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Senator defends vote on gun legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — North Dakota’s U.S. senators voted Thursday against expanded background checks for gun purchases a day after a shooting in California that left 14 dead sparked a debate on gun control.

The vote, which was tied to a bill to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act and strip federal funding to Planned Parenthood that President Barack Obama was sure to veto, was consistent with Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s 2013 vote against expanding background checks. She was the only Democratic senator to vote no Thursday, highlighting the political tightrope she walks as a Democrat in a conservative state.

The Senate ultimately rejected the background checks proposal.

“These votes were on amendments to a political messaging bill which the president has already said he will veto if it passes,” Heitkamp said in a statement Friday. “I have made clear where I stand on background checks legislation, and that hasn’t changed.”

Both Heitkamp and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., also voted against an amendment to block gun sales to suspected terrorists, which Hoeven said lacked “judicial oversight or due process.” He did support an amendment to provide “an expedited process so that law enforcement can prevent a suspected terrorist from getting a weapon” but also protects constitutional rights of those who may have been wrongly put on a watch list, he said in a statement.

That proposal was also blocked.

The immediate past chairman of the North Dakota Democratic Party, Bob Valeu, said last month he was “extremely disappointed” in Heitkamp’s 2013 background checks vote but said he still supports her “100 percent.”

Heitkamp did support an amendment in 2013 to criminalize straw purchasing and gun trafficking, as well as to improve the availability of records to the criminal background check system.

The purpose of Thursday’s background check amendment, sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., was to “ensure that all individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and provide a responsible and consistent background check process,” according to the Senate website. The amendment would have expanded “existing background checks to gun shows and online sales,” according to a news release on Manchin’s website.

The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday the Obama Administration was looking into executive action to close the so-called “gun show loophole” that allows people to buy firearms without a background check.

On Wednesday, two people — a man and a woman — killed 14 people and injured 21 in San Bernardino, Calif., according to National Public Radio. The motives of the shooters remained unclear Friday morning, though Reuters Media reported that a suspected attacker pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and that the FBI is investigating the shooting as “an act of terrorism.”

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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