TALLAHASSEE — With less than a week until the primary, two gun-rights groups are duking it out in a handful of Republican races across the state.
The National Association for Gun Rights has hit state Sens. Joe Negron of Stuart and Thad Altman of Melbourne, and state Rep. Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, with mailers questioning their support of gun rights.
The three incumbents are each endorsed by the National Rifle Association’s Florida chapter, which sent letters supporting them timed to coincide with the mailing of absentee ballots.
The mail pieces targeting the three are identical. The mailers are critical of the trio for not filling out the National Association for Gun Rights candidate mailer and for supporting a 2013 bill that prevented the sale of guns to the mentally disabled. The bill was supported by the NRA, and passed unanimously in the Senate. It faced just one “no” vote in the House.
The National Association for Gun Rights says voting for the bill means the three want to take the gun rights away from “veterans, and other law-abiding citizens ... without due process or trial.”
The bill didn’t have any specific focus on veterans. In an interview Monday, Altman said it’s “insulting to generalize” that veterans have mental illness.
In a statement, Negron cited his NRA support and said “my support of the Second Amendment is unwavering.”
Eagle couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
On Monday night, Marion Hammer — the NRA’s top Florida lobbyist — sent an email blast supporting the three.
“They claim Thad Altman voted to restrict Second Amendment rights without due process,” the email read. “That is patently false.”
Other than the lawmakers’ names, the language in the body of each email was identical. The NRA has one of the largest email lists in the state, and many subscribers closely follow the group’s voting recommendations. That ability to help influence voters gives the organization significant influence with state lawmakers.
Hammer also used her email blast to slam the National Association for Gun Rights.
“Do not be fooled by the false information being distributed by out-of-state organizations,” the email read.
Each of the three candidates attacked are expected to survive primary challenges from underfunded opponents. Like with all non-presidential primaries, though, turnout is expected to be low, which makes it easier for unexpected upsets to occur.
The National Association for Gun Rights, which lists a Virginia address on its website, wasn’t available for comment Tuesday. It was founded in 2001 and touts itself as a conservative alternative to the NRA, which it has had political feuds with in other states.