The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 3, 2013

Manchin says gun check bill critics wrong

HINTON — Enhanced background checks admittedly won’t keep guns out of the hands of all criminals and the deranged, but if the proposed law prevents one tragedy, Sen. Joe Manchin feels his once-failed proposal is worth a second try.

Manchin sought Thursday in an interview to allay widespread fears that the proposed background checks are tantamount to registration of privately-owned firearms.

In the same appearance before The Register-Herald’s editorial board, the West Virginia senator also ripped into the National Rifle Association, suggesting the nation’s leading Second Amendment advocate is opposing his effort out of monetary interests.

“Criminals will always get guns,” Manchin admitted.

“There’s no guarantees in life. When you live in a democracy, there’s no guarantees. The bottom line is, should you not have reasonable, sensible laws on the books? I guess you can take all the speed limits off and all the stop signs down. If you’re a pure libertarian, this is probably not the country for you, if you don’t want any rules and regulations.”

Manchin likewise acknowledged that some mentally unstable persons could buy a firearm and go on a rampage, gunning down the innocent and unarmed, since their names, unless adjudicated by a court as ill, wouldn’t appear in the NICS check.

“It doesn’t stop everything,” Manchin said. “I’m the first to tell you. But if we can prevent one person from going through another personal tragedy ...”

As for those viewing the proposal — which failed by 54-46 vote, or six shy of the required 60 for Senate passage — as gun registration, Manchin pointed out that two decades under the Brady Bill haven’t led to that.

More importantly, he said the first background check merely makes it a misdemeanor for any government agency or bureaucrat to use names for a registry, but his proposal, worked out in tandem with Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., would make it a felony.

“Not only do we adhere to that, but we enhance and protect the Second Amendment rights against registration,” the Democratic senator said.

“If it (registration) never happened as a misdemeanor, and we double down and make it a felony with 15 years, I think that would deter an ATF agent from doing it.”

Manchin came under fire from the NRA, in which he holds a lifetime membership, and the senator responded by saying he understands why its leadership vigorously opposed his bill.

“To the NRA leadership in Washington, this is big business, big money,” he said.

“You have their magazines? Losing membership that gives you the ability to sell the advertising? Just look at the magazines. Who’s doing all the advertising in the magazines? I understand that. That’s just the way of life in America. That’s capitalism.”

Even with his rebuke by the NRA, Manchin said he expects to maintain his membership, but acknowledged the group might downgrade the A-plus rating he has carried in endorsements.

Manchin said he advised the NRA, “I used to get your magazine and think everything you told me was pretty much the gospel truth. Now, I’m finding it’s not.”

Moreover, the senator said he challenged the organization to put his bill online and let the rank-and-file vote on it.

“I bet it would pass overwhelmingly, if you put exactly the facts of the bill,” Manchin said he advised the group.

Adding that the NRA “won’t do that.”

Manchin said he expects the proposal to be offered anew soon and hopes it gets a showdown before the August recess.

“It will pass,” he predicted, adding that as many as 90 percent of Americans favor it, based on polls by the national media.

“This is not President Obama’s bill,” he said. “Trust me, they don’t like the bill.”

Obama, however, appeared before a news briefing with a display of unbridled petulance at the bill’s failure. Asked why, Manchin didn’t answer the question.

“If it shuts down one person that might create a tragedy, I’m sure they’re going to be for it,” he said.

Manchin pointed to a YouTube video by an American citizen who is an avowed al-Qaida terrorist, quoting him as saying, “Listen Americans, you can go to a gun show and buy any weapon you want. You don’t have to have a background check and most times you don’t have to show an ID.”

“When you have an al-Qaida terrorist telling and appealing to radicals in our country that this is how you arm yourself, something is wrong,” Manchin said.

Manchin said he is now five votes short of the required 60.

Defending the proposal, Manchin said he embarked on it in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., schoolhouse massacre, but didn’t want to limit the scope of his anti-violence work to merely firearms purchases. Instead, he said the effort also embraced graphic, blood-soaked video violence open to children through computer games.

Manchin said a number of points overlooked by Second Amendment advocates are the granting of immunity to private gun sellers if firearms cleared by the checks wind up in the commission of crimes and permission to use a conceal-and-carry permit in lieu of the background checks.

Another provision would let a law-abiding citizen to purchase a handgun in another state, he said, emphasizing this now is disallowed in the Brady law.

“This clears that up,” he said.

“This has been the No. 1 piece of legislation for the NRA. They’ve wanted it for 20 years. It’s in this bill. And they turned their back on it.”

Manchin said most checks could be performed in three to five minutes, “or, if there’s a glitch, or this or that, 48 hours.”

With the Warren Commission report on the JFK assassination, Watergate and Benghazi, many Americans simply distrust the federal government, and Manchin said he understands this. The debate over firearms certainly plays into it, he said.

“There are certain people, because they have a lack of trust in government, believe the Second Amendment gives all-inclusive rights to do anything, anywhere,” he said.

“Government should be your partner, and your ally, not your adversary or your enemy.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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