Q&A: Sarasota’s Senate candidates on guns, the Second Amendment and Stand Your Ground

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GOP candidates for the District 23 state Senate seat participate in a public forum put on by the Republican Club of South Sarasota County at the Venice Gardens Civic Association. From left to right, former Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson, Sarasota businessman Rick Levine, former Sarasota state Rep. Doug Holder, Sarasota state Rep. Ray Pilon and Sarasota state Rep. Greg Steube. STAFF PHOTO/ ZAC ANDERSON

GOP candidates for the District 23 state Senate seat participate in a public forum put on by the Republican Club of South Sarasota County at the Venice Gardens Civic Association. From left to right, former Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson, Sarasota businessman Rick Levine, former Sarasota state Rep. Doug Holder, Sarasota state Rep. Ray Pilon and Sarasota state Rep. Greg Steube. STAFF PHOTO/ ZAC ANDERSON

by Lee Williams

The race for Sarasota’s State Senate seat — District 23 — is contentious and has drawn scrutiny from the public and the media.

It should.

Lately, the State Senate is where good gun bills have gone to die.

I recently had a chance to interview the five Republicans and two Democrats who are vying for the seat.

I pressed them hard on the issues that are important to us: guns, gun rights, the Second Amendment and whether they’d support pro-gun legislation.

I need to point out that none of the candidates — except for one — had heard of Constitutional Carry.

Only Rep. Greg Steube was familiar with the concept.

Here are the candidates’ responses, which I’ve presented in a Q&A format.

Republicans

Former Sarasota state Rep. Doug Holder

Are you a gun owner? “Yes.”

What types of guns do you own? “I have mostly shotguns, a couple rifles and two handguns. One’s black powder.”

Are you an NRA member? “Yes, lifetime.”

When did you join? “About 11 years ago. I also chaired the sportsmen’s caucus in the legislature for four years – a hunting and fishing organization attached to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus in Washington.”

Are you a member of any other gun-rights groups?  “No.”

Do you participate in any shooting sports? “I shoot skeet and clays on occasion.”

Where do you shoot? “Knight’s Trail.”

Are you a hunter? “Yes. I hunt deer, turkey, quail when I get the opportunity, a little bit of gator – hog when I get the chance – although not as frequently as I’d like. I like to bow hunt hogs.”

When is the last time you purchased a hunting license?  “I have a lifetime license.”

Would you support Campus Carry? “Yes, but I would prefer that the bill would be written differently. I support pretty much all the bills in front of the legislature. My only issue with Campus Carry is that it was written as a ‘repealer.” When it’s a repealer, it can’t be changed or modified in any way whatsoever. I would prefer to give the NRA and all of the stakeholders an opportunity to make adjustments. That’s why it never passed. Pretty much as is, it’s a bill I would support.”

Would you support Open Carry? “Yes.”

Would you support Constitutional Carry? “It’s one of our rights as Americans to be able to carry a gun. I would support that as well.”

Would you support changing the Stand Your Ground statute to shift the burden of proof back to the state?  “Yes. I would support all Stand Your Ground improvements, as long as they protected our right to Stand Your Ground.”

What else should gun owners know about you? “It’s my lifelong history of being around guns, using guns as a tool, certainly believing in safety. I grew up hunting. That’s my first exposure. I think guns are a tool, just like any other tool. If they’re used properly, they’re certainly beneficial. I do have a handgun at home. I feel better protected at home having the handgun, and having the education to use it.”

 

Rick Levine, Sarasota businessman

Are you a gun owner? “I have had guns. I’ve owned guns before, but I don’t have anything registered at this time. (Florida law does not require firearm registration.) I could handle a handgun. I did in Arizona. I’ve been at gun ranges. I don’t have one registered at this time. I don’t carry one on me.”

What types of guns do you own? N/A

Are you an NRA member? “No, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in what they’re thinking and saying. I do believe people have the right to bear arms as individuals.”

When did you join? N/A

Are you a member of any other gun-rights groups? “No. I’m not a member of any gun rights groups, not to say I’d be adverse to that.”

Do you participate in any shooting sports? “No.”

Where do you shoot? N/A

Are you a hunter? “No.”

When is the last time you purchased a hunting license?  N/A

Would you support Campus Carry? “The answer is no. It should be left to professional law enforcement. If they need to hire more people to do work on campuses, then do it. I’m a proponent of what President Thrasher has said. I’m thinking of high school campuses, and I’ve talked to principals. They don’t want anyone other than professional law enforcement to have guns. They need to hire more law enforcement people.”

Would you support Open Carry? “I don’t really have a problem with that – really – as long as the person is permitted and knows what they’re doing. I don’t want guns to be in irresponsible hands. Most people who have permits are law abiding people. Criminals are criminals. If criminals want to get at gun, they’ll get a gun.”

Would you support Constitutional Carry? “I know one thing. If I had a CCW permit, I don’t know if there would be reciprocal travel to all states. If I was in D.C., where they don’t have CCW permit laws, my understanding from a client who does concealed carry, is that he had to pull the bullets out of his gun and put the gun in his glove box while driving.”

Would you support changing the Stand Your Ground statute to shift the burden of proof back to the state? “I like the idea of Stand Your Ground. I see it’s useful. When you know that the state is going to be the plaintiff against an alleged defendant – the State of Florida versus so-and-so – the burden is always on the state. It’s civil versus criminal.”

What else should gun owners know about you? “I support the right to carry. I support the right as individuals to be permitted properly. I believe that state has a role, and the federal government has the right to check backgrounds so someone can have a gun in their possession. Of course there are laws on the books that say if you don’t hide a gun from children and the firearms goes off, you’re liable too. The state and federal government have roles. It would be the vast majority of sign-ins are approved – most are good law abiding people. If you read the Federalist Papers and understand what the founders were thinking – an oppressive tyrannical despot. That’s why they did the Second Amendment in the First Congress of the United States. The reason behind that is that an individual can bear arms against an oppressive federal government.”

Nora Patterson, former Sarasota County Commissioner

Are you a gun owner? “Yes.”

What types of guns do you own? “My husband and I have a pistol and a shotgun.”

Are you an NRA member? “No. I was for a while, but I let it lapse – nothing against them. I actually was a member because somebody sent me a gift membership.”

When did you join?  “2012.”

Are you a member of any other gun-rights groups? “No, except I am a U.S. citizen with gun rights.”

Do you participate in any shooting sports?  “No. I’ve been to the shooting range a couple times, and had people instruct me. I actually have an application in for a carry permit, which I decided to do for the fun of it, to see how difficult it would be.”

Where do you shoot?  “I don’t shoot on a regular basis. I took the course that’s mandatory to get a carry permit. That was off in the country somewhere. I also went shooting at the county gun range – Knight’s Trail.”

Are you a hunter? “No, I prefer fishing, but we’ve had hunting dogs. We’ve trained them to fetch birds. My husband grew up in North Florida. He used to hunt. We’ve had two Golden Retrievers and a Field Spaniel. We trained all of them to fetch and follow hand signs.”

When is the last time you purchased a hunting license?  “I haven’t.”

Would you support Campus Carry? “No, because I don’t believe that guns, alcohol and young people are a very good mix. I endorse the position of John Thrasher, the current dean of FSU. He doesn’t think it’s a good idea. Additionally, I support the position of our sheriff. The last time I talked with him, he didn’t think it was a good idea either. Most of law enforcement thinks it’s not a great idea. The best idea I’ve heard against Campus Carry – in a group situation – if you have two people with a gun and law enforcement has been called in, it’s tough to figure out who’s the good guy.”

Would you support Open Carry? “I wouldn’t support that either. This isn’t the OK Corral. I would think that the tourists might be somewhat taken aback. I’m definitely for Second Amendment rights, but I don’t think they need to be expanded beyond what’s logical.”

Would you support Constitutional Carry?  “I’m not sure what the implication is.”

Would you support changing the Stand Your Ground statute to shift the burden of proof back to the state? “I think I’d want to talk to some of our law enforcement officers, as well as attorneys that are involved with things like that. It certainly raises the bar.”

What else should gun owners know about you? “I don’t think our constitutional rights to own guns are at risk, and they should not be.”

Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota

Are you a gun owner? “Yes.”

What types of guns do you own? “Handguns and shotguns.”

Are you an NRA member? “Yes, a life member.”

When did you join?  “2010.”

Are you a member of any other gun-rights groups? “No.”

Do you participate in any shooting sports? “I used to. I don’t any longer. I used to hunt and shoot clays, but I haven’t had much opportunity lately.”

Where do you shoot?  “I don’t shoot as much as I’d like. I mostly shoot at indoor ranges. I’m a retired LEO, and I have to qualify annually to carry concealed.”

Are you a hunter? “Yes, but not recently.”

When is the last time you purchased a hunting license?  “I don’t remember.”

Would you support Campus Carry? “The fact that all it (the bill) did was repeal the prohibition for state universities to disallow it – obviously there’s a lot of concern about young people and training. I have a bit of an issue with people saying they’re well trained when they’re getting a CCW. My wife, when she got her weapon, went to a private trainer and took more gun safety and training so she felt comfy. I would like to see stronger training with a CCW. There are certain places where you can and can’t carry. The debate’s still open about universities. I’m not in complete opposition to exploring people’s gun rights. I understand Rep. Steube’s passion, and I see his point. If we’re going to explore it again, we have to look at more safety measures.”

Would you support Open Carry? “Yes. I voted for it. When I first became a LEO in 1974, there were no CCW permits. Everyone could carry openly in the state. It didn’t disturb me. I have experience in my career when we didn’t have open carry or concealed. It didn’t seem to be a problem.”

Would you support Constitutional Carry? “No. We don’t need a CCW permit to carry in the car or at home, but we should have some standards for people who are carrying concealed.”

Would you support changing the Stand Your Ground statute to shift the burden of proof back to the state? “Yes. I actually did – we did in committee. It’s unfortunate we had two bad amendments put on that bill by opposition. I was called to another committee when the two amendments were brought up, but yes, and I support it 100 percent.”

Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota

Are you a gun owner? “Yes.”

What types of guns do you own? “I have two AR-15s, one in 7.62 and one in 5.56.  I have a .308 sniper rifle. I have five Sig-Sauer handguns: a Navy SEAL P226 9mm, a .40, a smaller-frame  9mm. I have a 30-30 lever-action rifle, and my wife has a pink Chief’s Ladysmith .38 Special.”

Are you an NRA member? “Yes, a life member.”

When did you join? “When I was in the military, around 2004.”

Are you a member of any other gun-rights groups?  “No.”

Do you participate in any shooting sports? “Yes.”

Where do you shoot? “I shoot handguns at the range on Bee Ridge – High Noon Guns. If I want to shoot ARs, I go to the Manatee Gun Club.”

Are you a hunter? “Yes.”

When is the last time you purchased a hunting license? “It was a long time ago – in high school. I hunt mostly hogs now.”

Would you support Campus Carry? (Note: Rep. Steube has introduced Campus Carry bills during the last legislative sessions.) “Yes. I will introduce the bill again. I could spend hours telling you why I support Campus Carry.”

Would you support Open Carry? “Yes. I’ve already voted for it once. I plan on voting for it again.”

Would you support Constitutional Carry?  “Yes I would.”

Would you support changing the Stand Your Ground statute to shift the burden of proof back to the state?  “Yes. I wish I had the opportunity to vote for it. If you are standing your ground, and you claim you’re standing your ground, the state should have to prove otherwise. The state should have the burden of proof.”

What else should gun owners know about you? “I am the only person in the race who has filed pro-Second Amendment, NRA-supported legislation in the House. All of the other people running had the opportunity to do that. Sure, there are other candidates who say they are pro-Second Amendment, but I have filed multiple pro-gun bills – legislature carry, Campus Carry, public meetings carry, and I filed a bill to carry on K-12 campuses.”

Democrats

Frank Alcock, Professor of Political Science at New College of Florida

Are you a gun owner? “I am not.”

What types of guns do you own? N/A

Frank Alcock, Professor of Political Science at New College of Florida

Frank Alcock, Professor of Political Science at New College of Florida

Are you an NRA member? “I am not.”

When did you join? N/A

Are you a member of any other gun-rights groups? “No.”

Do you participate in any shooting sports? “No.”

Where do you shoot? N/A

Are you a hunter? “I fish, but I don’t hunt.”

When is the last time you purchased a hunting license? N/A

Would you support Campus Carry? “No. There’s a few reasons. I’m not comfortable with the argument that it improves safety. I think that the data on where it’s been implemented is ambiguous that it’s having an impact. Law enforcement on campus, campus presidents and students don’t think it’s a good idea. Unless I have some evidence that security is improved by Campus Carry, I’m going to defer to the professionals.”

Would you support Open Carry? “I’m not going to take a position on that just yet.”

Would you support Constitutional Carry? “No. At the moment, accountability is important to me. My overall position on gun rights – I like to be respectful of Second Amendment rights – but I’m concerned that the lack of a permit would undercut accountability.”

Would you support changing the Stand Your Ground statute to shift the burden of proof back to the state?  “I would not support that. I am concerned that Stand Your Ground enables or encourages people to be confrontational. If the burden of proof is on the shooter, it might make people think twice about confronting other people with guns.”

What else should gun owners know about you? “I think I’d go back to the statement I had before – I’m respectful of Second Amendment rights when it comes to the various pieces of legislation I’d consider. I would like to make sure the positions I’m taking are improving security and holding people accountable for their actions.”

Frank Cirillo, University of South Florida student

Are you a gun owner? “No.”

What types of guns do you own? N/A

Are you an NRA member? “No.”

Frank Cirillo, University of South Florida student.

Frank Cirillo, University of South Florida student.

When did you join?  N/A

Are you a member of any other gun-rights groups?  “No.”

Do you participate in any shooting sports? “No.”

Where do you shoot? N/A

Are you a hunter? “No.”

When is the last time you purchased a hunting license? N/A

Would you support Campus Carry? “No, because I don’t think it’s smart to have guns on campus. All sheriffs and university police departments have come out against it. I would listen to the professionals who I trust with my safety and the safety of other students.”

Would you support Open Carry? “No. I think it’s important that people have Second Amendment rights, but it’s not necessary to show that force in public. When it comes to gun rights,  the state constitution also reinforces that right. It’s important we truse our police and First Responders to help keep us safe. I don’t see any need to openly carry firearms in the public sphere. “

Would you support Constitutional Carry?  “No. I would definitely not be in favor of that, seeing how it’s not regulated. I would be in favor of strengthening our current CCW licensing.”

Would you support changing the Stand Your Ground statute to shift the burden of proof back to the state?  “No, because it would allow Stand Your Ground to be expanded and I do not support the current Stand Your Ground laws. I will try to repeal them. They allow for miscarriages of justice. I don’t think they’re just laws.”

What else should gun owners know about you? “I have fired a gun before. I have family members who own firearms and I respect Second Amendment rights. I don’t think we need to expand them more than they currently are. We need to address the serious gun problem that we have. People’s lives are more important than our second Amendment rights. If we don’t address this, we’ll see more deaths. We need to figure out a practical way to cut down gun deaths.”

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About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

7 Comments

  1. Pingback: Q&A: Sarasota’s Senate candidates on guns, the Second Amendment and Stand Your Ground - 2nd Amendment Right

  2. Richard Nascak on

    Well, it is obvious that all of the Democrats and some of the “Republicans” (cough) have bought into the lies of the gun control lobby.

    A few notes for the candidates –

    Rep. Holder – the appropriate format for a bill which repeals a prohibition is as a repealer. We currently have a conflicting, confusing hodgepodge of firearms statutes, created by decades of compromise amendments piled atop one another. The result is a body of law neither the courts nor the people can decipher. Frankly, campus carry is a no-brainer. Licensees (adults, not children) would be permitted to carry on campuses of postsecondary educational institutions just as they responsibly every day off-campus. If data from other states with campus carry or the DACS licensee revocation data indicated real world problems with campus carry or with licencees in general, then perhaps there might be good cause to be skeptical. However, then entire argument against campus carry is pure unsubstantiated conjecture.

    Mr. Levine – Stick to running a business. It’s obvious by your comments you are unaware there is no gun registration in Florida, and you cannot differentiate between a fundamental right and a licensed privilege. Oh, and Mr. Levine, if it were up to the principals of schools to decide the fundamental rights respected on campuses, what position do you think they would have taken with regards to integration in the ’60s? Oh, we already know that, don’t we?

    Rep. Pilon – With regards to campus carry, you are concerned with the combination of young people and inadequate training. Consider, licensees must be 21 or older (except servicemembers). It has been this way since the state assumed licensing authority in 1987. Yet the over quarter century of data from DACS shows licensees to be incredibly law-abiding (6 times more so than FL law enforcement officers) and responsible. When a licensee misuses a firearm, most often the infraction warrants revocation. The data show about a 6/1000 of 1 percent revocation rate for crimes involving a firearm and 3/10 of 1 percent revocation rate for any other reason. Surely if inadequate training were an issue, it would be reflected in that data, no?

    Ms. Patterson – Your use of the gun control lobby’s tired “OK Corral” rhetoric tags you as devoid of the ability to posit a cogent argument on the issue. Perhaps you should consider switching parties.

    Rep. Steube – Spot on. You have been able to rationally and logically differentiate between a fundamental right and a licensed privilege, and between fact and rhetorical nonsense. You recognize that law enforcement cannot be everywhere, and even a rapid response frequently isn’t rapid enough to save lives. Finally, you understand that the REAL first responder to a criminal act is the victim. Kudos sir, and thank you for your service to the nation and the state.

    Democrats – Your positions are in conflict with both the US and Florida Constitutions. The US Supreme Court has ruled the right to keep and bear arms is a FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT, interest-balancing is inappropriate (Heller), and is incorporated to the states (McDonald). Florida is a state. In a challenge to a restriction of fundamental constitutional rights, the government must identify an important or compelling need for the restriction, must provide evidence showing the restriction must be effective in fulfilling that need, and the restriction must be narrowly tailored to achieve that need without undue burden on the right. Unfortunately, not a single one of you seem to understand this basic concept. Not one of you has provided any substantiation whatsoever for your positions. My suggestion is when considering Second Amendment issues, view them in the context of First or Fourth Amendment parallels. Remember, these rights are YOUR rights too.

    • Lee Williams on

      Thanks, Richard. I was waiting for you to chime in, but even I had no idea it would be so all-inclusive! Kudos, sir!

  3. Thomas Overfelt on

    Excellent article and review of the candidates. Thank you Rep. Steube. Thomas Overfelt, Sarasota…

  4. Frank Cirillo for President ! This kid’s crisp and well reasoned responses make Greg Steube sound like all he was saying was “Yeeee Haaaaaah”!!!.

  5. Did you know that someone called Racist McshootFace put in a 65 million dollar bid for George Zimmermans “gat” ?

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