Leaders shooting blanks after Newtown

West Virginia politicians, both at the national and state levels, have rushed to present their middle-of-the-road views on proposals to control the use of firearms in the wake of the tragic event in a Connecticut school that claimed the lives of 20 innocent young children as well as a half dozen adults.

Most of them appreciate the public opinion tightrope they must negotiate to keep the desired support of national groups that advocate the right to bear arms while at the same time appealing to those who desire much tighter gun control laws nationwide. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin started the debate last week by saying he believes “everything should be on the table. We should be talking about everything.”

This non-definitive approach was designed to avoid upsetting voters on either side of this issue and was echoed later by many national and state political figures — political representatives in Washington responded with the most neutral comments possible while state lawmakers gladly passed the ball to the federal government. But Manchin still had to make it clear two days later to constituents who don’t want any messing with the right to bear arms that he was merely suggesting the topic be discussed.

Third District Congressman Nick Rahall adopted the age-old “some of my friends are for it and some of my friends are against it, and I stand with my friends.” He said the “causes of violence in America are bigger and broader than just firearms (and) I want to hear from all sides before Congress moves forward, so we can move forward together.” No wonder he’s been re-elected routinely every two years for nearly four decades.

Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito was even less specific if that’s possible. She said she was “deeply saddened by the heart-breaking events in Newtown … There’s no question (these) devastating shootings will ignite a debate.”

At the state level, Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said he would “not expect the state to consider any kind of ban legislation (on guns). These kinds of things are better addressed at the federal level, for uniformity.”

Delegate Tim Armstead of Kanawha County, the leader of the Republican minority in the House of Delegates, was equally reserved in his comments. He said legislators “need to step back … it’s too soon to say we are going to do this or that. After we step back, we can think thoughtfully about what policies need to be looked at.”

To his credit, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, came the closest to actually suggesting a course of action. After first mentioning his credentials as an “outdoorsman,” he said this state’s laws that “give us the freedom … to bear arms should not prevent us from putting reasonable restrictions on assault weapons …”

Clearly, leaders in West Virginia don’t intend to upset members of the National Rifle Association and other groups that strongly oppose any movement toward widespread gun control in this country.

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