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Senate candidate defends gun control stance

When challenged, Republican Bill McCollum said he avoids extremes on gun law issues.


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 23, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum sounded every bit like a gun law moderate Saturday while campaigning in St. Petersburg for the U.S. Senate. He touted his support for restricting gun show sales, for limiting magazine clips, for gun safety locks and for stiffer sentences for people convicted of gun crimes.

After recounting his efforts to keep guns away from criminals and children, McCollum was promptly challenged by a gun control activist.

"I'm going to have to disagree with you," said Zephyrhills resident Arthur Hayhoe, executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "You have an almost unbroken record of opposing gun control legislation, including the Brady Bill, which stopped over half a million (criminals) from buying guns."

McCollum, a Republican, disputed that characterization, saying he has merely avoided extreme positions. He said he opposed the Brady Bill because it placed a waiting period on handgun purchases, but said he enthusiastically supports instant background checks on gun buyers. "I have always favored those proposals that I thought would work and were reasonable, and I've always opposed those that I thought were restrictive on the rights of honest, law-abiding citizens to bear arms and protect themselves," said McCollum, who has received strong endorsements from the National Rifle Association.

Handgun Control Inc., a gun control advocacy group, has monitored congressional votes on 19 gun control proposals since 1991, from banning certain assault weapons to requiring that child safety safety locks be sold with all handguns. They say McCollum voted against the Handgun Control position in all but two cases, making him among the most consistent opponents of gun control proposals in the Florida delegation.

McCollum is running against Democratic Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson in a bid to succeed Connie Mack in the U.S. Senate. Mack, a Republican, chose not to seek re-election. While Nelson is not an across-the-board gun control advocate -- he opposes licensing and registration of guns, for instance -- he said in a phone interview Saturday that he would have enthusiastically voted for the Brady Bill.

Nelson said that in the 1980s, when he served in Congress with McCollum, they were on different sides of gun control proposals several times. Nelson recounted voting for an assault weapons ban that McCollum opposed, and that with an earlier version of the Brady Bill, Nelson opposed McCollum's efforts to strip out a seven-day waiting period for handgun sales.

About 65 mostly friendly voters braved the rain Saturday to attend McCollum's campaign stop at St. Petersburg's Sunshine Center. The Longwood resident and Brooksville native took a wide range of questions on everything from trade policies to tax cuts.

McCollum noted his support for a "marriage penalty" tax cut, which is opposed by president Clinton, and predicted it would be a defining difference between the parties and between him and Nelson. Nelson, however, said Saturday he also supports that tax cut, just as he supports repealing the estate tax, also unlike Clinton.

Asked about a House vote last week to allow food and drug sales to Cuba, McCollum said he opposed it because it "presents the opportunity, whether it will work or not, for (Castro) to build a kitty, to sustain his system and transfer power when he dies to another dictator just like him."

Nelson said he would have supported the move.

Peter Belmont of St. Petersburg asked McCollum about a 1999 League of Conservation Voters scorecard that ranked McCollum's environmental voting record lower than 16 of Florida's 23 House members. McCollum said he hadn't seen the survey, but he considers himself a strong environmentalist.

McCollum also pointed to his bill that would make the Wekiva River in Seminole County Florida's second waterway to get the protective "wild and scenic" designation is likely to pass next week.

"I'd be glad to debate any particular environmental issue anybody wants to. I'm for clean water, clean air," he said. "I consider myself an environmentalist of the first order."

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