December 2, 2023

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis became flustered on Sunday when he was confronted by a journalist about the rise in gun deaths in the Sunshine State under his administration.

During an interview on NBC News’ Meet the Press on Sunday, DeSantis, who is a Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential primary, raved about Florida’s low crime rates when host Kristen Welker brought up firearm death statistics from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“In Florida, our crime rate is at a 50-year low and our violent crime rate is down 30 percent, since I’ve been governor, so we’re handling it strong,” DeSantis said.

Welker then chimed in: “Governor, actually, statistically speaking, the CDC says that the firearm mortality rate is actually higher under your administration then it was under your predecessor’s administration, but I do want to move onto the campaign—”

ron desantis
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at The Venetian Resort Las Vegas on Saturday. DeSantis became flustered on Sunday when he was confronted by a journalist about the rise in gun deaths in the Sunshine State under his administration.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

DeSantis and Welker started talking over each other as the governor scrambled to find the right words.

He responded: “Well, because you had COVID and all that stuff. Excess mortality, is that what you’re saying? That went up everywhere in the country from 2020 on.”

Welker then clarified and said, “The firearm mortality rate.”

Newsweek reached out to DeSantis’ campaign via online form for comment.

According to the CDC’s statistics, in 2018, which was former Florida Governor Rick Scott‘s last year in office, the firearm mortality rate in Florida was 12.9. In 2019, the year DeSantis took office, the firearm mortality rate slightly decreased to 12.7. However, the firearm mortality rate in 2020 jumped to 13.7 and then increased again to 14.1 in 2021.

Before DeSantis’ exchange with Welker over gun deaths in Florida, the two talked about Wednesday night’s mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine. At least 18 people were killed and over a dozen more were injured after a gunman opened fire at a restaurant and a bowling alley.

Robert Card, a 40-year-old trained firearms instructor, was identified as the suspect and was found dead Friday night from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at a recycling facility in Lisbon Falls where he recently worked.

Officials said that Card had a history of mental illness, but there was no evidence to suggest that he had ever been involuntarily committed. Maine’s Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck said in a news conference: “Just because there appears to be a mental health nexus to this scenario, the vast majority of people with mental health diagnosis will never hurt anybody.”

There have been 565 mass shootings across the United States thus far in 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as having four or more victims. The Gun Violence Archive noted the Lewiston mass shooting was the most deadly mass shooting of the year.

As gun violence becomes more prevalent in the U.S., gun control advocates argue that stricter gun laws would lead to less mass shootings while gun rights advocates believe that restricting gun ownership is a violation of the Constitution’s Second Amendment.

Meanwhile, on Meet the Press, DeSantis maintained his position that if Card was involuntarily committed, the mass shooting could have been prevented.

Welker mentioned how officials in Maine said that a red flag law could have made a difference in this scenario. Red flag laws allow state courts to temporarily seize guns from people who they believe could be a risk to themselves or others.

“It would have empowered authorities to raise that red light to gun sellers all across the state and say, ‘This is someone that should not be able to own a gun.’ That that final line of defense never kicked in because it didn’t exist, governor,” Welker said.

DeSantis said that background checks that are already required nationwide should have been enough in this situation, if an “involuntary commitment” was put into the system.

“The question is what are you putting into the system. If somebody has a mental health involuntary commitment, then that can simply be put into the existing system. You don’t need additional things,” he said.