Florida video game contest shooting reignites gun rights debate

Florida video game contest shooting reignites gun rights debate

By Scott Malone

(Reuters) – The slaying of two competitors at a Florida video game tournament on Sunday has stirred the long-simmering gun rights debate in the state on the eve of its hotly contested state and federal primary elections.

With Florida voters scheduled to pick candidates for governor and Congress on Tuesday, some Democratic contenders said the shooting on Sunday in Jacksonville was further evidence of the need for stricter gun legislation while other hopefuls canceled campaign appearances.

The violence, which also injured 11 people, was the latest in a series of high-profile shootings in the state, following the killing of 17 students and educators at a high school in February and of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub in 2016.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office identified the suspected shooter as David Katz, 24, of Baltimore. Witnesses told local media Katz was angry because he lost the tournament.

“We as society have to come together and say enough of this,” Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson told reporters in Jacksonville, near the site of the shooting at a Madden 19 online football game tournament.

Nelson’s re-election campaign is facing a November challenge by the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, in one of the key races that will determine the balance of power in the Senate.

Gun rights, which are covered by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, are one of the most hotly contested themes of American politics. The debate breaks along party lines, with Republicans typically arguing that better enforcement of existing gun laws is the best way to deter shootings while Democrats call for more restrictions on weapons ownership.

Given the partisan breakdown, the shooting may not change outcomes in Tuesday’s primaries where people will be picking candidates from within their own parties.

‘SHAME ON YOU’

State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, one of the Republicans seeking to succeed Scott as governor, canceled a campaign event in Jacksonville and on Twitter said his “prayers continue to be with the victims and their families.”

Democratic front-runner Gwen Graham called on Putnam and his leading Republican rival, U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis, to offer a stronger policy response.

“@AdamPutnam and @RonDeSantisFL are avoiding Jacksonville because they are scared to answer questions on gun violence,” Graham said in a Monday Twitter post.

DeSantis spokesman Stephen Lawson snapped back at her.

“We chose not to politicize a tragedy,” Lawson said. “This is a sad attempt to score a quick political point while families are still grieving. Shame on you.”

Local media identified the dead from the shooting as Eli Clayton, 22, of Woodland Hills, California, and Taylor Robertson, 27, of Ballard, West Virginia.

Robertson, a husband and father, won the tournament last year and Katz won it the year before, according to Madden published EA Sports, the unit of Electronic Arts Inc, which sponsored Sunday’s tournament.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s office said nine people were wounded by gunfire and two others were injured while fleeing the scene. It said Katz’s body was found near those of two victims.

Authorities did not disclose how Katz had obtained the handgun.

The bar was live-streaming the competition when the gunfire started, according to video shared on social media. In the video, players can be seen reacting to the shots and cries can be heard before the footage cuts off.

Taylor Poindexter and her boyfriend, Marquis Williams, who had traveled from Chicago for the tournament, fled when the gunfire erupted. She said she saw Katz take aim at his victims.

“We did see him, two hands on the gun, walking back, just popping rounds,” Poindexter told reporters. “I was scared for my life and my boyfriend’s.”

Jacksonville Memorial Hospital is treating three people wounded in the attack, said spokesman Peter Moberg.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston, additional reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Joey Roulette in Jacksonville, Florida, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Alison Williams and Bill Trott)

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