By Lawrence Messina
He doesn’t know when the next vote may come, but U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said in an interview this week that he isn’t giving up on his quest to broaden gun buyer background checks.
The Democrat and lifelong gun owner, who famously fired a rifle in a 2010 campaign TV ad, said he continues to seek needed supporters for expanding background checks to all transactions at gun shows and online. The proposal he co-sponsored with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., needed at least 60 votes to advance in April but fell short, 54-46.
“I’m hoping there are Republicans who will change their minds,” Manchin told The Associated Press.
Background checks are meant to prevent criminals and the seriously mentally ill from purchasing firearms, but are mandated only for sales handled by licensed gun dealers. Among its provisions, the Manchin-Toomey proposal would exempt non-commercial transactions such as sales between friends and relatives.
“If you’re a law-abiding gun owner, you want to know who’s behind the gun at a gun show. You want to know who wants to buy your gun online,” Manchin said. He added, “If we could save just one life from a criminal, a known criminal, or from someone who is mentally deranged.”
Manchin’s resolve is reflected in a TV ad that’s aired over the past week. It responds to one from the National Rifle Association targeting him that ran earlier this month. With both appearing on West Virginia stations, each side estimated spending $100,000.
Again sporting a rifle in his ad, Manchin touts his lifetime NRA membership and defends his stance as pro-Second Amendment. He urges viewers to call the NRA in support of expanded background checks. Also invoking Manchin’s 2010 campaign spot, the NRA’s ad argues that the former governor has since changed his position on guns and calls for constituents to phone his office.
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said his group continues to object to broadening a system it believes suffers from “gaping holes.” Arulanandam said 23 states submit little or no information to the existing system.
“The promise of an instant check to the American people has not been fulfilled. It’s incomplete as we speak,” he said Wednesday. He added, “make sure all the necessary information is contained within the system first... What has to be done first is fixing the system.”
The NRA had repeatedly endorsed Manchin and he previously earned top grades in its scoring system throughout his political career. Willing to amend his stalled proposal to address gun lobby concerns, Manchin said he kept the NRA in the loop as he and Toomey developed their measure and felt blindsided by its opposition.
Arulanandam said the NRA does not comment on whether it meets with elected officials or others, adding that “to imply any meeting implies consensus is disingenuous.” Arulanandam labeled as “a flat-out lie” Manchin’s allegation that the NRA was neutral on the Manchin-Toomey proposal until pressured by other gun rights groups. “Whoever is making that allegation does not know what they’re talking about,” the NRA spokesman said.
Manchin, meanwhile, objects to the NRA ad’s allegation that he’s “working with President Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg,” with viewers told to call on Manchin to “reject the Obama-Bloomberg gun control agenda.”
“I have no contact with them. I never had contact with them. I’ve never worked with them on this,” Manchin said. “They know the president and Bloomberg are polarizing figures.”
Obama is decidedly unpopular in West Virginia. Arulanandam said the NRA is referring to Obama and Bloomberg’s stated support of the Manchin-Toomey proposal. Asked about the absence of an NRA ad targeting Toomey — Manchin alleges the NRA is showing partisan bias— Arulanandam cites Manchin’s numerous appearances on cable TV news shows and other media venues.
“Sen. Manchin is the one who’s injecting partisan politics into this,” Arulanandam said.
Manchin says in his ad, “I don’t walk in lockstep with the NRA’s Washington leadership, this administration, or any special interest group.” Manchin told AP he’s singling out the group’s top leaders on purpose.
“This leadership in Washington is out of touch with their 4 million members,” Manchin said. “There’s a difference, trust me, a big difference.”