Sustained Outrage

Well, it didn’t take long for Sen. Joe Manchin to start walking back the comments that — despite their lack of detail or definitiveness — led much of the media to declare earlier this week that Sen. Manchin, a longtime NRA member and gun control opponent, had reversed himself in the wake of the massacre of 20 schoolkids last Friday in Connecticut.

This morning on the statewide radio show “Talkline“, Manchin made himself clear in an interview with host Hoppy Kercheval:

I’m not supporting a ban on anything … I’m a gun owner. I intend to keep my guns, the same as most west Virginians and everyone I know will do the same.

You can listen to the entire interview over on the West Virginia MetroNews website, and here are five key points to remember about this episode:

1. As he often does, Sen. Manchin used this issue as an opportunity to bash Washington, and to paint himself as a “common sense” leader whose efforts are blocked by constant partisan bickering:

In a climate that I’m in right now for the last 2 years in Washington, I’ve watched something I’ve never seen, where the climate is guilt by association. That’s elevated itself to guilty by conversation. We can’t even have an open dialogue. In Washington, you can’t even sit down and talk and bring all of the parties to the table.

Maybe so. But the biggest stink raised when Sen. Manchin suggested a national conversation about gun safety was from a West Virginia-based group that calls itself the West Virginia Citizens Defense League. Calling Sen. Manchin “Senator Elmer Fudd,” the group’s leader announced plans for a protest on Saturday — just a week and a day after the slaughter in Newtown, Conn., — to criticize the senator’s statements. A story about this protest, written by the MetroNews hunting and fishing correspondent, is currently the top viewed story on the MetroNews website. Keith Morgan, president of this organization, told MetroNews:

I’ve been saying since 2004 Manchin is ragingly anti-gun. He’s managed to hide that view, but during his tenure as governor, he managed to insure no pro-gun bills of any substance made it out of the legislature.

No pro-gun bills of any substance made it out of the Legislature? How about West Virginia’s version of the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which then-Gov. Manchin signed into law, or the state’s gun carry permit reciprocity law? According to its website, the West Virginia Citizens Defense League won’t be satisfied until lawmakers repeal the ban on carrying weapons inside the state Capitol building.

2. Sen. Manchin was adamant that among his top concerns is ensuring that the gun lobby — in the form of the National Rifle Association — have “a seat at the table” for any discussions of the nation’s policy response to the Newtown slaughter:

I’ve been in contact the last three days with the NRA … we’ve been talking back and forth and back and forth … We can’t have an open dialogue with meaningful input unless the NRA is at the table.  These are my friends, they are good people. They are in pain the same as every American … and I’m not going to let anyone be villainized.

But the NRA doesn’t need Sen. Manchin’s help to get a seat at the table. According to the Sunlight Foundation:

The NRA has spent 73 times what the leading pro-gun control advocacy organization, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, has spent on lobbying in the 112th Congress ($4.4 million to $60,000, through the second quarter of 2012), and 3,199 times what the Brady Campaign spent on the 2012 election ($18.6 million to $5,816). (One caveat on the data is that the NRA itself does a very poor job of accurately reporting its spending, and we must rely on its self-reports.)

3. Sen. Manchin repeatedly talked about how he wants “everything on the table” and that “everything needs to be looked at.” But he also made it clear he’s currently not in favor of an assault weapons ban, that he’s  not going into that part of the discussion with an open mind, and that he’s waiting to see what the NRA is willing to go along with:

I can’t say yes or no to any of the things … I want the NRA to tell me why we have any weapon you might want. Is there any grounds or any changes that they might want to look at?

4. Sen. Manchin made what seemed like an odd comparison between a gun massacre and coal-mining disasters:

In 2006, we had two horrible mine tragedies back to back Sago and Aracoma. And you know what, we stopped mining for one day to put the emphasis on mine safety. We didn’t quit mining.

What Sen. Manchin didn’t say is that the 14 deaths combined in mine disasters at Sago and Aracoma were followed by five more deaths at Kentucky Darby — and then the following year by 9 deaths at Crandall Canyon and then in 2010 by 29 deaths at Upper Big Branch. And he failed to mention that legislative efforts both here in West Virginia and in Congress following the 2006 disasters focused on coal-mine rescue after a disaster, not preventing disasters from happening in the first place. A more accurate analogy between Newtown and mine disasters might be to examine how most gun murders don’t occur in a mass slaughter or major disaster, by one by one, a trend that I noted before it isn’t clear Sen. Manchin has noticed.

5. Sen.Manchin ranted a bit about how the first thing some lawmakers or others want to do following a mass shooting is start banning guns, suggesting that there’s some cultural/political thing in Washington — perhaps especially during the current administration — that simply doesn’t like guns and wants to disarm America. Sen. Manchin’s friends at the NRA have tried to argue that President Obama was out to take everyone’s guns away, but a more fact-based analysis shows the administration has not exactly moved very far in that direction:

So far, however, the only legislation the president has signed since he took office in 2008 has expanded gun laws, allowing loaded guns in national parks and unloaded weapons stored in luggage on Amtrak trains.

Mourners wait outside before the funeral service of Victoria Soto at Lordship Community Church, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, in Stratford, Conn.  Soto was killed when a gunman forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Dec. 14,  and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)