Florida Governor Ron DeSantis offered a seemingly contradictory position on gun rights and mental health on Sunday as he addressed the mass shooting in Maine that left nearly two dozen people dead last week.
Mr DeSantis was speaking to host Kristen Welker on NBC’s Meet the Press when he was asked to respond to a remark from the new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, arguing that access to guns was not the problem that should be addressed in the wake of the shooting that resulted in a days-long manhunt. The suspected killer was eventually found dead.
“The problem is the human heart — it’s not guns,” Mr Johnson had said.
Mr DeSantis, on questioning from Welker, replied: “Well, first of all, I think this was a very tragic thing. And, you know, my heart goes out to all the victims, and it’s truly horrific. I think, in this case, there was a medical intervention, [a] health intervention. He clearly had problems. He was involuntarily committed.”
He continued: “He would not have been somebody that would have … been a prohibited possessor based on that adjudication. So, this is, I think an, an example where clearly this is a guy, very well trained, had a lot of skills, and then went off his rocker. There was an intervention, but it wasn’t enough.”
The governor appeared to offer two conflicting views on the subject, arguing that the government should have more power to institutionalise Americans who are deemed to be a threat to themselves and/or others, while simultaneously making the assertion that red flag laws, designed to prevent such individuals from owning firearms, would be a step too far.
Presumably, Mr DeSantis does not believe that those Americans committed to mental health facilities through the power of state or federal governments should have access to firearms while they are in treatment.
“I would be more aggressive with some of those fringe people who are clearly demonstrating signs that they are a major danger to society,” he vowed.
WATCH: Gov. @RonDesantis (R-Fla.) says he'd be "more aggressive with some of those fringe people" after the mass shooting in Maine.@kwelkernbc: Officials say a red-flag law could have made a difference.
"That will be weaponized against people the government doesn't like." pic.twitter.com/BiBlBnRnTP
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) October 29, 2023
The interview illustrates well the difficult corner where Republicans now find themselves — simultaneously pushing for the government to have more power against individuals in some areas and less power in others. And unable to risk the political consequences of supporting reforms to gun legislation, the party finds itself in the wilderness when attempting to offer meaningful responses to mass shootings.
Mr DeSantis remains a candidate for the 2024 nomination, but has seen his status as a second-place contender fall off in recent months as others including Nikki Haley have gained steam. All of the lower-performing candidates, including Mr DeSantis, continue to trail frontrunner Donald Trump by as much as 40 per cent in most national polling of the race.
Republicans hoping for an alternative to Mr Trump in 2024 are optimistic that a third Trumpless primary debate in the coming weeks may shake up the race’s dynamics, though the prospect of dethroning the former president grows bleaker by the month.