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Gun control group strikes at Heitkamp for calling Obama plans 'extreme'

FARGO - A national group is running newspaper ads critical of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's comments in a TV interview Sunday in which the North Dakota Democrat called the Obama administration's reported gun-control proposals "way in extreme of what I think is necessary."

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence purchased ads that communications director Ladd Everitt said will appear in The Forum and Bismarck Tribune on Wednesday. The ads also ran in Washington newspapers Politico and Roll Call today.

"That was really responding directly to those remarks, which we viewed as offensive, and particularly offensive to people who have lost loved ones in these types of tragedies," Everitt told The Forum this morning.

The full-page ad that will appear in The Forum refers to mass shootings, including at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and is also signed by survivors of those killed in shootings at Virginia Tech, Tucson, Ariz., and Aurora, Colo.

"No parent should have to send their children to school wondering if they will come home," the ad states.

In an appearance Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Heitkamp, a member of the National Rifle Association and former North Dakota attorney general, was asked by moderator George Stephanopoulos if she was willing to sign on to reforms being discussed by the president and vice president - which the coalition's ad notes may include universal background checks and a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

"It's unclear," Heitkamp said. "I mean, you read Washington Post stories and you listen to what the administration says, and so I think what we need to do is we need to take a look at what happened at Sandy Hook. When I was attorney general, I was tasked with a national task force on school violence. We made a number of recommendations which in fact were adopted at Sandy Hook to help keep schools safer. They weren't adequate.

"Let's start addressing the problem," she continued. "And to me, one of the issues that I think comes - screams - out of this is the issue of mental health and the care for the mentally ill in our country, especially the dangerously mentally ill. And so we need to have a broad discussion."

When Stephanopoulos asked her if that included gun control, she said, "I think you need to put everything on the table, but what I hear from the administration - and if the Washington Post is to be believed - that's way, way in extreme of what I think is necessary or even should be talked about. And it's not going to pass."

A Washington Post story published Saturday, quoting anonymous sources, reported a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden is mulling a broad set of gun control proposals including a national weapons database, universal background checks, more robust mental health checks and stronger penalties for carrying guns nears schools or giving them to minors. Those steps would go beyond restoring the expired bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

The Huffington Post reported that Heitkamp's communications director, Whitney Phillips, issued a statement this morning in response to the ad campaign. Phone and email messages left for Phillips by The Forum weren't immediately returned.

"Senator Heitkamp believes the discussion and ultimate solution to these mass violence tragedies must go beyond a singular focus on gun laws, and that the discussion must examine mental health, school security, and community development to help parents identify and address children potentially suffering from mental illness," the statement read. "Senator Heitkamp has clearly stated that all options must be on the table when it comes to addressing gun violence in America."

Everitt said the coalition was pleased with the remarks.

"That seemed to signal to us that she got the message," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528