic violence was sought by Republicans.
“It strikes me as odd and ironic to complain about a limited amount of time that we sought to broaden and Republicans sought to make shorter,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said.