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Crist Ads Misrepresent DeSantis Statements on Abortion and Background Checks on Guns

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to eliminate state permit requirements for carrying concealed firearms, and he supports banning abortion, with limited exceptions, after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

But political ads from former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s campaign misleadingly claim that DeSantis opposes “any background checks” on gun buyers and “wants to ban abortion” in all cases.

“Think about what’s at stake in Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis bullies schoolchildren. He wants to outlaw abortion, even for victims of rape and incest. He opposes any background checks on guns, even for violent criminals, and he cares more about running for the White House than your house,” Crist says in one ad, titled “Fighting Back.”

Crist’s campaign said in July that it was spending six figures on an ad buy that included this TV ad, according to USA Today. The ad also streamed on digital platforms, including Facebook and YouTube. It was paid for by the political committee Friends of Charlie Crist, which is the former governor’s state-level PAC. Crist resigned his U.S. House seat on Aug. 31 to focus on his gubernatorial race against DeSantis. (We also published an item about a GOP ad attacking Crist. See, “Florida GOP Attacks Crist with Misleading Claims About the IRS and Police.”)

DeSantis on Gun Rights 

Under Florida law and federal law, licensed gun dealers must conduct a background check before selling a firearm.  

Federal law prohibits felons, fugitives, people living in the country illegally and several other categories of individuals from buying or possessing guns or ammunition. In addition to the federal restrictions, Florida law lists other prohibited individuals, including those “recently arrested for a potentially disqualifying crime which has not been dismissed or disposed of in court.”

There are more requirements in order to get a license to carry a concealed firearm in Florida. For instance, in addition to not having been convicted of a felony or certain other crimes, applicants can’t be under a restraining order for domestic violence, and they have to show that they can use a gun safely. The application process includes submitting fingerprints.

DeSantis supports eliminating state licenses for carrying concealed firearms. But we could not find any evidence that DeSantis has said he opposes “any background checks on guns.”

When PolitiFact wrote about Crist’s claim in July, a spokesperson told the fact-checking website that DeSantis hasn’t supported background checks at all, including for “violent criminals.” PolitiFact rated the Crist campaign claim “mostly false.”

In response to our inquiry, Crist’s campaign similarly pointed to DeSantis’ opposition to gun violence legislation and his stance on concealed carry. “Ron DeSantis wants to impose a permitless carry regime on Florida that would remove background checks from all concealed carry permits and potentially allow people with a record to carry a gun in public,” campaign spokesperson Samantha Ramirez told us in an email. “Charlie Crist believes we need to stop mass shootings before they even happen by passing common sense gun reform.”

But permitless carry legislation wouldn’t eliminate “any background checks on guns.”

When we asked the DeSantis campaign to clarify his position, a spokesperson referred us to a statement published in PolitiFact’s July story. A governor’s spokesperson at the time said, “Florida is a law and order state. Law-abiding citizens have the right to protect themselves.”

DeSantis has said that before he leaves office as governor, he will sign a bill that would allow gun owners to carry firearms without a license, or permit — known among proponents as a “constitutional carry” law.

Under permitless carry legislation, a person who legally owns a firearm may carry it in public, visibly or concealed, at almost any time or place, without a permit, training, registration or government licensing. There are 25 states that have passed laws that do not require a permit to carry a gun, according to the U.S. Concealed Carry Association.

But even if Florida enacts a permitless carry law, licensed gun dealers would still be required by federal law to perform background checks for firearm sales.

The Crist campaign argued that permitless carry would “potentially allow people with a record to carry a gun in public.” The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence made the same point to PolitiFact, saying that gun owners who acquired guns through private sales – and therefore bypassed the background check requirement of licensed dealers – could be legally armed in public.

On the federal level, individuals who “only make occasional sales of firearms” from their “personal collection … do not need to be licensed,” including at gun shows, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Gun control advocates have long sought to close what they call the gun show “loophole,” although a 2019 report by the Congressional Research Service said “private firearms sales at gun shows … did not appear to be a significant source of guns” for those convicted of crimes involving firearms.

In 2020, DeSantis opposed state legislation that would have expanded background checks to include private gun sales at gun shows.

He also opposed a request from Florida’s Democratic lawmakers for a special session on gun violence following several mass shootings in 2022. Democrats wanted to regulate high-capacity magazines, and expand background checks and red-flag laws, which allow for the court-ordered removal of guns owned by people at risk of committing violence.

When asked about the special session, DeSantis said to a WPBF 25 News reporter, “With all due respect to these leftists, they just want to come after your Second Amendment rights. Let’s just be honest, that’s what they want to do.”

He also said in a June news conference that he would “focus on the lunatic” when it comes to gun crimes, rather than restricting “the rights of law-abiding citizens.”

DeSantis on Abortion 

In several political ads, Crist also oversimplified DeSantis’ position on abortion, which has become a key issue in the 2022 elections after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

In an ad titled “Endorsed,” released on Aug. 17, Crist said, “Ron DeSantis wants to ban abortion.” 

The ad provides no support for the abortion claim, and Crist’s campaign hasn’t responded to our question about it. 

However, on April 14, DeSantis signed the Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality Act, a 15-week abortion ban with no exception for incest, rape or human trafficking. The law does include exceptions for fatal fetal abnormalities, and to prevent substantial physical harm or to save the pregnant woman’s life.  

The law went into effect on July 1, though it was temporarily halted by a lawsuit and then reinstated. On Aug. 4, DeSantis suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren for saying he wouldn’t enforce the abortion law.

Before the new law, abortions could be performed in the state up to 24 weeks’ gestation, with exceptions after that for preventing substantial physical harm to the woman or saving her life.

According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most abortions in Florida in 2019 were performed before 15 weeks. About 4% of the 71,914 abortions in the state were performed at 14 weeks or later. 

So the vast majority of procedures — over 96%, according to the 2019 figures — will still be allowed under the new state law. 

Many states have gone further than Florida’s abortion law. Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, 12 states enacted bans of nearly all abortions, according to the New York Times, which is tracking changes in state abortion laws. Two other states have banned abortion at six weeks, which is before women are often even aware that they are pregnant, according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

During his 2018 campaign for governor, DeSantis had committed to signing a ban on abortion after a fetal heartbeat could be detected, which opponents of abortion generally have defined as at about six weeks.

As we previously reported, “Some forms of ultrasound can detect cardiac activity in an embryo in the sixth week, but a heartbeat wouldn’t be audible until about 10 weeks on a Doppler fetal monitor.”

A six-week ban would further limit abortions in Florida. Of the abortions reported in Florida in 2019, 73.5%, or 52,850, were performed at six weeks gestation or before, according to the CDC. 

But we couldn’t find any record of DeSantis explicitly expressing support for a six-week ban, and he has reportedly avoided answering questions on whether he would support further abortion restrictions or a full ban in the future. Florida’s 15-week ban — which he signed — isn’t as strict as some other states’ laws.

Update, April 14: DeSantis signed a bill on April 13 that bans abortions after six weeks – with exceptions to save the woman’s life or avoid serious physical harm, and in cases of rape, incest and human trafficking — and requires medications for abortion to be dispensed in person by a doctor and not by mail or telehealth. 

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