BOSTON - 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 wounded 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. Sen. 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.
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. Rep. 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.
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams told reporters on Monday that 10 people were wounded by gunfire and one was injured while fleeing the scene. Earlier, officials had said nine people and been shot and two injured while fleeing.
Katz had two handguns and extra ammunition in his possession but appeared to have fired only one, Williams said at a news conference. Katz bought the guns legally in Maryland, Williams said.
“The suspect clearly targeted other gamers,” Williams said. “The motive in this case still remains under investigation.”