As Gov. Rick Scott embarks on a deep-pocketed campaign to unseat three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson this fall, he faces the prospect of a splintered right flank, as pro-gun conservatives step up their criticism of him for signing gun control legislation prompted by the school shooting in Parkland.

  • National Organization for Gun Rights calls out Scott in email
  • Gubernatorial candidate DeSantis said he would have vetoed Parkland bill
  • Scott's moderate stance could appeal to pro-gun independents

On the eve of Scott's Senate campaign announcement, the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Gun Rights sent an email to its members titled 'Gov. Gun Control Running for Senate.' The missive called Scott out for approving new restrictions on the sale of assault-style weapons, arguing that "instead of fighting to uphold the gun rights of law-abiding Floridians, he decided to compromise in an attempt to get elected to the U.S. Senate."

And Tuesday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis told a crowd of Palm Beach conservatives that he would have vetoed the gun control package, openly breaking with a governor whose policies he has been pledging to continue if elected to the state's top office.

In signing the measure, which was approved by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature, Scott all but admitted to toeing a line fraught with political peril.

"There are some who are advocating a mass takeaway of Second Amendment rights for all Americans. That is not the answer," Scott told reporters. "Keeping guns away from dangerous people and people with mental illnesses is what we need to do."

While the governor has consistently opposed a more expansive ban on the sale or transfer of assault-style weapons, his endorsement of the post-Parkland package could prove to be an unforgivable sin in the eyes of gun voters whose support - or lack thereof - could be a critical factor in the outcome of the Senate contest.

"The whole guns and NRA situation is very complicated for Rick Scott," said Kevin Cate, a Tallahassee-based Democratic political consultant.

"This is a guy who sprinted far to the right, who's BFFs with Donald Trump, he signed a gun bill that did have some more moderate positions in it, so he's got to be sprinting back and forth, back and forth, and someone as robotic as Rick Scott, that's tough for him to do," Cate explained.

But if Scott's stance alienates some pro-gun Republicans, it could also improve his standing with pro-gun control independents whose votes could play an even more decisive role in November. The challenge for the governor, Cate said, will be in working to appease those two very different constituencies.

"He's got to sprint back and forth to keep that base happy because if they don't turn out, if these Trump folks don't turn out, he doesn't have a chance," Cate said.