By Tim Macy
This week, a Florida gun group launched an attack on our state director Luis Valdes and, by extension, on Gun Owners of America.
This broadside was then reprinted by a national group, as well as another state gun group in Florida.
GOA has made it a practice not to speak ill of other pro-gun groups, and so I don’t intend to do so here. At the same time, given the coordinated attacks by several groups, it’s necessary that I respond to the false allegations because there are surely many gun owners who have read the articles, and they want to hear our side of the story.
As you know, GOA is a no-compromise group, which means that we will never give politicians a pass for compromising — no matter what their party affiliation. GOA has been critical of many Florida legislators for refusing to pass substantive pro-gun bills, and ultimately, this is why we are being attacked.
One would think that suggesting there is a problem with Florida’s elected Republicans would be a no-brainer. After all, Florida has a Republican supermajority which means that Democrats have no power to stop significant pro-gun bills — if only Republicans had the will to push them.
But as I will explain below, Republican politicians have been stealthily working to undermine pro-gun bills. One such politician is Florida state Representative Cord Byrd, who has refused to bring up important pro-gun bills — such as Constitutional Carry and 2A Sanctuaries — after he had promised to do so.
This is something that Luis Valdes has pointed out. It’s information that gun owners need to know.
Sadly, the group attacking GOA gets personal and questions Luis’ motives, writing: “I understand Valdes wants to generate buzz and possibly a headline, and he’s not the first to go after a well-known member of the gun community in the hopes it will create even more of a splash.”
To the contrary, Luis was not trying to generate “buzz” or “headlines” or create a “splash.” What he is doing is holding legislators accountable who are in a position to move pro-gun legislation but refuse to do so.
Pro-gun champion in the Florida House calls out RINO Republicans
While Rep. Byrd has voiced support for Second Amendment rights, it’s also clear that he has put his promises to gun owners on hold in order to appease the Republican leadership, who simply want gun owners to go away and leave them alone. (I’ll explain this below.)
But first, it’s worth noting that Rep. Anthony Sabatini, who is the sponsor of Constitutional Carry, has been quick to point out how Republicans are killing pro-gun legislation behind closed doors. He has seen this firsthand and has not hesitated to call them out.
At a recent press conference, the media reported: “Sabatini called out his fellow Republicans, some by name … for not doing enough for gun rights.”
And in this video, Rep. Sabatini calls out the “spineless RINO Republicans” in Florida for “lying to the American people about being strong on the Second Amendment.”
Likewise, pro-gun media have noted how the Republican leadership in Tallahassee is refusing to bring up substantive, pro-gun bills like Constitutional Carry:
The state of Florida has been semi-jokingly referred to as the Gunshine State. However, they’re not nearly as pro-gun as a lot of people think. They have a long way to go to really be one of the most pro-gun states in the nation. Yet they could make a big step toward that if they were to pass constitutional carry. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much political will.
After our press conference in Tallahassee to push Constitutional Carry, pro-gun media reported: “Let’s hope the powers that be in Florida step up and listen. If not, maybe it’s time for some lawmakers to start looking for a new line of work.”
Of course, the “powers that be” are Republicans who have held a supermajority for years. This means that Democrats have NO WAY to stop Constitutional Carry…if only Republicans had the political will to pass it.
Sadly, they don’t have the will to do so. And they don’t like it when we start naming names.
The big lie: ‘We don’t have the votes’
When Republicans who don’t want to move pro-gun legislation come under fire, they complain that “their hands are tied” or that “they don’t have the votes.” This is a lie that is repeated time and time again. We hear it in Congress and in state legislatures across the country.
And incidentally, this is exactly what Texas Lt. Gov. Daniel Patrick tried to do to gun owners this year, claiming “we don’t have the votes” to pass Constitutional Carry:
“If we have the votes to pass a permitless carry bill off the Senate floor, I will move it,” Patrick said in a statement. “At this point we don’t have the votes on the floor to pass it.”
Of course, that means: “We don’t have the political will to pass Constitutional Carry.”
As you know, GOA’s team was the key force in pushing Constitutional Carry onto the Governor’s desk in Texas. And we did so over their “we can’t get your bill passed” objections. We demanded the legislature vote on the legislation — despite the Republicans’ claims that “they didn’t have the votes.”
And guess what? When push came to shove … and they forced a vote on the bill … they actually had the needed votes!
Lies and Broken Promises
In Florida, Rep. Cord Byrd was assigned to be the Committee Chair for the House’s Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee, which is a very important one since the majority of the pro-gun bills were assigned to this committee.
Rep. Byrd’s prior legislative action showed hopeful advancement for the cause of liberty in Florida. In 2018, he voted against SB 7026, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.
Otherwise known as the Parkland Gun Control bill of 2018, it was the legislation that gave Florida an under-21 purchase ban, Red Flag Gun Confiscation Orders, and other horrible pieces of gun control.
As such, in the start of the previous session, our state director, Luis Valdes, approached Rep. Byrd and asked him when he was bringing up Constitutional Carry (HB 123), the Repeal of the Parkland Gun Control (HB 6083), and other pro-gun bills. He informed Luis that it would be the middle of session.
As time went on, GOA supported Rep. Byrd’s own bill — State Preemption (HB 1409) — plus the Church Carry bill (HB 259) that Rep. Byrd co-sponsored.
One thing that the hit-piece on GOA did NOT mention is that we have been very complimentary of Rep. Byrd where appropriate. In March of this year, GOA’s Valdes stated: “I believe that Rep. Bryd is a good man. As a lawyer, he even promotes himself as a ‘Gun Lawyer’ through his law firm.”
So we praise legislators when it’s appropriate, but we also have to hold them accountable when they don’t follow through on their promises.
This is a key point. To ignore a politician’s broken promises would be akin to believing the husband who tells his wife that, despite having committed adultery, he has always been solidly committed to the marriage.
When the middle of session came, Valdes asked Rep. Byrd again where he was on bringing up the other pro-gun bills. After all, why would Rep. Byrd not want to push a bill to repeal the Parkland gun control that he voted against?
He told GOA that, “They don’t have Senate Companion Bills,” so bringing them up is a waste of time. (Sounds a lot like what we were hearing out of Texas, doesn’t it?)
Of course, Byrd’s statement was only a partial truth. Yes, they did not have companion bills. But under Florida’s legislative rules, bills do not need a companion in the other chamber to advance. The House can introduce legislation and pass it. It then advances to the Senate where they can choose to advance it or not.
And Rep. Byrd absolutely knows this. After all, Rep. Byrd has brought up other bills that did not have companion bills in the Senate (HB 411 and HB 1397). Byrd held votes on both of these non-gun related bills, and both passed favorably out of his committee, but then died in other committees.
So when he says that he can’t bring up bills for a vote that have no Senate companion bill — because that would be a waste of time — well, that’s just simply untrue.
The question that gun owners should be asking Rep. Byrd is: “Why will you bring up non-gun related bills for a vote — even when they don’t have Senate companions — but you won’t do that for substantive pro-gun bills, such as Constitutional Carry?”
Democrats push anti-gun bills, even when they don’t have sufficient votes
Consider how anti-gun Democrats at the national level push their agenda. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t wait for companion bills to be introduced in the Senate. She pushes anti-gun bills to a vote, even if she knows they’re dead in the Senate. The reason is: She wants to create momentum.
This is exactly how national Democrats got the Brady Bill passed in 1993. For several years, they pushed for votes in one chamber — even though they couldn’t get a vote in the other chamber. Nevertheless, they forced votes year after year — and it worked. Even though Senator Bob Dole could have stopped the Brady bill from passing the Senate (by objecting to a Unanimous Consent agreement), he wilted, stating that: “Let’s get the best deal we can and move on.”
The pressure campaign to generate momentum had worked. The other side wore down “our side” in the same way that General Washington wore down the British.
So to say that “bringing them up is a waste of time” is simply not true. Victory feeds upon itself — and the momentum generated by holding hearings and conducting votes is extremely valuable. Our side needs to push substantive pro-gun legislation like Constitutional Carry. We need hearings, committee votes, chamber votes, etc.
Florida: A long record of killing pro-gun legislation
In the end, state Rep. Byrd allowed Constitutional Carry to die in committee without a vote or even a hearing.
This a pattern the Republican Party of Florida has used for years — they pick a designated “blocker” to hold up gun legislation that is popular with gun owners, but which is not favored by the party establishment.
That blocker is considered electorally “safe,” is leaving the legislature anyway, or is assured of a lucrative position should harm befall them.
In prior years, there was Sen. Anitere Flores, Sen. Rene Garcia, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff, Senator John Thrasher, and Rep. Richard Corcoran, just to name a few. They all held important positions or chaired important committees and killed bills like Open Carry and Campus Carry over the past decade.
What do they all have in common? They were Republicans who originally campaigned as being pro Second Amendment, and they received endorsements and high ratings from other gun rights organizations.
The compromising by other gun groups is not a well-kept secret in Florida. Chandler Langevin, who is President of Protect the 2nd in Florida, is running for Florida House District 52.
Langevin, who also works in a legislative office in the Tallahassee House, has an inside look at what’s happening in the state capitol. And this is what he had to say about Rep. Byrd and the attack on GOA and Luis Valdes:
Thank you, Luis Valdes and Gun Owners of America/ Gun Owners of America — Florida for fighting a NO COMPROMISE fight for our 2nd Amendment rights here in Florida.
Florida Carry on the other hand would rather shill for the NRA and keep our fight for Florida’s gun rights stagnant. This is an unacceptable and cowardly approach. It will also render the organization illegitimate in any future battles for gun rights.
Let’s be perfectly clear. Cord Byrd had the opportunity to push Anthony Sabatini’s bills for Constitutional Carry, a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary State, and another bill to repeal Red Flag Laws to a committee hearing. Cord didn’t allow even a hearing, he didn’t go to the media to raise awareness. No, he killed them.
Langevin truly understands the legislative process. There is no reason that, in a state which has a Republican SUPER majority, we should not see the legislature pass important pro-gun measures like Constitutional Carry and 2A Sanctuary bills. Or at least to hold legislative hearings!
‘Old Guard’ to the grassroots: Get back in line, we know better than you!
GOA was attacked for supposedly not understanding the legislative process. More specifically, the email broadside against GOA quotes Marion Hammer (who is the head of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida) as saying:
When groups and group spokespersons, who don’t understand the legislative process, attack legislative leadership and committee chairmen who support the Second Amendment, they shoot themselves in the foot and do an enormous disservice to law-abiding gun owners.
This is quite ironic, given our success in getting Constitutional Carry passed in Texas this year. But many have reacted against these comments and blasted that statement for coming across as arrogant.
As one person responded: “Luis must’ve struck a nerve. Good. This is nothing more than a command from the ‘ruling class’ to ‘the serfs’ to get back in line and shut up — WE know what’s best for you.”
The truth of the matter is that, in Tallahassee, GOA has outperformed the group that is now attacking us by every certifiable measure. That may sound like braggadocio. But this can be verifiably proven.
For one, GOA put out as many as twenty times more email alerts than did this other group. But that’s not all.
A simple search of lobbyist records shows that GOA’s Florida director Luis Valdes was present for every gun-related hearing. And this includes his testifying on the church carry bill (HB 259) which eventually passed. However, the group behind the attack on GOA did not testify at a single gun-related hearing in the House. (See the accompanying images below.)
So in review: When it came to mobilizing the grassroots and testifying before legislators, GOA outperformed the gun organization that is now attacking us.
As suggested above, it makes me very uncomfortable to point these things out. It is not GOA’s policy to comment on what other pro-gun organizations do or don’t do. That’s their business, and they have to answer to their own members for their actions. Very often, these are well-meaning Second Amendment advocates who simply hold to a different lobbying philosophy than GOA’s.
But as I said before, when another organization takes a swipe at GOA, which has a long-record of legislative accomplishments, we owe it to our membership to answer the false allegations. Because naturally, many will have questions.
GOP Senator reveals RINOs don’t get negative criticism from 2A community
For over twenty years, the Republican Party has held a supermajority in Florida. Yet the state is falling behind in the advancement of liberty — and worse, it was Republican lawmakers who advanced gun control!
Failing to bring up pro-gun bills for a committee hearing or vote can be summed up easily: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
This describes the problem in Florida and is exactly the point made by Sen. Dennis Baxley (R) in 2019:
Republican Lawmakers don’t support pro-gun legislation because they don’t hear any negative criticism from their constituency. They take the silence of gun owners as approval.
If Florida gun groups refuse to hold compromising politicians accountable, then Sen. Baxley’s analysis becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The failure to hear criticism will result in more of the same — which means that we only get “table scraps” when it comes to gun rights.
If we are going to get Constitutional Carry enacted in Florida — or anywhere else in the country — we must demand that Republicans act to support our rights.
We want hearings … we want votes … we want the bill sent to the Governor. And if legislators refuse to do this, we must hold them accountable.
Anything short of that, as Sen. Baxley suggested, will only encourage Republicans in any state to continue ignoring the voice of pro-gun voters.
Again, Gun Owners of America does not compromise, and we will not carry water for any political party (or politician) when they compromise. The Second Amendment is apolitical, it belongs to everyone and the best way to secure that is to advance liberty.
This is GOA’s message both in Florida and across the country, and we urge all gun owners to be always vigilant in holding their elected official accountable.
Tim Macy is the Chairman of Gun Owners of America, a grassroots lobby representing more than two million gun owners nationwide.