Heitkamp, who holds an A rating from the National Rifle Association, had invited people to submit Facebook questions about education and student loans. Many commenters raised the issues of gun violence and mass shootings at schools.
"I recognize that this doesn't seem as if it deals with education, but in light of what happened in Oregon less than a week ago, and what has happened over 140 times since Sandy Hook, I say preventing gun safety IS an educational issue," one commenter, Jan Hooks, wrote.
"You seem to be a strong advocate for education in North Dakota. Are you not worried about the danger of no background checks for individuals purchasing firearms? Unfortunately classrooms seem to be a target for gun violence these days ... I would hope you not only want to educate students in North Dakota, but also protect them from being gunned down in their classrooms," Michele Barth Still wrote.
The 2012 elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, sparked concerted efforts by the Obama administration and some in Congress to pass stricter gun laws, but Heitkamp argued that gun control legislation would not "solve the problem" and suggested that gun-control supporters were motivated "by something other than school shootings."
"There isn't any amount of gun regulation or gun executive orders that will solve the problem of identifying people who could potentially do this and making sure they get the help and their families get the help so they don't do this," Heitkamp said then. "I've said it all along that this is wrong-headed, that what we absolutely need to be doing is doing things that actually achieve a result, and that's not something I'm convinced we'll achieve the intended result. I think it is an agenda driven by something other than school shootings."
Heitkamp voted against the Senate bill that would have expanded background checks -- one of the only Democrats to oppose it. Many of the people who bombarded Heitkamp with questions about gun violence on Wednesday asked her to explain her vote.
A Heitkamp aide said Wednesday that the senator typically won't respond to social media forum questions that do not directly pertain to the announced topic.
“Senator Heitkamp makes herself very accessible to North Dakotans through in-person meetings, events, phone calls, email and social media," said a spokeswoman for the senator. "Wednesday’s Facebook Q&A focused on education and student loans, and out of respect for the students, parents and teachers who took the time to participate and ask questions about that topic, she kept her answers to those specific questions, as she has done for previous Facebook Q&As on different issues."
“She already stated that her position on background checks legislation hasn’t changed," the spokeswoman added. "In 2013, she did vote for strong amendments that would make straw purchasing and gun trafficking federal crimes, strengthen and improve the NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check] system and prevent those with mental health issues from purchasing guns.”
Earlier this week, HuffPost pressed Heitkamp on whether she would reconsider her position on gun control legislation in light of last week's mass shooting in Oregon. "Obviously, I consider every legislation individually. We'll see what comes. That's the extent of it," she said.
This story has been updated with a comment from Heitkamps' spokeswoman.
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