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Cali Owings, Published September 04 2013

ND gun control group pressures Heitkamp to support expanded background checks

FARGO – Local representatives of a national gun control group are putting pressure on North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp to support expanding background checks.

Members of the local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America delivered a petition with 61 North Dakota signatures to Heitkamp’s Fargo office Wednesday afternoon.

The petitions were meant to be delivered in eight backpacks to symbolize the number of children who are killed with guns in the U.S. every day. Security at the federal building on Second Avenue would not allow backpacks, so the group simply delivered the petition after a short demonstration.

The “Back-to-School Background Checks” petition, with 41,000 signatures nationwide, is an effort spearheaded by the national group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The group, backed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has previously targeted Heitkamp with advertising campaigns.

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.

Susan Beehler, of Mandan, said she supports federal legislation to expand background checks because she wants kids to be safe in any state.

Beehler, chapter leader for North Dakota Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, listed several transactions for which background checks are required, such as adopting a pet or selling an insurance policy. Federal law does not require background checks for private gun sales, which can include online sales and gun shows.

“We do not treat all gun sales the same,” Beehler said.

The Rev. Peter Schmidt of Faith Lutheran Church in West Fargo said he supports whatever steps are necessary to prevent future tragedies like Sandy Hook.

“We need to take this step because we want to save our kids,” he said.

In a statement after the petition was delivered, Heitkamp said she appreciated the input from all sides of the discussion. She reiterated her support for restricting access to guns for the mentally ill and criminals.

“My focus remains on finding real solutions that can help prevent future tragedies and protect our children from harm,” Heitkamp said in the statement. “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.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599