June 21, 1996 in Idaho

Craig, Minnick Duel Over Guns Politicians Each Claim The Other Supports Gun Control Efforts

Ken Olsen Staff Writer

Larry Craig is putting his opponent in the political cross hairs for allegedly taking up with gun-control advocates.

The proof: A National Education Association questionnaire filled out by Democrat Walt Minnick and a $5,000 campaign donation from the NEA to Minnick’s campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Minnick’s campaign is calling it a pathetic, direct-mail smear campaign. They also chide Craig for voting for a version of the 1993 crime bill that included the assault weapons ban, while criticizing Minnick on gun-control issues. Minnick is a gun owner and hunter.

The dispute started with a letter that Craig apparently sent to National Rifle Association members in Idaho. Minnick is “picking up a lot of money from many of the gun-control advocates who are looking for any way they can to defeat me,” Craig wrote.

“You have a true, from-the-heart belief in this issue…you don’t just talk a good game, you make a financial investment in it….Please send a check today,” Craig wrote.

When asked to identify the cash-flush gun-control advocates filling Minnick’s coffers, the Craig campaign could only cough up the National Education Association’s contribution to Minnick and an NEA questionnaire.

The key line in the questionnaire asks candidates to agree or disagree with NEA’s statement that it “supports safe and weapon-free school environments and opposes legislation that would repeal limits on semiautomatic assault weapons and a waiting period prior to the purchase of handguns.”

Minnick not only agrees, but wrote on the questionnaire that he favors the Brady Bill “…as implemented in Idaho and limits on certain categories of military weapons.” In Idaho, background checks are instantaneous and there is no seven-day waiting period on handgun purchases, as the Brady law proposed.

With that, Minnick has “made it clear he has a platform on gun control,” said Mike Tracy, press secretary for the Craig campaign. The NEA is a serious gun control threat because “it’s a large organization with a lot of members and a lot of clout,” he said.

As to the crime bill and assault-weapons ban, Craig did vote for the Senate version of the bill, but vowed to oppose the final House-Senate compromise measure if the weapons ban remained intact. And that’s exactly what happened, Tracy said.

“That’s pretty pathetic,” said Bill Broadhead, chief spokesman for the Minnick campaign. “To cite a teacher’s union as gun control advocates shows how weak their position is.

“These are people whose goal is to keep guns out of classrooms,” Broadhead said. “I wonder if Larry Craig opposes that, too.”

Craig doesn’t want guns in the classroom. He also doesn’t go along with either the Brady bill or a ban on semiautomatic weapons. Semiautomatic weapons are used by hunters and rarely used in violent crimes, the senator said in his reply to the NEA questionnaire.

But Craig’s questionnaire reply also reveals he isn’t totally pure in his gun-control opposition. He takes credit for supporting and helping “enact a workable instant background check system for felon records,” his NEA questionnaire said.

Craig also supports a background check that identifies people who are mentally incompetent, he said. As much as the debate sounds like routine political mudslinging, it will be potent among some important Idaho voters.

The Craig fund-raising letter prompted Don Forrest, a former National Rifle Association member, to call Minnick’s office to find out where the candidate stands on gun control.

“I’m kind of tired of Larry Craig,” Forrest said, “but I’m damn tired of his stand on the environment.”

Forrest thinks Minnick might do better. But “I sure wasn’t going to vote for (Minnick) if he’s for gun control” including support for the Brady Bill or the assault weapons ban.

, DataTimes

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