TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida are surveying state sheriff candidates on whether they're willing to take a stand against the very association that will represent them in the Capitol if they win.
Their survey sent to candidates takes aim at the Florida Sheriff's Association and other law enforcement groups, sheriffs and deputies that have opposed bills the two groups support. It also seeks support on the two groups' future legislative agenda, including defending the 2005 Florida "stand your ground" law that always people to use deadly force no matter where they are if they fear they are at risk of being killed or seriously injured.
The groups told candidates they will not endorse or support any candidate that doesn't return the surveys. They also said that not answering questions on the survey would be counted as a response against gun rights.
"There are no trick questions," said the survey, which was sent by Marion Hammer, executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida.
But the sheriff's association said the survey seems to be slanted against its organization and appears to be an attempt to take away the voices of some sheriffs and deputies during the legislative process.
"The sheriffs in our state have long defended a citizen's right to keep and bear arms as outline in the Second Amendment of the Constitution," the association said in an email to The Associated Press. "The sheriffs also have a duty to oppose legislation that would reduce public safety and place citizens and law enforcement officers at greater risk. It is unfortunate that some would view this common sense approach as being anti-Second Amendment as this is far from our position."
And if the association feels targeted, that's because it is.
Hammer said sheriffs are sworn to uphold the Constitution and testifying against pro-gun bills is a conflict.
"If the sheriffs association and urban sheriffs are going to start actively campaigning against Second Amendment rights, then we're going to send out questionnaires that ask sheriffs where they stand on these issues," Hammer said. She said while gun groups have sent legislative candidates surveys for years, this is the first time they've been sent to sheriff candidates. She said that's because of the association's increasing involvement on gun bills.
"In the old days we worked together with the sheriffs association," Hammer said. "If a bill comes up that we're interested in, they don't call us and talk to us like they did in the good old days, they just get on a horse and ride down to the Capitol and testify against our legislation."
The survey said there has been a growing practice of sheriffs and deputies traveling to Tallahassee "to lobby against Second Amendment issues and the rights of law-abiding gun owners." It asks candidates if they would prohibit their deputies from testifying in uniform against bills the gun rights groups support. It also asks if they would stop their deputies or employees from lobbying against pro-gun bills in the name of their sheriff's department or an organization or association that represents law enforcement.
If candidates don't support the ban, they are asked to check a statement that says "I would allow it if it makes things more convenient for law enforcement."
"Do you think that it is appropriate for the Florida Sheriffs Association or any sheriff to threaten legislators or to lobby against citizens on Second Amendment issues?" the survey asks.
Among legislative issues mentioned on the survey is the "stand your ground" law that some people want changed after neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin. He claims self-defense.
It also asks about support for laws that would allow guns on college campuses and allow gun owners to openly carry their weapons.
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