A tough-as-nails vet and political heavy-weight like John Thrasher isn’t the type of Republican you’d expect to challenge the NRA and get misty-eyed about limiting some gun rights.
But all that changed Jan. 9 when 20-year-old Ashley Cowie died in the arms of her twin sister, whose boyfriend’s AK-47-style rifle accidentally shot her at point blank range at an FSU frat house.
In some ways, the Cowie twins were there because of Thrasher. Their father, Bob, has been his dentist for decades. And Thrasher, like any good Seminole booster, taunted Bob Cowie because his oldest daughter went to the University of Florida.
“I told them they shouldn’t be Gators,” Thrasher recalled. “I had them get a VIP tour of FSU and they loved it. They really wanted to come here.”
In the wake of the shooting, Thrasher struggled with the fact that one of his fellow North Florida Republicans, Greg Evers, was sponsoring an open-carry bill that incidentally allowed concealed-weapon permit holders to carry firearms on college campuses for the first time.
Bob Cowie called his friend and Senator and asked a favor: Don’t let that provision in the bill pass. Thrasher has that power. As the Rules Committee Chairman, he can keep legislation off the floor of the Senate. Thrasher’s wife brought Bob Cowie last week to testify about his daughters, bringing many to tears.
Thrasher wasn’t there. But behind the scenes, he let his stand be known. “I oppose this,” he said. “It’s beyond personal for me,” Thrasher said. “Any other time I might support something like this, but I just can’t. Two families lives have been destroyed by this. It's so unbelievably sad and personal and emotional."
Yesterday, due to an amendment from another Republican, Sen. Paula Dockery, the college language was stripped from the bill. Normally, the NRA doesn't lose in the Florida Legislature. But this is a process dominated by powerful anecdotes and personal and political connections. Facing that, the NRA had little chance with this provision.