Jeb Bush on Saturday said he doubted gun control measures supported by President Barack Obama would have prevented recent tragedies, including the church massacre in South Carolina.
Instead, the former Florida governor, speaking at a town hall event in the early caucus state of Nevada, touted his record on guns as a way to balance public safety and Second Amendment rights.
“Florida is a pro-gun state. Gun violence has dropped. There’s a reason for it,” he told reporters after the event. “We created a balance that’s focused on lowering gun violence but protecting the Second Amendment, and it’s a model for many other countries and many other states because of that.”
Bush proudly touted his A+ rating with the National Rifle Association and called Florida a “freedom-loving state,” but also cited his efforts to combat crime through the “10-20-Life” law, a statute that he campaigned on and enacted as governor.
The law, which is still in place, issues a minimum 10-year sentence for anyone who pulls a gun while committing a crime, 20 years for pulling the trigger during a crime and 25 years to life for injuring or killing someone by firing a gun.
“And we advertised it in Spanish, Creole and English to make sure that people knew that if they’re going to commit gun crimes, that they were going to pay a heavy price,” he said in the town hall, adding that they saw a “dramatic reductions in gun violence.”
According to a 2013 report by the nonpartisan research arm of the Connecticut General Assembly, which looked into the law using FBI crime reporting statistics, gun violence in Florida indeed went down in the years after the law was enacted in 1999 – but it also went down across the entire country.
Separately, an Orlando Sentinel report found that only a small percentage of those charged with gun crime in Orange County from 2003 to 2007 actually received the mandatory sentence.
Bush argued that none of the gun control proposals by the Obama administration would have stopped recent mass shootings. Asked by reporters afterwards if he could specify which proposals he was talking about, he repeated, “all the ones.”
“Every one of them. There’s not been a single thing that he’s proposed recently that would have changed the course of any of these tragic cases,” he said.
Following the Newtown elementary school shooting in 2012, the Obama administration, with the help of a small number of Republicans, pushed for legislation that would have applied background checks to all private sales or transfers, but the measure failed to advance in the Senate two years ago.
While Bush said Florida requires background checks for gun purchases, he told reporters that the state does not have checks for the kinds of private transactions included in the Congressional push two years ago.
He said he doesn’t think “we need to be politicizing this issue,” and in the town hall, he emphasized focusing on mental health issues as a way to address the problem.
“I’d also say going forward that these cases – that the race system in Charleston or these cases of people who are just mentally deranged – we as a society better figure out how we identify these folks long before they feel compelled to take up a gun and kill innocent people,” he said.
In his first stop to Nevada as an official candidate, having announced his presidential campaign earlier this month, the town hall in Henderson was largely a friendly event for Bush. At one point, a voter stood up and told him he’d been a Democrat for 50 years but last month switched to become a registered Republican. Bush approached the voter and gave him a hug.
While he faced no confrontational questions at the event, a small group of pro-immigration protesters with signs waited for Bush outside, standing near reporters who were anticipating a small press conference. Bush’s campaign then moved reporters inside where the candidate answered questions.
Bush pledged to return to the early caucus state “a lot,” not only for the Republican nominating contest, but because Nevada is a swing state in the general election.
He acknowledged that the Republican nominee won’t be able to win Democratic strongholds like New York and California next November, but he thinks Republicans can expand the map to win Nevada, Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
“I’m going to do this to win,” he said to applause during the town hall. “And I want your support.”
That will require campaigning in places where Republicans don’t traditionally go, he said, and appealing to groups like Latino voters, repeating a message he often gives. This time, however, he tried using a gambling term to get across his message.
“If we don’t try to broaden out the map, we’re going to have to win with an inside straight, to use a Vegas term. Inside straight flush or whatever. It’s just not going to happen. I’m not a big gambler so I don’t know any gambling … Does that sound stupid when you say that?” he asked, to laughs. “You’ll teach me about that later.”