- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2013

One of the main architects of the failed Senate legislation to expand gun background checks is optimistic he can turn critics into allies including the National Rifle Association.

Sen. Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat who co-sponsored the proposal with Pennsylvania’s GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, said he repeatedly has reached out to the influential gun-rights group credited with helping sink his plan and “absolutely” believes its members are poised to accept and endorse it.

“This is a big organization and it has its roots that are deeply entrenched, but I still contend a majority of their membership are people like me, not the person over here who says ‘I don’t trust anything, I don’t want you to do anything,’” Mr. Manchin told reporters Friday at a breakfast hosted by Third Way, a centrist Washington think tank.

“How they’re letting that small percentage of that group … keep them from making reasonable, sensible decisions is beyond me.”

Mr. Manchin said he has his work cut out for him to counter disinformation from the NRA and other gun-rights groups. Even in his home state, the former governor said some gun owners falsely assumed the bill would set up a national gun registry that would lead to the government confiscating their firearms.

“I’ve got a couple hundred years of history that [says] I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said. “But this one category over here is making [others] skeptical.”

Mr. Manchin plans to “go to every gun show” he can to convince doubters of the bill’s merit.

“All I’m trying to do is keep a crazy person who’s been found mentally incompetent through a court and to keep a person whose already been convicted of a crime from buying a gun at gun show or online,” he said. “That’s all.”

The lifelong hunter and NRA member added that his gun-rights bona fides will serve him well while trying to convince skeptics.

“In the gun culture from where I’m from, I can go to Oklahoma, I can go anywhere in this country and get the most-fierce advocates of gun rights and this will make sense if they read it. It will not be objectionable” to them, he said.

The NRA called the Manchin/Toomey proposal “misguided” because it would do nothing to reduce violent crime or improve school safety. In an open letter to senators, the group threatened that “votes on all anti-gun amendments or proposals will be considered in NRA’s future candidate evaluations.”

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, shelved the Manchin/Toomey measure which called for expanding background checks to all private Internet and gun show sales after support came up five senators short of the 60 needed to clear Senate procedural hurdles.

Mr. Manchin said if gun-rights groups such as the NRA and others hadn’t interfered, it would have been “a slam dunk” to get 70 votes for the measure.

Mr. Reid said he made the decision to “hit pause” after talking with President Obama.

But the West Virginia senator refused to blame the president’s gun-control positions for the setback, saying that while Mr. Obama isn’t popular in his state, “this is not the president’s bill.”

“You want to blame somebody, blame me. … If you’re looking for a scapegoat, come talk to me,” he said. “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.”

Mr. Manchin said his No. 1 partner on the measure, Mr. Toomey, also will continue to push for the measure’s passage.

“Pat is not leaving. Pat’s strong. He’ll be there through the end,” he said.

Mr. Manchin said he harbors no bitterness toward the 41 Republicans and four Democrats who joined to block his plan, promising not to campaign against any of them seeking re-election.

“I’m not going to go out in your home district and say you’re a bad person,” he said. “I will not raise money or work against any colleague, whether I like them or not, whether they’re Democrat or Republican.”

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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