Stubbornly, Manchin Maintains Optimism On Background Checks

Fri, April 19, 2013 8:39pm

Story by Frank James


Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who lent his name to bipartisan legislation that would have extended background checks for gun purchasers to gun shows and online sales, isn't letting go.

At least not yet.

To Manchin, the bipartisan compromise he co-sponsored with Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican of consistent conservative credentials, fell victim to a steady stream of misinformation spread by some gun rights absolutists, including the National Rifle Association.

The NRA disputes that characterization, of course. But at a breakfast meeting Friday hosted by Third Way, a Washington group that pushes compromise solutions, Manchin said once Americans get a clearer view of the plan, Congress could face renewed pressure to pass a plan that has overwhelming support in public opinion polls.

"When people start knowing that we have such a common-sense piece of legislation, [the NRA's tactics, which included claims that the measure would have led to a national gun registry and gun confiscations] can backfire," Manchin said. "Because, really, 80 to 90 percent of the people say, 'That makes sense.' I'm telling you, in the gun culture I come from, I can go to Oklahoma and I can go to anywhere in this country, and to the most fierce advocates of gun rights, and this will make sense if they read it."

Noting that his proposal is still technically "on the floor" — meaning that while it's been set aside, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has the right under Senate rules to call it back up — Manchin urged supporters to focus efforts on educating gun owners about the actual details of his plan.

But that seems like wishful thinking at best. The Senate seems ready to move on to other agenda items, including an immigration overhaul plan, that might actually garner enough bipartisan support to go somewhere.

During the lead up to Wednesday's Senate vote, one of the NRA's most powerful threats was to hold accountable senators who backed the measure. And especially in conservative states, the NRA and its money can sway elections. That's not likely to change.

Manchin said the fear played on some senators and acknowledged another problem for his side: Two of the leaders most identified with tougher gun laws — President Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — make many on the gun rights side instantly suspicious.

"President Obama polls very bad in my state and has not done well in my state," said Manchin. "But if you want to blame somebody, blame me. This is not the president's bill. I can't say it any plainer than that. ... If you're trying to put the president's picture on it because you think you can get more no votes, that's disingenuous. It's not American."

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