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Dave Olson, Published July 29 2013

Both sides of gun control issue show up at Fargo rally

FARGO – The sister of a teacher who was shot and killed in her classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., spoke in Fargo on Monday about the need for universal background checks for gun sales.

“Gun violence knows no bounds,” said Carlee Soto. While background checks won’t prevent all shootings, she maintained they will help save lives.

Soto spoke in Fargo’s Island Park at a rally organized by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The gun control group hoped to pressure Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., to reconsider her vote earlier this year against a failed bill to expand background checks on guns. Heitkamp was one of five Democrats in the Senate to oppose the bill.

Speakers also noted North Dakota Republican Sen. John Hoeven’s lack of support for background check legislation.

Heitkamp released the following statement Monday afternoon:

“The terrifying and unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary should be a call to action to address gun violence in our country. We can all agree on that.

“And I appreciate the input from all sides of this discussion, including those like Carlee Soto who have lost loved ones to acts of gun violence,” Heitkamp said in the statement.

“My focus remains on finding real solutions that can help prevent future tragedies and protect our children from harm,” the statement continued. “I believe the best way to do that is to seek ways to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminals.”

For and against

At Monday’s rally, former Fargo Mayor Jon Lindgren read from a list of people who have died from gun violence since the December Sandy Hook shooting which took the life of Soto’s sister, Victoria, five other adults and 20 children.

A group of people who oppose strengthening background checks for gun sales also attended the rally.

Dan Freeman, of Fargo, was among them.

“We’ve got enough laws on the books. It’s not stopping gun violence,” Freeman said.

Mary Jane Haugen, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother from Moorhead, supports background checks.

As she listened to Lindgren read the names of victims of shootings, Haugen said the country must try something to address the ever-growing number of gun victims.

“How can we not?” she asked.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker did not appear at the event.

Walaker, who several years ago joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an organization started by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, previously said gun violence in Fargo is not a major problem.

Susan Beehler, head of the North Dakota chapter of Moms Demand Action, disagreed with Walaker.

“Gun violence is not just a big-city problem, it affects North Dakotans,” said Beehler, of Mandan.

Bill Badger, who was wounded in a shooting in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011 that also injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, spoke directly to the sign-carrying protesters, stating that before the shooting he would have been right there with them.

Badger, who described himself as a Republican gun owner, said he will work to make sure any background-check law passed by Congress does not restrict the right of Americans to own guns.

“It’s going to be something you can live with and I can live with,” Badger said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555