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Heitkamp was right to vote against comprehensive background checks

April 18, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Good for Heidi Heitkamp.

Heitkamp was one of four Democratic Senators who voted against comprehensive background check legislation yesterday, attracting criticism from the party at large. North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, a Republican, also voted against the legislation, as did the majority of Republicans.

Heitkamp said, and I agree, that "the focus should be on mental health issues, full and accurate reporting into the NICS database and ensuring that we are prosecuting criminals in possession of or trying to possess fire arms. The conversation should be about what is in people's minds, not about what is in their hands." She added that the legislation would have imposed too great a burden on law-abiding gun owners.

Heitkamp is entirely correct. A comprehensive background check would not have prevented the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut that claimed 26 lives or other mass shootings. The perpetrators in those cases used legally obtained firearms.

However, a stronger mental health system might have saved some of those victims. Jared Loughner, the perpetrator of the January 2011 Tucson, Ariz., shooting rampage, is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. James Holmes, the suspect in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting last summer, also reportedly suffers from severe mental illness. Adam Lanza, the killer of the children and teachers at Sandy Hook, also apparently had serious mental health issues.

It should be easier than it is for the relatives and friends of people like those men to get them help. Unfortunately, the mental health system has been gutted in the past 30 years and existing laws make it extremely difficult to force an adult with an untreated mental illness to get help until he has actually hurt himself or others. Parents are sometimes forced to surrender custody of a child with severe mental illness to the government to get them the help they need because the cost of treatment is so prohibitive. I encourage Heitkamp and others in Congress to tackle the broken mental health care system.

However, Heitkamp was right to vote against comprehensive background checks for all citizens. Her vote represents the wishes of most North Dakotans, those who voted for her and those who didn't.


Article Comments



Apr-19-13 11:52 AM

I think there are several problems with the mental health care system. First of all, there simply are not enough beds in psychiatric hospitals and insurance companies will not pay for a long enough stay. They keep these people long enough to stabilize them and then send them home before they're completely well. It's hard for parents to get help for teenagers with mental illness. Schizophrenia, in particular, tends to strike in the late teens to early twenties -- college age -- and privacy laws prevent colleges from contacting parents or providing much information about a student's erratic behavior. Even if they know, it's very hard for parents to force an adult child into treatment without concrete evidence he's harmed himself or others. How do you tackle those issues without trampling on civil rights?


Apr-19-13 11:10 AM

Andrea, as a person with a family member fighting addiction, what we were told in trying to get our loved one help was that the person had to be in danger of harming others or self. What to do? The "harm" was to self and the "harm" happened only when using. Hard to prove, hard to get the needed help, evaluations, etc. I also agreed with Sen. Heitkamp's vote and with her reasons.


Apr-19-13 8:57 AM

Andrea.. I think it's the older students that are in HS who show anti social tendency's that should be evaluated.


Apr-19-13 8:53 AM

Yeah and that is the problem we never see a problem in the ones we love. I think all or most schools have guidance counselors, maybe they need to step up to the plate a little more.


Apr-19-13 8:46 AM

I'm not interested in labeling little kids based on schoolyard fights. Family members and friends of those with severe mental illness are in the best position to know who might be a danger to themselves or others and their hands are often tied.


Apr-19-13 8:31 AM

Andrea.. I agree fully with you. I've wrote this here before, we have records of everybody's disposition in school records I hope. If not this is an opportunity to start documenting who is a childhood bully and who is the victim of childhood bullying. I know parents will say my little one is to young to know what they are doing when they are overly or under aggressive. But should we deny anyone their rights based on juvenile actions, there are no easy solutions to such far reaching problems.


Apr-19-13 8:08 AM

I think there are plenty of laws already on the books that should be enforced. There are also too many guns on the street already to hope for effective gun control. Areas with the strictest gun laws also tend to have higher crime rates.Only the law abiding follow the laws. I don't own guns and will never even pick one up but I don't like the idea of more limits on our rights just because people feel they should do SOMETHING, even if background checks would not have prevented any of the mass shootings they're responding to. Reforming the mental health system WOULD likely prevent some of these tragedies.


Apr-19-13 7:18 AM

There are 50 States with 50 State Governments in this country. I think each state is at least somewhat different than each of the other states. Heidi is a ND Senator not the Senator of some other states and hopefully will always stay in tune with the majority of us that live here.


Apr-18-13 9:47 PM

Sorry Andrea..I disagree...Background checks, that's it...That's all she would have been voting for...90% of Americans want Background checks...What's so "hard" to understand??? I do agree that we need to do SOMETHING about the mental health issue, BUT...Have no fear, the ND legislature is sure as s**t is not here!!!...This is from Legislature Josh Boschee..."Fun morning session in the North Dakota legislature! At a time, when we as a nation are seeking greater understanding of the relationship between behavioral and mental health issues to gun violence, the ND House of Representatives, just defeated a bill that would have required a study of the behavioral health needs in the state."

This state's legislature this year has been the most worthless (expletive!!) EVER!!!! But they sure as the dickens gave themselves a hefty pay raise...Didn't they!!!


Apr-18-13 8:05 PM

Laws against murder don't prevent people from killing people either, no sense in keeping those laws on the books I guess. Same goes for DUI, rape, child abuse, arson... Here is the thing, some people believe that your health care is your problem, not mine or theirs. My familie's health care is my problem to deal with. If I can not get someone in my family the care they need because the cost of health care in this country is flipping out of control, what are we as a nation to do? I think there needs to be movement on both sides of this issue. Along with some laws on trigger locks or something of that nature, if you have children in the home or have someone who may be mentally unstable.


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