With Democrats and Republicans sharply divided on the issue of gun control and gun rights, it’s little surprise that less than 24 hours after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people at a Broward County school, the issues would come up in a race for a contested open seat in the Florida Senate.
Democrat Bernie Fensterwald is running against former Rep. Ed Hooper in Senate District 16, a Pinellas-Pasco seat currently vacated by Jack Latvala‘s ignominious exit following damaging reports of sexual misconduct.
Fensterwald fired the first salvo Thursday, putting out with a news release stating that if he were elected, he would never vote to expand the use of firearms in Florida. He then blasted Hooper as a “consistent friend of the gun lobby,” and specifically called out the Clearwater Republican for voting on legislation to allow open carry, permitting guns in schools, and preempting municipalities from enacting local gun safety legislation.
Taking exception to Fensterwald’s comments, Hooper said there were occasions when he opposed the NRA during his time in the House. He also questioned the accuracy of Fensterwald’s claims regarding his support for permitting guns in schools.
In fact, in 2014 Hooper did support HB 753, a House bill to let school leaders designate certain employees to carry concealed weapons on campus. To be considered, employees would have to have a concealed weapons license and either military or law enforcement experience.
Hooper, a concealed weapon permit holder, said the solution of what happened in Parkland is not to ban guns, but to enact a plan in all schools where more than one person is armed to defend teachers and students. But he doesn’t believe students or teachers ought to be carrying concealed weapons on campus.
“It’s a terrible tragedy when it’s not safe to go to schools,” Hooper said. “But I’m also a very strong believer that if (the)s right to have a firearm is taken away, that doesn’t end stupid or craziness.” He did say he could support tightening background checks at gun shows.
Hooper, who served as a firefighter for 24 years, also took a verbal shot at Fensterwald for criticizing his public safety record.
“Mr. Fensterwald has probably not been involved in anything pertaining to any type of safety for our community or our schools, so it’s easy to sit back and throw stones,” Hooper said.
Fensterwald says he has tremendous respect for first responders, responding that while he does not have any direct experience, he’s learned a lot about them through his son, who serves as a firefighter in Fairfax County, Virginia, and on a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force that goes to natural disasters domestically and overseas.
He also emphasized that he supports the Second Amendment and has no issue with gun ownership, but wants to make sure that “certain people shouldn’t be able to have guns, certain places you shouldn’t be able to bring guns, and in certain circumstances, we shouldn’t be able to display guns.”
Shortly before publication, Hooper contacted Florida Politics, saying that he was extremely disappointed Fensterwald had opted to “make political points” so soon after the tragedy.
“Let’s let the families at least start healing and do what they have to do to get those victims taken care of before we start making political points, and I would be disappointed if I had started this. This is not the time for politics,” Hooper said. “There’ll be a day when we can have this debate.
“Today’s not the day.”