Adam Putnam champions 2nd Amendment, explains calling himself proud NRA sellout

Republican governor candidate Adam Putnam straddled Monday some of the knottiest questions that have arisen since the . He attempted to avoid angering the people mobilizing for gun control while trying to avoid crossing the politically potent .

He said he’d enforce new state gun restrictions, including an increase in the age to buy rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21, even though he said he didn’t support them.

And he defended the right of most people to use and enjoy firearms, and said the debate should focus on people who shouldn’t have guns and making schools safer from attack.

Putnam said his “heart goes out” to Stoneman Douglas students who are pushing more restrictions on weapons, including a ban on assault weapons, such as the AR-15, which was used in the Feb. 14 massacre at the school in which 17 people were killed and 17 wounded. But, he added, “I don’t support 100 percent of what they want.”

He said an assault weapons ban is problematic because other weapons are used in school shootings and there is a “struggle” to define an assault weapon in a way that can stand up in court.

In 2017, Putnam was criticized as an “NRA sellout,” a term he quickly embraced. On Twitter in July, he wrote: “The liberal media recently called me a sellout to the NRA. I‘m a proud #NRASellout!”

On Monday, during an appearance before about 650 people at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, he indicated he wouldn’t use that phrasing today. He said it was “months pre-, and it was in a very different context.”

The Parkland school shooting produced an outpouring of public sentiment from family members of the victims, students at the school, and others throughout the state, prompting the Legislature to pass and Gov. Rick Scott to sign gun restrictions and school-safety enhancements — reversing decades of the gun lobby’s blockage of any gun control in the state.

The new law raises the minimum age to buy rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21, extends the previous three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns and bans bump stocks that allow firearms to perform like automatic weapons.

Putnam said the Legislature and governor “deserve credit for moving rapidly, particularly on the two areas that I think are most important for keeping our kids safe.”

While he supported elements that would increase school security, Putnam does not support elements such as raising the age for buying rifles and shotguns. But he said that doesn’t mean he would have vetoed the legislation. He said he’d have found a way to work with the Legislature to come up with an alternative that didn’t restrict guns.

And, he said, that doesn’t mean he’d work to repeal the parts of the law he doesn’t like if he’s elected governor later this year. He said repeatedly he would enforce the law.

The law has sparked a strong, negative reaction from the NRA, which has criticized Richard Corcoran, the speaker of the state House of Representatives. Corcoran was instrumental in passing the law, and is a possible candidate against Putnam.

U.S. Rep. , who is competing with Putnam for the Republican nomination for governor, said in early April that if he’d been in office he .

Putnam said the best way to prevent future school shootings is to harden schools to make them safer for students and teachers — including physical changes to reduce access to schools and more police on campuses — and said more must be done to combat mental illness.

“The Parkland shooter should not have had a gun at 18, at 21, or at 51. He was a sick individual. He had three dozen visits by local law enforcement. He’d been expelled for a weapons violation,” he said. “He had two calls to the FBI and he had [the state Department of Children and Families] visit his home because of posting his comment on a YouTube video that he wanted to be a professional school shooter.”

The implications extend beyond school shootings, he said.

“We’re seeing this in people stepping in front of Brightline trains, in people shooting up schools and other places, in people driving their families off a cliff into the ocean. I mean we are awash in a mental health crisis.”

Before and since the Stoneman Douglas shooting, Putnam has made his support for the Second Amendment a key element of his platform as he competes in the Republican primary for governor.

“You can have law-abiding, responsible, safe firearms owners who like to hunt. They like to take their children hunting. They like to shoot. They like to collect. They can do all of those things in a safe, responsible way,” he told the Forum Club audience. “Let’s focus on the people who are abusing the Second Amendment, have serious mental health issues and should not be in possession of a firearm. And let’s focus on keeping firearms out of the people who shouldn’t have them, rather than making the debate about people who have never had a problem at all and enjoy our outdoor heritage in this country and are responsibly exercising their Second Amendment rights.”

, which draws influential participants from the business, political and legal communities in Palm Beach County.

Tony Pirozzi, president of the club, welcomed people to what he described as Republican governor candidates’ forum. Pirozzi told the audience that the DeSantis camp had agreed to participate, but recently canceled.

DeSantis strongly disputed that in an email.

“We were never confirmed to appear. In fact we made it very clear that we could not confirm that date … now they’re acting like we’re backing out. It’s disappointing,” Herold said.

Putnam spoke for about an hour, delivering remarks, sitting for an on-stage interview with WPTV-Ch. 5 anchor Michael Williams and answering questions audience members submitted on cards. He took several shots at his opponent.

“We‘ve got twice as much time as we thought we‘d have.”

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