NRA puts support, firepower behind Byron Donalds in CD 19 GOP primary

The group graded all candidates, but only Donalds earned an A+.

The National Rifle Association endorsed Byron Donalds for Congress Tuesday.

“I’m honored to receive an endorsement from the NRA,” Donalds said. “I have always fought to protect law-abiding citizens’ right to defend themselves and the ones they love, even when it was not popular. “

The support could prove critical for Donalds, a top contender in the heated Republican primary in Florida’s 19th Congressional District.

While Donalds is hardly the only candidate running on a Second Amendment platform, the endorsement isn’t a huge surprise considering his legislative record. One of two lawmakers still in the running, Donalds is the only candidate who voted against a school safety and gun control package after the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018.

That legislation drew a lawsuit from the NRA, which argued against raising the gun purchasing age in Florida from 18 to 21. The bill also put a three-day waiting period on gun purchases.

Donalds alluded to those votes when announcing the endorsement.

“During my time in the Florida Legislature, I’ve seen many lawmakers work to erode the 2nd Amendment,” Donalds said.

“I am determined to defend those rights along with all other Constitutional liberties and freedoms in Congress just as I did in Florida.”

The NRA Political Victory Fund released scores for every candidate in the race.

Donalds earned the only A+ rating. The NRA PVF said that score reflects “a legislator with not only an excellent voting record on all critical NRA issues, but who has also made a vigorous effort to promote and defend the Second Amendment.”

Former Minnesota lawmaker Dan Severson received an A, described as a “solidly pro-gun candidate” with a demonstrated record supporting Second Amendment issues.

Naples businessman Casey Askar, physician William Figlesthaler and Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson received A grades as well, but the NRA notes that’s based purely on questionnaire answers as those candidates don’t have legislative records to back up their stances.

“Americans should have the right to protect themselves, their families, and their property,” Henderson said. “I am honored to receive the highest grade from the NRA, and will continue to fight for law-abiding gun owners.”

The only other sitting lawmaker among the nine running in CD 19 is House Majority Leader Dane Eagle, who took a hit to his NRA legislative grade when he supported the Parkland bill. He received a C. The NRA PVF said that is “not necessarily a passing grade” and describes “a candidate with a mixed record or positions on gun related issues, who may oppose some pro-gun positions or support some restrictive legislation.”

Notably, the other Republicans in the race — Darren Aquino, Christy McLaughlin and Daniel Kowal — all received a question mark instead of a grade. The NRA explains that means candidates “refused to answer the NRA-PVF candidate questionnaire or a candidate who has made contradictory statements or taken positions that are inconsistent with the candidate’s answers to the NRA-PVF candidate questionnaire or previous record. A rating of ‘?’ often indicates indifference, if not outright hostility, to gun owners’ and sportsmen’s rights.”

Kowal, a Collier County Sheriff’s Deputy, took issue with that assessment, and his grade has subsequently been upgraded to an ‘AQ’ instead.

He said the NRA never initially asked him to fill out a questionnaire and he did not expect the group to issue an endorsement in the primary. He contacted the organization and demanded they revisit his grade.

“I’m one of most pro-Second Amendment people you will meet in your life,” he said. “This is a total misrepresentation of who I am.”

The two Democrats running for the seat, Cindy Banyai and David Holden, received failing grades.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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