In the Spotlight

News & Features
Dayton's Gun Control Position Questioned
By Amy Radil
November 3, 2000
Click for audio RealAudio

A U.S. Senate debate at the Mall of America raised questions about DFLer Mark Dayton's position on gun control. As Dayton sparred with incumbent Republican Rod Grams and Independence Party candidate James Gibson, he seemed to contradict positions he staked out earlier in the campaign.

MARK DAYTON has run ads sharply critical of Rod Grams for voting against a ban on all guns near schools. One Dayton mailing contains the headline Zero Tolerance on Firearms and says the DFLer will be tough on guns. But at the debate, sponsored by WMNN Radio, Dayton wore his "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, given in 1982 during his last Senate run, as a badge of honor.

"I strongly support the Second Amendment," Dayton declared. "The Second Amendment says citizens have the right to bear arms, it shall not be infringed."

Dayton's rhetoric on Second Amendment rights is much stronger now than it was during the primary campaign, when his opponents were other DFLers. During the primary, Dayton issued a memo saying he was "intentionally deceived" into undergoing the NRA's screening and had never sought the organization's endorsement.

For his part, Grams defends his vote on the school gun measure by saying he didn't want to impose a new federal law on states, and he, too, professes strong support for the Second Amendment.

"I do not support the registration, licensing, banning more of the guns that we have like semi-automatics, that's the gun I use to go pheasant hunting that they would want to ban, or have mandatory-type trigger locks," said Grams.

Grams is endorsed by the National Rifle Association. Earlier in the campaign, NRA President Charlton Heston made an effort to campaign with him. As he has done throughout the campaign, Grams painted Dayton with a more liberal brush.

"Mr. Dayton has been in support of registration, licensing and banning of guns and I disagree with that," said Grams.

Dayton shot back angrily that Grams was intentionally distorting his positions, and added that he hunted growing up and he owns firearms now.

"I'm not going to let anybody take away the guns I own today - two shotguns, a rifle and two .38 police specials that I have in a lockbox in my home - because it's been broken into twice and vandalized and I'm not going to let anyone take away your guns either."

But Dayton did say he'd support licenses for gun possession both in a St. Paul Pioneer Press candidate survey and in a survey submitted to the Million Mom March, a national group advocating gun control measures. He also told the group he'd support a "terms of sale" registration for future handgun purchases. Dayton refused to address the material after the debate. His spokeswoman said Dayton thought the newspaper was referring to concealed weapons.

Dayton has consistently supported background checks - including at gun shows - and trigger locks as technology allows. He also says he'd support the option put forward by Independence Party candidate James Gibson.

"I think we ought to look for solutions both sides can buy on instead of just polarizing this argument. One technology that I think has a lot of potential and both sides can buy onto is owner-recognition technology, where only the owner can fire their gun and we ought to encourage those kinds of investments," Gibson said.

Gibson says he would oppose licensing and registration because they could encroach on gun owner's rights. That would seem to make Minnesota's U.S. Senate candidates virtually unanimous in opposing any strict new gun control measures.