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Port: Heidi Heitkamp doesn't want to answer questions about her 2013 vote against background checks

"I no longer have to answer your questions," she told a reporter.

Pension crisis
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., talks to retired truck drivers about the pension crisis at a restaurant in Fargo in April 2018.
Forum file photo
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MINOT, N.D. — On the most recent episode of my podcast, Plain Talk , my co-host Chad Oban and I got into it over gun politics.

The impetus was what happened in Uvalde, Texas, of course.

We went at it not in the talking-heads-screaming-at-each-other sort of way that you get on talk radio or cable news, but as two people with mutual respect for one another who have very different views of what ought to be done about gun control.

At one point Chad asked why bipartisan gun control legislation, backed by moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and conservative Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, couldn't have passed in 2013.

For the answer, we should look to former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, also a Democrat, who voted against that bill in the Senate (as did Republican Sen. John Hoeven).

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She was just recently asked a question about it, and haughtily dismissed the journalist asking it. "I no longer have to answer your questions," she told NBC News reporter Frank Thorp.

Heitkamp has definitely moved on from that aw-shucks-you-betcha persona she embraced while engaged in North Dakota politics, hasn't she? She's dropped the act now that she no longer needs to ingratiate herself with voters.

Anyway, this is an interesting anecdote for a couple of reasons.

First, Heidi Heitkamp's brother, talk radio host Joel Heitkamp, has apparently been railing on Republicans for not backing more gun control laws. Surely, he knows how his sister voted when she was in the Senate? A more intellectually honest sort of person might mention that.

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Second, Heidi Heitkamp's vote in 2013 reveals a bedrock reality about gun politics in America that gets obscured by the dense fogs of sanctimony we get from every celebrity and pundit and I-have-to-have-a-take-about-everything sports commentator competing with one another in an impromptu outrage tournament, which is that gun culture runs deep in our country.

Heitkamp's vote was the right one, at least from the perspective of doing what her constituents ask of her. And it's not like she was under immediate political pressure to vote that way. It happened in the first year of her six-year term in the Senate.

I like to believe that Heitkamp, like Hoeven, voted down that bill because she thought that's what most North Dakotans wanted her to do.

And she was right.

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Which is the reality every overwrought tweeter and scolding commentator glosses over when they vent their spleen about our lack of progress in stopping school shootings.

Which is why they aren't really persuading anyone.

Despite certain fashionable talking points, politicians like Heitkamp don't vote against increased gun control because they're bought off by the gun lobby. They certainly aren't doing it because they're soulless troglodytes who care little about the bloody murder of school children. They do it because they serve constituencies of Americans who are skeptical of gun control policy as a vehicle to address mass shootings.

Agree with it or not, this is not an unreasonable position.

I'm very much in that camp. I don't think access to guns causes mass shootings. I'm afraid that we've turned these incidents into cultural touchstones. They've become a medium for expression for the monstrously disaffected who are seeking infamy, whether they're motivated by bigotry or mental illness or some personal vendetta.

I'm not sure how curtailing access to firearms for millions upon millions of Americans who are responsible, law-abiding gun owners is a solution to that problem.

And I say that as a father who couldn't stop thinking about the faces of the victims in Uvalde while I was getting my own kids ready for school the day after that tragedy.

What I am certain of is that mean-spirited political stunts and social media demagoguery will not change anyone's mind.

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I'm open to being persuaded about new policies to address school shootings, including some that might further regulate guns. I'm downright enthusiastic to discuss ways in which we can enforce the reams of gun laws we already have on the books which are often poorly enforced or flat-out ineffective.

But to start that conversation, we need to cut through the fug of left-of-center casuistry that permeates each of these incidents.

It's not helping.

In fact, it's hurting.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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