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Minn., N.D. lawmakers have mixed reactions on Obama plans

North Dakota and Minnesota's congressional delegations offered mixed reactions Wednesday to President Barack Obama's call for sweeping changes to address gun violence in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting a month ago, but all agreed it's time for a comprehensive look at the issue.

Minnesota's pair of Democratic senators gave the plan the strongest support, with the rest of the area's federal lawmakers offering less enthusiastic reactions - or none at all - to the proposals Obama outlined.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Obama's recommendations that Congress pass universal background checks and other reforms are "very important" steps to improve public safety.

"As a member of the Judiciary Committee, I look forward to hearings on the recommendations including the proposed solutions on school safety, addressing mental illness, limits on high-capacity magazines, and other efforts to combat violence," she said in a written statement.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said the president's remarks contained a "pleasant surprise" - Obama's 23 executive orders announced Wednesday weren't as "extreme" as the rumors circulating in advance of his news conference.

Still, Obama's "insistent language" could make it hard to foster the kind of collaborative, thorough discussion Cramer said is vital to address all factors in violence, including the role of television, movies and video games, as well as the breakdown of the family and faith in the culture.

He said an example is the president's call for Congress to ban assault weapons that only account for 3 percent of the country's homicides, while handguns are involved in more than half of murders.

"We're still swinging at symbols instead of the reality," he said, "and that's why I think a bigger, deeper and broader discussion needs to take place rather than sort of an Oval Office mandate."

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said in a written statement that the president's proposal has "some good ideas, some bad ideas, and some new ideas," and said some have been tried before with limited success.

"The devil is always in the details, so I'm going to keep an open mind and not make any decisions until I've seen the specific legislative language and the specific language in any executive orders that are proposed," he wrote, adding that he's willing to work with anyone to advance ideas "that will help to keep our kids safer."

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said in a written statement that the nation is still mourning the "terrible tragedy" at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary, where a Dec. 14 shooting left 28 dead. He said he's spent the past month talking about the issues with officials, hunters, educators and others in Minnesota.

"There are reasonable steps that we can take to reduce gun violence while honoring Second Amendment rights, and I'm pleased that the Vice President's Task Force has worked quickly to develop its proposals," he wrote. "I'm especially happy to see that this proposal includes a strong emphasis on increasing access to mental health, which will be the focus of legislation I plan to introduce in the weeks ahead."

Neither of North Dakota's senators directly addressed Obama's gun control plans on Wednesday.

In a statement that made no specific mention of the proposals, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said all Americans want to reduce violence - a goal "tragically brought to the fore by the recent events in Newtown, Aurora and elsewhere in our nation." He said leaders need to "carefully consider" any legislation to address violence in schools and communities.

"To truly reduce acts of violence in our society, however, I believe we will need to take a thoughtful, comprehensive approach in order to build bipartisan support and, more importantly, to arrive at effective measures that will actually succeed," he said in a written statement.

Hoeven said that includes ways of preventing criminals and people with mental illnesses from having guns, as well as increasing security at schools and fully enforcing current gun laws. But the self-described "strong proponent of the Second Amendment" said restricting law-abiding citizens from owning guns wouldn't address the problem.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., was at a sending-off ceremony for troops headed to Afghanistan and wasn't available for comment Wednesday, spokeswoman Whitney Phillips said. Heitkamp didn't issue a statement on Obama's proposals.

Heitkamp was criticized earlier this month by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence after comments she made Jan. 6 on ABC's "This Week." When asked if addressing the problem of gun violence included gun control, she said rumored proposals from the Obama administration printed in the Washington Post were "way, way in extreme of what I think is necessary or even should be talked about."