Representative Brian Mast of Florida understands these political pressures, but in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, he no longer finds them a compelling defense against tighter gun laws. An Army veteran who lost both legs in Afghanistan, Mast may be evidence that some in Congress are shedding their political fear of guns. On February 23, he published an op-ed in The New York Times announcing his support for a ban on assault weapons. “I cannot support the primary weapon I used to defend our people being used to kill children I swore to defend,” he wrote. He also declared his support for background checks on all gun purchases, a ban on bump-stocks, and a ban on firearm purchases by those who have been declared mentally ill.
Mast acknowledged to me that he may have made himself politically vulnerable in his bid for reelection. “I’ve literally lost friends over this,” he told me. “And I said, you know what, someone is probably going to primary me over this, but you don’t worry about being a casualty when you’re trying to save a life.”
Mast’s op-ed was striking not so much for the positions it took, but for its simple existence.