BISMARCK, N.D. _ Both of North Dakota’s senators say the focus in reducing gun violence should be on mental health and keeping weapons out of the hands of criminals.
Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp also said they don’t see themselves changing their minds on supporting legislation that makes it tougher for law-abiding citizens to legally purchase firearms.
Heitkamp, a Democrat, was touring the state last week, meeting with veterans groups while former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and her husband, Mark Kelly, visited North Dakota.
“I met with her (Giffords) and her husband when they were in Washington, D.C., and listened to their position and told them mine,” Heitkamp said.
Heitkamp drew fire from gun control advocates for being one of four Democrats to vote against gun control legislation in April.
The amendment proposed by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa. would have allowed expanded background checks in firearms purchases. The amendment failed by a 54-46 vote. Hoeven, a Republican, also voted against it
Seen as a key vote, Heitkamp was lobbied hard by gun control advocates prior to the vote on the amendment.
Heitkamp said those calling her office before the vote urged a no vote, by a ratio of more than 5 to 1, and that was important in her decision.
“I have not seen any proposals that would cause me to change my position. Let’s focus on the root causes like mental illness and keeping illegal guns out of the hands of criminals,” Heitkamp said.
Giffords’ and Kelly’s group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, touted a poll they conducted prior to their visit to North Dakota.
Their poll of 600 likely North Dakota voters found 79 percent in favor of increasing background checks for firearm purchases.
“I have spent a lot of time in our state and listened to many North Dakotans, before and after the vote. I am confident in my position,” Heitkamp said.
In January 2011, Giffords was holding a meeting with constituents in Tucson, Ariz., when a gunman shot her in the head. Six people were killed and 12 were injured.
Giffords later stepped down from Congress to focus on her recovery.
Hoeven said in a statement that he admires the efforts of Giffords and Kelly.
“Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, have overcome tremendous adversity and we respect their courage and dedication to sharing their story across the country,” Hoeven said.
However, he says, mental illness is the primary issue when it comes to gun violence.
“That’s why I supported legislation that would have increased resources for prosecutions of gun crime, addressed mental illness in the criminal justice system, and strengthened illegal firearm trafficking statutes,” Hoeven said.