Still, Beehler was optimistic. She headed for a table in the corner, where two men wearing flannel buffalo plaid were sipping drinks.
“Hello there!” she said. “I’m with the Million Moms for Gun Control group, and we’re looking for responsible gun owners.”
Dick Coleman, who owns 15 guns, and Pete Schlenker, who owns 33, nodded.
“We’re just moms interested in reasonable controls that people can live with,” she continued, trying to sound non-threatening. “Like limiting the number of bullets in magazines? Or universal background checks? That kind of thing — ”
“Yep,” Schlenker said. Coleman just sipped his drink. Beehler, a little nervous, kept on with her pitch, unsure where it was going.
President Obama, speaking after the Connecticut school shootings that left 20 children and six adults dead, said he is sure that “the vast majority of responsible, law-abiding gun owners” would support gun-control measures such as universal background checks or a ban on assault rifles. He appealed to the grass roots: Passing the new laws would require “a wave of Americans . . . standing up and saying ‘enough’ on behalf of our kids.”
The White House strategy is all the more critical in states such as North Dakota, where Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat with an A rating from the National Rifle Association, was elected in November. Winning over Heitkamp and other Democrats from gun-friendly states such as New Mexico, Indiana and West Virginia is the least of what the White House must accomplish to change gun laws, to say nothing of securing the necessary Republican votes.
At the moment, though, there is virtually no ground game toward that end in North Dakota. Democrats are lying low on the issue. Obama’s vaunted campaign machine, now called Organizing for Action, has not organized any action.
One Washington-based group, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, did try running full-page ads blasting Heitkamp — “Shame on you,” they read — after she described the president’s proposals as “way in the extreme of what I think is necessary or should even be talked about.” But that did not seem to have much effect.
And so for now, the cause of gun control in North Dakota is in the hands of Susan Beehler, 54, a mother of five and occasional civic gadfly whose past causes have included dairy farmers, baby seals, arthritis and abolishing property taxes, none of which affected her like the Sandy Hook shootings.
She had sat for hours watching the news from Newtown unfold in her living room and vowed to do something. A few weeks later, she started a North Dakota chapter of a group called One Million Moms for Gun Control and started studying up on assault rifles and statistics on gun deaths.