Brian Mast, a first-term Republican congressman and U.S. Army veteran, made a splash when he announced his support for a ban on assault weapons.
Shortly after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Mast, who lost both of his lower legs in combat, threw his support for a ban on the weapons like the AR-15. That was the weapon the Parkland shooter used to kill 17 students and faculty members.
Mast criticized the availability of the AR-15 and similar weaponry saying they are far too lethal and inappropriate for U.S. streets and cities.
Mast’s call for the ban on such weapons is a key reason he has drawn not one, but two GOP opponents in the Aug. 28 primary.
One of those is Mark Freeman, a physician and former U.S. naval officer, who has made the right to bear arms a focal point of his campaign.
“I pledge, with all of my heart, to uphold the Second Amendment and President Trump,” Freeman said in a campaign ad that began airing in May.
Mast’s other Republican rival, Dave Cummings, who operates a real estate and insurance business with his wife, said Mast’s call for an assault weapons ban is “just lousy policy.”
“It showed that he didn’t have a grasp of what policies could work,” Cummings said.
Mast has not backed down from his position. But he has been highlighting other issues.
He’s been busy blasting the Brightline commuter rail system and decrying Lake Okeechobee discharges some environmentalists say have contributed to toxic algae blooms in the St. Lucie River.
Mast’s office has produced a documentary about the effects of the algae blooms. Those algae blooms have impacted commercial and recreational life in the district, which stretches from northern Palm Beach County up through the Treasure Coast.
“The most important issue for our community — by far — is the destruction being caused to our waterways,” said Mast’s spokesman, Brad Stewart. “This impacts our environment, our economy and human health. Fixing our waterways has been the top priority for the congressman in Congress, and it’s where his focus and attention continues to be. While others are looking to score cheap partisan political points, Congressman Mast has put aside partisanship and worked in a bipartisan way to pass a placeholder to authorize the southern storage reservoir, pass a provision forcing the Army Corps to re-evaluate the discharge schedule, secure hundreds of millions of dollars to prevent toxic agricultural runoff, combat harmful algal blooms and restore the Everglades, fully fund expedited completion of the Herbert Hoover Dike by 2022.”
Mast, who lost his lower legs in an explosion while serving in Afghanistan, has also called for better health care services for veterans. He joined with other members of Palm Beach County’s congressional delegation to open an office in the VA Medical Center in Riviera Beach.
The call for the weapons ban hasn’t hurt Mast’s ability to raise campaign dollars.
Incumbents usually swamp their opponents in fundraising, and Mast is enjoying the same advantage, according to campaign finance reports.
The congressman had raised $2.9 million by the end of March, reports show. Neither Freeman nor Cummings had raised anything up to that point.
Second quarter campaign finance reports are due on July 15.
Cummings said he’s not taking corporate donations and is focusing on face-to-face interactions as opposed to television advertising.
“We’re everywhere, all the time,” he said. “We’re right here on the ground talking to people. They don’t want to see another TV ad with hero music in the background.”