Florida home builder and wealthy Republican donor, Al Hoffman, is bringing his influence to bear on the cause of gun control by creating a new advocacy group - Americans for Gun Safety - launched March 24, the same day as the March for Our Lives.
Hoffman, 83, who helped develop the community of Parkland, home to the mass shooting that killed 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, attending the march in Washington D.C. and described it as the "the most profound experience of a lifetime.”
The group has a six-point plan aimed at persuading Congress to pass comprehensive gun control legislation before November, and a ban on assault weapons soon to follow.
The non-profit group's starting members include an impressive bipartisan mix of Florida heavyweights with the potential to reshape the political debate in Florida, and perhaps nationally. It includes two Republican members of Congress, Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast, as well as Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed in the Parkland shooting; several major Florida Republican donors, including Cuban-American healthcare billionaire Mike Fernandez, Tampa developer Mel Sembler and Miami auto magnate Norman Braman. Other members include Dennis Blair, who served as director of national intelligence from 2009 to 2010, and retired professional golfer Jack Nicklaus, who sponsors a Miami children's hospital.
Hoffman, 83, is the former U.S. ambassador to Portugal, the former co-chair for President George W. Bush's campaigns in 2000 and 2004, a former finance chair for the Republican National Committee and former chair of Marco Rubio’s 2010 campaign for U.S. Senate.
Prior to creating his company, Hoffman was a U.S. Airforce fighter pilot and West Point graduate who later earned an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School.
"Today marks the beginning of a new era in the debate on gun safety," the group's website declares. "Students, parents and educators from across our great nation are joining a committed group of concerned citizens to march for one common goal: Comprehensive Gun Legislation."
The website commends Florida's legislature and Governor Rick Scott for the recent passage of limited gun reform in the state, including raising the age limit for the purchase of assault weapons as well as funding for school security and expanded health services.
"Congress needs to follow Florida’s lead!" the website adds.
The group advocates a five-point plan that includes closing background check loopholes, raising the age for all gun purchases to 21, eliminating bump stocks, limiting high-capacity magazines, and providing support for mental health. It also expresses support for Second Amendment gun rights. The group's ultimate goal is to eliminate assault weapons such as the notorious AR-15 used by the Parkland shooter.
“I truly believe we are at a milestone,” Hoffman told the Miami Herald. “A lot of these young people are just turning 18 and, to a person, they were committed to registering and voting and to get their legislators to listen to their simple demands.”
Hoffman also told the Herald that he planned to target Republicans who are on the “wrong side," vowing not to send them more money until they endorse his plan. That includes Scott, who is expected to announce a bid for the U.S. Senate in the next few weeks.
He said that he has so far failed to recruit any Republican senators and was critical of Florida's Marco Rubio, who he helped get elected. Rubio has come under fire since the Parkland shooting for dancing around the issue and refusing to ensorse an assault weapons ban.
Hoffman told the Herald that he wanted to know how Rubio used the $3.3 million he has received from the National Rifle Assocation gun lobby.
Other members of the group also voiced their support for the Parkland students' movement.
"I’ve been interested in this issue for the longest period of time. But it took Al Hoffman’s initiative to really bring it to the fore for those of us who’ve been active Republicans our whole lives," said Braman. "I am supportive of the students at Parkland … not only supportive and vocalizing, but supporting it financially."
But like Hoffman, he said he remained a loyal Republican and supporter of the Second Amendment. "I don’t think this is a Republican versus Democrat issue, you have people on both sides calling for change," he said.