Agriculture candidate Caldwell snags NRA’s first statewide endorsement

TALLAHASSEE — State Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-North Fort Myers) on Tuesday picked up an endorsement from the National Rifle Association in his bid for state agriculture commissioner.

Caldwell is among three Republicans and three Democrats seeking the post overseeing the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which issues concealed weapons licenses. Amid debate over gun legislation opposed by the NRA last March following the Parkland school shooting, Caldwell voted against the legislation and also called himself “a proud lifetime member of the NRA.”

Marion Hammer, the NRA’s Florida lobbyist, said Tuesday that Caldwell was the only candidate in the race with “a perfect record of unyielding support of the Second Amendment to our constitution.”

“Rep. Matt Caldwell has been a steadfast supporter of Second Amendment issues as a member of the Florida House,” said Hammer, an NRA past president and executive director of Unified Sportsmen of Florida. “His support of Second Amendment, self-defense and anti-crime issues and his pro-sportsmen, pro-Second Amendment, pro-freedom record have earned him our endorsement.”

Caldwell faces state Sen. Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring) and former state Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven in the Republican primary.

This is the first statewide race in which the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund has issued endorsements. It makes no mention of the Parkland shooting or the legislation, FL SB 7026 (18R), passed in response, which Caldwell voted against.

Caldwell said Tuesday he was proud of the NRA endorsement and that Floridians “can trust me to stand strong in defense of their constitutional freedoms.”

“I am an unwavering defender of the Second Amendment because I believe what our founders believed: Our rights come from God, not politicians,” he said.

In response to the Feb. 14 Parkland shooting that left 17 people dead, including 14 students, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Legislature passed — despite opposition from the NRA — a bill that banned assault rifles for anyone under 21 and required a three-day wait for most of those 21 and older. The NRA sued Florida the same day Scott signed the bill in March.

As Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart in March each announced plans to limit the sale of firearms to customers, Caldwell said, “I’m a proud lifetime member of the NRA and I’ll be sure to spend my dollars where they are welcome.”

Caldwell also defended a House vote to not take up a gun bill supported by Democrats, a move that drew national attention. He told CNN on Feb. 21 that it was a “procedural” move to not take that bill, which he called a “gun ban,” out of committees.

He also said the FBI didn’t take the suspected shooter in Parkland seriously and didn’t communicate the threat to local law enforcement agencies.

“If we’re going to solve this problem we are going to have to focus on that side of the equation,” Caldwell told CNN. “Taking away people’s Second Amendment rights aren’t going to do that.”

Politifact hit Caldwell with a “false” rating for his claim during the CNN interview that “a law enforcement is officer is more likely to commit a crime” than a concealed weapons permit holder.

Matt Dixon contributed to this report.

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