U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist warned in a new TV ad that another term for Gov. Ron DeSantis could bring lax background checks for gun purchases in Florida.
“Think about what’s at stake in Florida,” Crist said in the July 14 spot, before referencing the governor’s stance on abortion and his comments to high school students who wore masks to a March press conference.
Then he moved on to guns, “Gov. Ron DeSantis…opposes any background checks on guns, even for violent criminals.”
But we wondered whether DeSantis opposed any background checks for firearm sales, including for people with a history of violent crime.
PolitiFact found no record of DeSantis speaking out against federal and state laws that require licensed gun dealers to check prospective buyers’ backgrounds.
DeSantis’ office did not answer specific questions about his view on background checks for firearm sales.
Crist’s ad lacks evidence
Like federal law, Florida law requires licensed firearms dealers to conduct criminal history checks on prospective buyers. Someone convicted of a felony is prohibited from purchasing a firearm.
Although DeSantis is a self-described “big Second Amendment guy,” PolitiFact could find no record of him condemning such statutes in Google search results or the Nexis news database.
When we asked Crist’s campaign about his claim, a spokesperson said DeSantis hasn’t expressed support for background checks for anyone, “let alone violent criminals.”
But the campaign couldn’t point to a specific statement that suggested DeSantis opposes all background checks, either. Further, DeSantis hasn’t tried to remove such measures, though it’s not clear he could.
Asked about Crist’s characterization of DeSantis’ stance, DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw said, “Florida is a law and order state. Law-abiding citizens have the right to protect themselves.”
PolitiFact found at least two occasions when DeSantis rebuffed efforts to expand background checks.
In 2020, Joe Gruters, a Republican state senator from Sarasota, introduced legislation that aimed to close the “gun show loophole.” The bill would require a background check and a three-day waiting period on private-party sales at “public places,” such as gun shows.
While it garnered the support of then-state Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the bill faced staunch opposition from the National Rifle Association, or NRA.
DeSantis, whom the NRA endorsed in the 2018 governor’s race, questioned the need for the legislation during a press conference.
“The fact of the matter is that anyone who is selling firearms is going to have to do background checks, unless it’s just a private sale,” DeSantis said. “But you’re not going to have a table at a gun show on a private sale.”
DeSantis misrepresented the “gun show loophole,” which zeroes in on unlicensed attendees who perform private firearm sales at gun shows. Gruters’ bill didn’t pass.
After the May 24, 2022, school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Democratic lawmakers in Florida called for a special session to introduce legislation to address gun violence and hoped to tackle background check expansion, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. None of Florida’s Republican legislators signed onto the effort.
In June, DeSantis criticized calls to hold a special session to address gun violence. “With all due respect to these leftists, they just want to come after your Second Amendment rights.”
But he said criminals should not bear firearms. “You focus on the criminal. You focus on the lunatic. You don’t kneecap the rights of law-abiding citizens,” DeSantis said in a June 8 press conference.
DeSantis has signaled support for ‘constitutional carry’
In lieu of gun regulation, DeSantis said April 29 that he intends to sign a bill allowing “constitutional carry,” or the permitless carry of firearms.
“We used to be a leader on the Second Amendment,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Williston, Florida. “There’s like 25 states that have already done it.”
Twenty-five states, including Alabama, Idaho, Georgia and Texas, no longer require residents to obtain a permit from a law enforcement agency to carry a concealed gun. Florida is one of the more restrictive states when dictating how people can carry firearms, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Under existing state law, people who wish to carry hidden guns in public must obtain a “concealed carry license” from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which requires passing a fingerprint-based background check.
Floridians are generally barred from purchasing guns under state or federal law if they have been convicted of felonies or domestic violence misdemeanors. But concealed license applicants may also be denied under Florida law if they have been convicted of other violent misdemeanors.
A permitless carry law wouldn’t change federal law, which requires licensed gun sellers to check buyers’ backgrounds. Private sellers without federal licenses wouldn’t have to meet the same requirement for background checks.
Giffords Law Center, a gun control advocacy group with offices in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., told PolitiFact that a permitless carry law could allow people who dodged background checks through private sales to carry guns in public.
“The law would likely make people convicted of violent misdemeanors newly eligible to legally carry firearms in public spaces and also make it easier for people with felony convictions to do so,” said Ari Freilich, state policy director at Giffords Law Center.
Crist said DeSantis “opposes any background checks on guns, even for violent criminals.”
That’s misleading. PolitiFact found no record of DeSantis opposing existing federal and state laws that require licensed gun dealers to check prospective buyers’ backgrounds. But we did find DeSantis speaking out against criminals possessing firearms.
However, he hasn’t supported efforts to expand the criminal background check requirement to include gun sales by unlicensed sellers. DeSantis also promised to sign a “constitutional carry” bill. If passed, the law may allow people who evaded background checks through private sales to carry firearms publicly.
Crist’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.