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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman February 28, 2018

Rick Scott says Bill Nelson has done nothing on gun control, ignoring his Senate record

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

"There is no representative of the state of Florida," Nelson said during the Feb. 21 town hall in which Marjory Stoneman Douglas students spoke. "Our governor did not come here."

Days later at a press 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 elections.

"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.

Before Nelson was in the Senate

Nelson has supported a ban on assault rifles for decades.

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 in 1990, Nelson waved a weapon over his head and said that a campaign aide was able to buy a semi-automatic rifle in less than 10 minutes at a Miami gun store.

While in Congress in 1990, Nelson cosponsored 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’s legislative record in the U.S. Senate

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 cosponsored 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 cosponsors 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 cosponsors of a 2017 bill to ban bump stocks, an accessory that allows someone to convert a semi-automatic 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. He supported other efforts to strengthen background checks in the past.

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 cosponsors. 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 cosponsors of the Excellence in Mental Health Act S. 264, which proposed grants to states to build or modernize community-based mental health services.

After the Parkland shooting, Nelson, along with Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, wrote a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urging her department to quickly approve applications from the Broward school district for a Project School Emergency Response to Violence grant. The money could be used for mental health services, overtime for law enforcement and school staff, and costs to operate the school at an alternative site.

Featured Fact-check

Nelson took some pro-gun votes

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.

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 spokesman Brown said that Nelson 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."  

Response from experts and Scott’s office

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.

But Scott does have a point if he wants to argue that some of these bills didn’t pass, so nothing was "done."

As for Nelson’s pro-gun votes, Wilson said that the Amtrak and national parks votes that were signed by President Barack Obama were not major issues, while the 2005 vote for immunity for gun manufacturers was an important vote that clearly favored gun rights.  

"I would call this a mixed record, but the charge is misleading, at best," he said.

Everytown for Gun Safety spokesman Andrew Zucker praised Nelson for fighting "for criminal background checks on every gun sale, opposed arming teachers, and (he) has been an ally in the fight for gun safety for years."

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

We sent Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis links to several bills that Nelson supported and asked if he had evidence to support the claim that Nelson "hasn’t done anything on gun safety or school safety, done nothing on gun control."

"Bill Nelson could not point to any meaningful legislation brought forth and sponsored by him to make it across the finish line," Lewis said. "He’s had nearly 50 years in office, and what has happened? Has he rolled out any bills or legislative packages in the wake of the Parkland shooting?"

Our ruling

Scott said Nelson "hasn’t done anything on gun safety or school safety, and nothing on gun control."

At least since 1990, Nelson has supported an assault weapons ban. He has also supported several gun control measures including bills to tighten background checks, keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, ban bump stocks as well as firearms that can pass through metal detectors.

While many of the bills Nelson supported didn’t become law, it’s an exaggeration to state that he has done "nothing."

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Florida Channel, "Governor’s Press Conference on Action Plan to Keep Florida Students Safe," Feb. 23, 2018

CNN, "Nelson's town hall comments show he is gearing up for a race against Scott for Florida Senate seat," Feb. 22, 2018, S.2095 - Assault Weapons Ban of 2017, Introduced Nov. 8, 2017, S.1916 - Automatic Gunfire Prevention Act, Introduced Oct. 4, 2017, S.72 - Counterterror Alert Act of 2017, Introduced Jan. 9, 2017, S.551 - Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015, Introduced Feb. 24, 2015, S.533 - Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act of 2017, Introduced March 6, 2017, S.2009 - Background Check Expansion Act, Oct. 25, 2017,  H.J.Res.40, Became law Feb. 28, 2017, H.R.34 - 21st Century Cures Act, Became law Dec. 13, 2016, Excellence in Mental Health Act S. 264, Feb. 7, 2013, H.R.467 - Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, Introduced Jan. 4, 1989

U.S. Senate, On the Amendment (McCain Amdt. No. 2636), March 2, 2004

U.S. Senate, On the Amendment (Feinstein Amdt. No. 2637), March 2, 2004

U.S. Senate, On the Amendment (Boxer Amdt. No. 2620 As Amended), Feb. 26, 2004

U.S. Senate, On the Amendment (Craig Amendment No. 1645), July 25, 2005

U.S. Senate, On the Amendment (Thune Amdt. No. 1618), July 22, 2009

U.S. Senate, On the Amendment (Cornyn Amdt. No. 719), April 17, 2013

Florida Politics, "Bill Nelson dismisses Rick Scott charge he’s done ‘nothing’ on gun safety," Feb. 25, 2018

Sarasota Herald Tribune, "Gun control on the back burner," (Accessed in Nexis) Oct. 16, 2006

Miami Herald, "Congressman returns NRA’s $1,000 gift decries vote request," (Accessed in Nexis) Aug. 20, 1998

Miami Herald, "Nelson launches gubernatorial bid," (Accessed in Nexis) Feb. 15, 1990

AP, "Office Shootings Stir Gun Debate," (Accessed in Nexis) June 20, 1990

CNN, "Senator John Kerry blames President Bush for expiration of assault weapons ban; Bush derides Kerry's health care proposals," (Accessed in Nexis) Sept. 13, 2004

CQ, "Gun liability bill Passes in Senate after Democratic proposals are defeated," (Accessed in Nexis) July 29, 2005

New York Times, "Sweeping Health Measure, Backed by Obama, Passes Senate," Dec. 7, 2016

PolitiFact, "NRA attacks Bill Nelson's vote on a gun ban," Sept. 25, 2012

PolitiFact’s Scott-O-Meter, Increase school security spending, Feb. 26, 2018

Interview, Ryan Brown, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson spokesman Feb. 26, 2018

Interview, McKinley Lewis, Gov. Rick Scott spokesman, Feb. 27, 2018

Interview, Andrew Zucker, Everytown for Gun Safety spokesman, Feb. 27, 2018

Interview, Harry L. Wilson, Roanoke College professor and director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research, Feb. 27, 2018

Interview, Jay Corzine, University of Central Florida sociology professor, Feb. 28, 2018

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Rick Scott says Bill Nelson has done nothing on gun control, ignoring his Senate record

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