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Cali Owings, Published June 08 2013

NRA urges North Dakota members to thank Heitkamp for gun vote

FARGO – Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., may have upset fellow Democrats when she didn’t support gun control measures this past April, but that decision bought her points with the National Rifle Association.

The group recently sent a mailer to all of its North Dakota members urging them to contact Heitkamp and thank her for protecting Second Amendment rights.

Heitkamp was one of four Senate Democrats who did not support a plan to expand gun background checks. The measure was pushed by the White House as part of the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act, a response to the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and other mass shootings across the nation.

Heitkamp has received an “outpouring” of support from North Dakotans since her decision, said Whitney Phillips, the senator’s communications director. In just a 30-minute span last Wednesday, three callers had dialed to say thanks, she said.

In total, more than 13,000 people have called to support her position since she was sworn in earlier this year, Phillips said.

Andrew Arulanandam, NRA spokesman, said the group wanted to make sure its members in the state express their gratitude because Heitkamp stood up to “tremendous political pressure.”

“The NRA thinks that Sen. Heitkamp is a profile in courage and common sense. She listens to her constituents,” he said.

Earlier this year, Heitkamp criticized a $156,000 ad buy in North Dakota paid for by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s pro-gun control coalition. The ads were part of a campaign targeting senators in 13 states believed to be reluctant to support gun control legislation.

The ad campaign focuses on national gun-related crime data. But the senator and former state attorney general said those statistics don’t apply in North Dakota, where gun ownership is among the highest in the nation but incidents of gun violence remain low.

Phillips said it was important to Heitkamp that her position represent North Dakota’s needs.

Republican Sen. John Hoeven, who also voted against expanding background checks, has received more expressions of support on the issue than usual, especially in the days following the high-profile vote, according to his communications director.

"The way (Sens. Hoeven and Heitkamp) vote reflects North Dakota and nowhere else," Phillips said.

By favoring constituents over party lines, Heitkamp was following in many of her predecessors’ footsteps, said Mark Jendrysik, University of North Dakota political science professor.

“This is clearly an example of how she is not always going to follow along with the national Democratic Party line, which is something other Democratic senators from the state have traditionally done,” Jendrysik said.

And in a state like North Dakota, Heitkamp probably won’t face too many political consequences for her choice, though it could affect out-of-state fundraising, he said.

That’s a long way off for Heitkamp – she’s not up for re-election until 2018.

While the NRA is thanking her now, Jendrysik speculated the group would likely support whichever Republican runs for her seat in the future.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599