1. Opinion

PolitiFact Florida: Rick Scott's misguided claim that Bill Nelson has done nothing on gun control

Gov. Rick Scott, left, is expected to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson for his Senate seat.
Published Mar. 4, 2018

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson criticized Gov. Rick Scott for not appearing at the CNN town hall after the Parkland shooting.

Days later at a news conference where Scott announced a proposal for $450 million in school security funding, a reporter asked Scott to respond to Nelson's criticism. Scott, a Republican, is widely expected to challenge Nelson, a Democrat, in the 2018 election.

"Bill Nelson is a career politician," said Scott. "He talks a lot. He does nothing. Think about it: He has been in office for almost 50 years. He hasn't done anything on gun safety or school safety, and nothing on gun control."

That's a sweepingly broad attack by Scott to claim that Nelson hasn't done "anything" on gun or school safety and mischaracterizes Nelson's record. We found multiple examples of legislation Nelson supported that related to gun control.

In 1990 when running for governor, he promised, "As governor, I will propose a ban on the sale of assault rifles in Florida, as well as a seven-day waiting period on the sale of firearms." At campaign stops, Nelson waved a weapon over his head and said that a campaign aide was able to buy a semiautomatic rifle in less than 10 minutes at a Miami gun store.

While in Congress, Nelson co-sponsored the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act to make it unlawful for any licensed dealer to sell a handgun to an unlicensed individual unless certain criteria were met. The legislation ultimately passed in 1993 after Nelson left the House.

Nelson spokesman Ryan Brown sent PolitiFact a list of more than one dozen bills that Nelson had supported related to gun safety, gun control or school safety. Many were bills he either co-sponsored or sponsored or voted in favor of, but many did not become law. Here's a look at some of the key bills by topic:

Assault weapons ban: Nelson has repeatedly supported an assault weapons ban that Congress allowed to expire in 2004. This year, Nelson became one of about two dozen co-sponsors of a bill to ban semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The bill has not reached any votes.

Bump stocks: Nelson was one of many co-sponsors of a 2017 bill to ban bump stocks, an accessory that allows someone to convert a semiautomatic firearm to a nearly fully automatic one.

Improving background checks: Nelson sponsored a bill that would require the Justice Department to include in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System information about an individual who is or has been under a federal terrorism investigation. The bill, which Nelson introduced in 2017 after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, has not reached any votes.

Denying firearms to terrorists: The "no fly no buy" bill would deny the transfer of a firearm if the transferee is known (or appropriately suspected) to be engaged in terrorism. Nelson was one of a few dozen co-sponsors. The 2015 bill has not received a vote.

Ban certain types of firearms: Nelson sponsored a bill in 2017 to ban firearms that are not detectable by metal detectors if certain components are removed. The bill has not received a vote. He also voted to ban guns with high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds, which failed to pass the Senate in 2013. He also voted for an amendment to require trigger locks and safety devices for handguns in 2004 and to strengthen penalties for the use of so-called cop-killer bullets in 2005 — both were amendments that passed the Senate.

Conceal-carry reciprocity: Nelson voted against legislation that would allow concealed-carry permits issued in one state to be valid in all others that issue such permits in 2009 and 2013.

Mental health: Nelson voted for the 21st Century Cures Act, which became law in 2016. The bill stated that the attorney general may provide active-shooter response training to local law enforcement and called for the development of crisis intervention teams to include specialized training for school officials in responding to mental health crises. Nelson was one of about two dozen bipartisan co-sponsors of the Excellence in Mental Health Act S. 264, which proposed grants to states to build or modernize community-based mental health services.

Nelson has taken some pro-gun votes during his Senate tenure.

In 2005, Nelson voted in favor of prohibiting civil lawsuits from being brought against a manufacturer or seller of a firearm. And he voted to permit Amtrak passengers to transport guns in checked baggage and to allow individuals to possess firearms in the national parks in 2009.

Nelson's spokesman said he is not anti-gun.

"He's a hunter, he's owned guns his entire life," Brown said. "He's never said he wants to ban all guns. He wants to expand background checks and ban semiautomatic assault rifles, like the AR-15."

We sent a list of several of the laws that Nelson supported to Harry Wilson, Roanoke College professor and author of the book Guns, Gun Control, and Elections. We asked Wilson to weigh in about Nelson's record on guns.

"What kind of alternate universe is this?" he said. "The Republican argues that the Democrat is too soft on gun control. Beam me up, Scotty."

"If one votes for the assault weapons ban and enhanced background checks and against reciprocity, one has clearly voted in favor of stricter gun laws (ask any gun rights group!)," he said.

As of 2012 when Nelson was up for re-election, the NRA had given him an F grade.

We rate this claim False.

Edited for print. Read the full version at


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