The deadly shooting in Orlando over the weekend will likely bring national security and gun control to the forefront of Florida’s U.S. Senate race.
Early Sunday morning, a gunman wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun opened fire inside Pulse Orlando, a popular gay nightclub. Law enforcement officers said Sunday 50 people were killed, and another 53 were hospitalized. The shooter — identified as Omar Mateen of Port St. Lucie — was killed at the scene.
Law enforcement officials were investigating whether the shooting, which has been called the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, was an act of domestic or international terrorism.
In the hours after the shooting, U.S. Senate candidates offered their condolences and prayers, and a few gave a peek into the discussions candidates may be having in the coming weeks about their position on national security, gun control and terrorism.
“An evil act of a radical Islamic terrorist in Orlando,” said Carlos Beruff, one of five Republicans vying for his party’s nomination, said in a statement on Twitter. “Thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
In April, the Beruff said he suggested it wasn’t safe “to allow anybody from the Middle East” into the country. The comment came in response to a question about his position on Muslim immigration.
“I stand by my answer and will repeat: anyone with ties, or possible ties, to terrorism should not be allowed in the United States,” he said in a statement one day later on April 26.
Such a policy likely would have done little to stop the incident in Orlando this weekend. The shooter was born in New York, and moved to Florida with his family several years ago.
Two of the Republicans running for the seat — Rep. Ron DeSantis and Todd Wilcox — have military experience. On Sunday, neither man commented on the issue of national security, instead sending prayers and condolences to the community.
“Prayers for those impacted by the unspeakable act of terror in our hometown of Orlando,” said Wilcox in a statement on Twitter. “Holding my girls a little closer this morning.”
Said DeSantis on Twitter: “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, families and people of Orlando. Thanks to law enforcement who responded to this act of terror.”
Rep. David Jolly said the country needs to resolve “to always confront and defeat terror.”
“We join together today as a nation to pray for the Orlando victims and their loved ones,” he said in a statement. “This is our Paris. Let us resolve today to always confront and defeat terror at the hands of evil so that this may never happen again.”
Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera also sent prayers to the community. Lopez-Cantera attended a vigil with Gov. Rick Scott in Orlando on Sunday evening, according to Arek Sarkissian with the Naples Daily News.
“Our prayers are with those and their families devastated by last night’s act of terror,” said Lopez-Cantera in a tweet Sunday morning.
Republicans weren’t the only ones to weigh in Sunday. Rep. Alan Grayson, an Orlando Democrat, said commended Orlando police “for their heroic efforts to save the lives of those who could be saved.”
“Our thoughts and our hearts go out to the victims, their families and the entire Orlando community,” he said in a statement. “Words cannot express the horror, pain and sadness that we feel about this terrible loss.”
Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Jupiter Democrat, also sent his condolences to the community.
“I am devastated by the news of the shooting in Orlando. My heart goes out to the victims and all those affected by this horrifying tragedy,” he said on Twitter. “Orlando is stronger than this act of hate and evil. Thank you to our brave first responders for your selfless actions.”
While Senate candidates refrained from turning to politics on Sunday, it’s likely the incident will play into their campaign in the coming weeks. The shooting has already emerged as a topic on the national stage, with both presumptive presidential nominees weighing in.
Democrat Hillary Clinton used the shooting to push for gun control, saying the shooting “reminds us once more that weapons of war have no place on our streets.” Clinton also said the country needs to redouble its efforts “to defend our country from threats at home and abroad.”
“That means defeating international terror groups, working with allies and partners to go after them wherever they are, countering their attempts to recruit people here and everywhere, and hardening our defenses at home,” she said in a statement. “It also means refusing to be intimidated and staying true to our values.”
Republican Donald Trump used the moment to call on President Barack Obama to step down, because he refused to use the words “radical Islam” in his comments. Trump also said he predicted an incident like this would happen, and said “it is only going to get worse.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.