Republican Gold Star mom Karen Vaughn surprised a lot of people Wednesday when she admitted she might be up for a challenge against Congressman Brian Mast in the CD 18 GOP primary.
Consider it a sign the pro-gun conservative right is ready to fight back against the mushrooming Parkland-inspired movement that demands a new focus on the destructive power of the National Rifle Association.
Incumbent Mast's decision to put himself on the record condemning semiautomatic-style weapons for public consumption a little more than a week after the school shooting in Parkland where 17 were shot dead has stirred the ire of many in the party who liked his strong constitutional positions and voted for him in 2016.
In a Feb. 23 New York Times op-ed Mast said he carries a concealed pistol himself. But he supports "defining what constitutes an assault or tactical firearm and not allowing them for future purchase."
A highly decorated veteran who lost both legs in a bomb explosion, Mast said the rifle he used in Afghanistan is "very similar to the AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon used to kill students, teachers and a coach I knew at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where I once lived."
His combat weapon, he said, was "the best for killing our enemies." And for that reason, he said, "I cannot support the primary weapon I used to defend our people being used to kill children I swore to defend."
Strong stuff, making Mast one of the most sought-after network-news guests as the school shooting aftermath played out dramatically on TV screens all over the world. On the other hand, some within the GOP said they were deeply disappointed.
Conservative commentator Dan Bongino, for instance, a Mast supporter in the past, took to Twitter Feb. 25 to call the congressman's point of view “a grossly misinformed position which requires a response from liberty-loving voters in CD 18.”
Karen Vaughn could be the personification of that response.
She and husband Billy Vaughn, two of Mast's constituents, lost their 30-year-old Navy Seal son Aaron when the helicopter he was riding in was shot down in Afghanistan in 2011. Karen Vaughn has become a popular author and speaker ever since.
Karen Vaughn told the Palm Beach Post Wednesday she's not ready to divulge specifics, but she’s been encouraged to oppose Mast in the Palm Beach-Treasure Coast district and will announce a decision soon.
“I’m going to release a press release next week about this…That’s really all I can say right now,” she said.
Karen Vaughn spoke before Florida GOP delegates and the Republican National Convention two years ago in Cleveland -- both times to rousing ovations. On the opening night of the convention, Vaughn said her son died because of restrictive rules of engagement placed on the military while Barack Obama was president.
“There is no adversary the U.S. military cannot defeat if we unbind them from the restrictive, ludicrous rules of engagement they’ve been forced to fight under for the past seven years,” Vaughn told the 2016 convention audience. “We have lost the will to defend ourselves against enemies who are hell-bent on destroying us because we have been unwilling to lead with strength.”
Even though her candidacy is still undeclared, Vaughn is scheduled to appear with Mast -- both as speakers -- at an April 15 tea party rally in Wellington. Mast will be able to guage the level of opposition his anti-semiautomatic weapon stance has wrought.
Brad Stewart, spokesman for the freshman incumbent, issued this press statement Wednesday: “Since he was elected, Brian has been fighting hard to lower taxes and clean our waterways, as well as provide strong support to seniors, veterans and the rest of our community. The upcoming elections will provide a great opportunity to debate the issues and showcase the overwhelming support for the job he has done.”