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Duluth News Tribune - Gun Rights Cause a Flare-Up Between Candidates in Senate Debate

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Location: St. Paul, MN

Duluth News Tribune - Gun Rights Cause a Flare-Up Between Candidates in Senate Debate

By: By Scott Wente , State Capitol Bureau

Al Franken suggested he and Republican Sen. Norm Coleman agree on gun rights.

"I support the 2nd Amendment," Franken said. "I don't think we're any different on this."

Coleman shot that down.

"That is a stunning statement," he told the Democrat during a Friday night debate among Minnesota's three major candidates for U.S. Senate.

Coleman, locked in a tight battle with Franken, said his main opponent got a failing grade from the National Rifle Association and has suggested limiting gun ownership.

"There's no question that there's significant differences," Coleman said, touting his "A" rating from the NRA.

That was among issues over which the candidates sparred during their fourth debate, on Twin Cities Public Television's "Almanac" public affairs show.

The one-hour debate's loose format — no timed answers or formal opening or closing statements — yielded the candidates' most lively interaction of the campaign.

Franken challenged Coleman's willingness to work with Democrats. Coleman said Franken misrepresented him, did not understand Senate actions and lacks a record of accomplishment.

Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley, trailing Franken and Coleman by at least 15 points in polls, played the role he has in previous debates. He presented himself as an alternative to gridlocked Democrats and Republicans.

The three candidates agreed on one issue: They would oppose a second economic stimulus package like one Congress passed earlier this year that send government checks to taxpayer mailboxes.

But a question about the 2nd Amendment sparked a feisty exchange.

Franken said repeatedly that he supports citizens' right to own firearms, but also said he supports background checks and a national gun ownership database.

Franken said he is not a hunter, but went hunting for the first time last year with U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of western Minnesota.

Republicans have questioned Franken's support for 2nd Amendment rights, and Coleman's campaign issued a statement following the debate that included excerpts from one of Franken's books and a quote from a radio interview to suggest he is at odds with gun-rights advocates.

"You think I really want to take people's guns away?" he asked.

Barkley said that he and Coleman are the two who agree on gun-rights issues.

"The 2nd Amendment is the guardian for all the others," he said.

The candidates met before a national audience; the debate was broadcast live nationwide on C-SPAN 2. They will meet one more time, in a Minnesota Public Radio-sponsored debate at 7 p.m. Nov. 2.

SCOTT WENTE works for Forum Communications, which owns the Duluth News Tribune.

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