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Giffords brings gun control message to Fargo

Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, visited Atomic Coffee in downtown Fargo last Wednesday. Carrie Snyder/Forum News Service

FARGO – Supporters here of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, say the couple offer a middle-ground approach to gun regulation even a blood-red state like North Dakota can get behind.

About 100 supporters of the couple crammed into Fargo’s Atomic Coffee on Wednesday afternoon. Their short stop was part of the couple’s weeklong, seven-state “Rights and Responsibilities Tour,” which touted a “common sense approach to gun control.”

Giffords was shot in the head by Jared Loughner in 2011 during a public appearance in her home state of Arizona.

Kelly said the couple were stopping in states where senators had mostly voted “no” to legislation in April.

North Dakota Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp voted against a bill that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases.

On Wednesday, the Republican Hoeven said in a statement that he respected Giffords and Kelly’s “courage and dedication to sharing their story across the country.” And while he voted “no” in April, he did pen a second bill with Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, that would prevent gun sales to criminals and people with mental illnesses, he said.

Heitkamp, who has taken heat from fellow Democrats for voting against the bill, said she did so because of a provision that would have called for background checks on casual sales at gun shows.

Heitkamp said well over 70 percent of guns sold at shows already include a background check.

“I’m honestly perplexed by all the attention on gun shows given that only 1 percent of all gun violence that is committed – according to surveys – is committed by a gun purchased at a gun show,” Heitkamp said Wednesday.

The senator said she agrees the current background check system could be improved but that most gun violence happens with illegally obtained guns.

Kelly said they had hoped to meet with both North Dakota senators privately but scheduling conflicts prohibited it.

“I think she’s got some valid concerns, and hopefully if this legislation comes up again, we’ve worked through them,” Kelly said Wednesday.

While North Dakotans have historically railed against tougher arms regulations and have a high rate of gun ownership, Kelly said a poll showed 79 percent of North Dakotans agree there should be universal background checks for gun sales.

Kathy Hurst and her daughter, Josie, of Moorhead, said they felt the couple are right in their approach to gun regulation, especially in the wake of such tragedies as the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were gunned down Dec. 14.

“It’s time we stand up and do something,” Kathy Hurst said.

Fargo Police Chief Keith Ternes, who attended the event along with a handful of uniformed officers, said security was stringent – as with any high-profile visit – but there had been no threats of violence or protests. Ternes said a few hecklers voluntarily left after becoming too loud.

Ternes said he opposes legislation that limits gun ownership but sees a need for legislation that can keep guns out of the wrong hands.

Article written by Wendy Reuer of the Forum News Service

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