Despite Setback, Manchin Vows to Press for Gun Control
Business + Economy

Despite Setback, Manchin Vows to Press for Gun Control

REUTERS/Gary Cameron

The morning after the drubbing of his bipartisan compromise plan to expand  criminal background  checks  for gun purchases ,   freshman Sen. Joseph Manchin III said that  emotions  among gun control advocates  are “still very raw” but that he will continue to press for passage of his measure.

The former Democratic West Virginia governor and life-long gun enthusiast was still fuming about  the National Rifle Association’s tactics in going after his bill with what he described as dishonest  or misleading claims that requiring background checks for purchases at gun shows  and on the Internet would eventually lead to a national gun registry – or even government  confiscation of guns.

The Senate Wednesday afternoon voted 54 to 46 in favor of the legislation drafted by Manchin and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, but that was six votes shy of the 60 vote super majority that was needed to pass the measure
“Law abiding gun owners, when you give them the facts, will make the right decision,” Manchin said during a breakfast gathering of journalists and policy experts  sponsored by the Wall Street Journal. He said he had “begged” the NRA to distribute copies of his bill to its members and allow them to decide for themselves whether the measure posed a threat to their Second Amendment rights.

Asked about an NRA claim that his bill would have criminalized certain private transfers of firearms between honest citizens, requiring lifelong friends , neighbors or even family members to get federal permission to exercise a fundamental right, Manchin replied: “That’s just disingenuous . . . that’s just a bunch of [B.S.]”

Manchin shared in the disappointment voiced by President Obama, who yesterday called the Senate vote “pretty shameful” and accused the gun lobby of “spreading untruths” that the measure would lead to “some sort of Big Brother gun registry.” Manchin noted today that his legislation explicitly prohibited the government from creating a national registry of gun owners.

In what may be useful advice for the Senate “Gang of Eight” Democrats and Republicans who are preparing to press for passage of their bipartisan immigration reform and border security proposal, Manchin said one of his greatest challenges was trying to put out accurate information without it being distorted or filtered by the opposition.  “I just never realized how hard it was to get the facts out,” he said.

He also acknowledged that  White House and congressional Democrats probably erred  by waiting until this week to bring gun control provisions to the floor for a vote, a full four months after Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 young children and six adult staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

That mass murder shocked the nation and prompted calls for government action to keep military style semi-automatic weapons and large bullet clips out of the hand of criminals or mentally unstable people. While there was virtually no chance that Congress would agree to reinstitute a ban on semi-automatic weapons, there was considerable support for measures to broaden the requirement for background checks of prospective gun buyers at gun shows and on the Internet. The current law limits checks to purchases made from licensed gun dealers.

By this week, however,  public outrage over the Sandy Hook killings have cooled, even while even while most Americans -- including half of all gun owners -- say it is possible to enact new laws without infringing on gun rights, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

“When they said the Senate is the most deliberative body in the world, they weren’t kidding,” Manchin said this morning in bemoaning the delay in action on his bill. If the Senate had taken up a bill along the lines of Manchin-Toomey in January, he said,  then “boom,” it would have netted 60 to 75 votes in the Senate.

A lobbying effort on Capitol Hill by family members of some of the victims for sure had an important effect. Sixty-eight senators were moved last week by pleas of some of the family members to vote to block a threatened filibuster of floor action on the Manchin-Toomey measure as well as others that would have banned high-capacity assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines.

But by yesterday morning, Manchin openly admitted in an appearance on NBC News that his background check amendment lacked the necessary votes. While a week ago, 16 Republicans voted with the Democrats to overcome the threatened filibuster   only four Republicans voted for the Manchin-Toomey bill on Wednesday. They were Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona and Toomey.

Moreover, four Democrats voted against it: Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Max Baucus of Montana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. All but Heitkamp, a freshman, face tough reelection campaigns next year.