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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Florida Republicans say Orlando massacre hasn't changed their minds about gun control

Posted By on Tue, Jun 14, 2016 at 1:25 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY RACHEL HOYLE
  • Photo by Rachel Hoyle
At a debate Monday night in Chipley, deep in the Florida Panhandle, the Republican candidates for an open congressional seat said this weekend's massacre at an Orlando nightclub hadn't changed their minds about gun control.

All four described themselves as conservative, pro-life Christians —- and they agreed on most issues, including the worst mass shooting in American history.

"That was caused by the acts of an evil person —- and radical Islamic terrorists," said Tallahassee attorney Mary Thomas, one of four GOP candidates seeking to replace outgoing U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Fla., in Congressional District 2.

"If we can't even say what this is —- radical Islamic terrorism —- how are we going to fight it?" asked businessman Jeff Moran of Fort White.

"Had some of the people been carrying weapons, they may not have had 50 dead," said surgeon and businessman Neal Dunn of Panama City.

"The first thing an oppressive government does is take over the guns, the weapons, of its citizens," Tallahassee attorney Ken Sukhia said. "Stop and think about what it would be like if you were told you could not have a weapon to defend yourself."

The debate drew about 60 people to the Vance Theater in Chipley, where American flags flew at half-staff in the wake of the killings early Sunday at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando.

Graham, who is expected to run for governor in 2018, decided not to seek re-election this year after a redistricting plan made the district more heavily Republican than when she eked out a victory in 2014. The largely rural district stretches from Jackson County on the Georgia border to Levy County on the Gulf Coast and includes Panama City and part of Tallahassee.

In 2012, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney beat Democratic President Barack Obama in the revamped district by more 30 percentage points —- and Obama loomed over Monday's debate.

For instance, Thomas described the president's executive order last month, directing the nation's schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, as "outrageous and unconscionable."

"This is an example of Obama behaving like a dictator," agreed Dunn. "He has demonstrated his utter contempt for all of us —- and we should return the favor."

Attendees helped themselves to homemade sandwiches and cakes and sent questions for the candidates to moderator Paul Goulding.

"As long as there are a huge number of people receiving monthly welfare checks and entitlements, the Democrat Party will continue to curry favor," Goulding said. "If by some stroke of misfortune, (presumptive Democratic nominee) Hillary Clinton becomes our (45th) president, what can we expect your plan of action to become, and your biggest challenge?"

Sukhia decried what he called "a culture of welfare," while Thomas said, "Able-bodied people need to be working in this country."

Other questions addressed the Affordable Care Act —- which all the candidates oppose —- along with abortion, immigration, national security, military veterans, economic development, student loan debt and reining in federal regulatory agencies.

For instance, the candidates were asked which federal agency they would eliminate first. Dunn and Thomas said the U.S. Department of Education.

But Moran noted that no federal agency had been eliminated "in our lifetime, and I don't see it happening now. … Doesn't mean I don't want to, but I'm not going to make promises I can't keep."

Asked about abortion, the candidates all described themselves as pro-life, with Thomas and Moran saying they oppose any exceptions to a ban on the procedure. Sukhia pointed to his record of opposing abortion in court, while Dunn said his experience as a surgeon had contributed to his reverence for life.

As to the 2016 presidential race, Thomas mentioned her support for presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump several times.

"I support Donald Trump because he's an outsider just like me," she said.

And Dunn said the possibility of a Clinton presidency gave him "goose bumps."

"I don't care what you think of the Republican candidate," he said. "You need to vote Republican, because if you don't … you're going to lose your Constitution, you're going to lose your country."

The candidates also touted their endorsements, with Sukhia noting that U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., had just backed his candidacy. Moran said he'd been endorsed by U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., while Thomas pointed to support from the House Freedom Caucus. Dunn, who said his family has military ties stretching back to the American Revolution, claimed the support of an "embarrassingly" large number of veterans.

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