Gun owners favor Crist in election Gun owners favor Crist in race for governor


Published: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Tom Gallagher is staking his hopes of becoming governor on an image as the most conservative choice in the Republican primary. But one of the most passionate conservative blocs in the state - gun owners - is staunchly supporting his opponent, Attorney General Charlie Crist.
At a gun show in Miami this weekend, Victor Bean - owner of the Southern Classic Gun and Knife Shows - had removed from the show a table offering Gallagher campaign material. Bean, the state's largest gun show operator, cited Gallagher's past support, during his 1994 run for governor, for a ban on assault weapons, a push for registration of bullets and a ban on gun sales to those 21 and younger.
"He can't be trusted as far as that issue," Bean said.
Asked if Gallagher can claim to be the conservative choice in the primary without support from Second Amendment advocates, Bean said, "Absolutely not."
Crist visited the gun show in Miami, and visited a gun show in Jacksonville last month. Bean said Crist gets a rock star welcome at the events.
"Everybody recognizes him, they want to touch him, pat him on the back," Bean said.
Gallagher campaign spokesman Albert Martinez said Gallagher "is and always has been pro-Second Amendment," citing support from as long ago as the 1980s for concealed weapon legislation and a vote against a three-day waiting period for gun purchases.
"There's no daylight between him and his opponent on the issue of gun owners' rights," Martinez said.
Marion Hammer is the president of Unified Sportsmen of Florida and was the first female president of the National Rifle Association. She said the group has not yet endorsed a candidate in the governor's race, but said she has "had more phone calls that I care to think about" from gun owners concerned about Gallagher's past positions.
"Second Amendment folks tend to be like elephants. They don't forget," she said.
Most gun owners seem to be supporting Crist, she said, regardless of Gallagher's stance as the most conservative choice.
"He can call himself whatever he wants. Whether or not he'll have success in doing that is another question," she said, adding that Crist has an A+ rating from the NRA.
John DiGaetano is president of the Second Amendment Club of America in Wesley Chapel. The group of about 150 members organizes safety classes around the Tampa Bay area.
"I've got my mind set on Charlie Crist," DiGaetano said. "I see hardly any interest at all in Gallagher. Most gun owners - there are 6 million in Florida - when we get our minds set on somebody, that's pretty hard to change."
Not all Second Amendment supporters are in the Crist camp. Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, sponsored legislation this year that would have allowed registered owners of concealed weapons to bring their weapons to work in their vehicles. He said Gallagher was a supporter of the bill, while Crist was not at the debate.
"I don't think gun owners have anything to fear from either of them," said Baxley, who supports Gallagher.
Crist has not taken a firm stance on the controversial "bring your gun to work" bill.
"As governor, Charlie Crist will work with all interested groups to strike a balance between ensuring the rights of law-abiding people to lock firearms in their private vehicles in parking lots, along with the rights of employers to make decisions about their workplaces," said Crist campaign spokeswoman Vivian Myrtetus.
Hammer said her group might endorse state Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, in the Democratic primary. Smith has been a supporter of legislation favored by gun owners, while his opponent, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, has not.
"Jim Davis would be like an F-," Hammer said of a likely grade from the NRA. "Rod Smith is probably a B or a B+."

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