MARTINSBURG – Organizers of Saturday’s pro-gun rally outside U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s office here say they’re expecting a crowd of 300 or more from across West Virginia as well as neighboring states.
“People are mad, angry, passionate,” explained Art Thomm of Martinsburg, the vice president of the statewide, pro-gun lobbying group West Virginia Citizens Defense League, which has planned the rally at 217 W. King St.
The event, open to the public, is described this way in a Facebook invitation: “We are going to remind Joe Manchin and send a message to politicians in D.C. that we are not going to forget their words, actions and votes.”
Thomm said that most West Virginians remain displeased with Manchin, who made national news when he convened a press conference three days after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
The stance taken by Manchin – that “everything should be on the table” as gun control is debated in the weeks and months to come – made national news, in part because of the conservative Democrat’s infamous 2010 campaign commercial that showed him firing a rifle at an environmental bill.
“Now no one knows if Manchin is for gun owners or if he’s anti-gun,” Thomm said.
The week after Manchin’s remarks, the West Virginia CDL hastily organized a rally in front of the senator’s Charleston office. Thomm said CDL organizers came up with the idea of holding another protest because of the need “to keep the heat on Manchin.”
After the Dec. 14 shootings that left 27 dead, including 20 children, Manchin, a lifelong hunter with an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, seemed to indicate that he would back re-evaluating laws that permit sales of assault rifles and to forbid gun owners from having clips that hold dozens of rounds of ammunition.
That same day on the MSNBC program “Morning Joe,” Manchin said: “I don’t know anybody in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. I don’t know anybody who needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting.
“I mean, these are things that need to be talked about.”
Manchin has not specified what, if any, changes to gun laws he would support. In response to a request for a statement about Saturday’s rally, Manchin said he is eager to hear from voters on all the issues brought to the forefront by the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.
“I welcome this conversation and an open dialogue with all groups that feel strongly about the problem of mass violence in this country,” Manchin said. “I hope people are willing to sit down with me and have an open discussion.
“For my part, I ask people who hold strong views to be open to this discussion. These issues are too important to ignore. Since the killings of our children at Newtown, I have called for an open discussion with everything on the table and a comprehensive solution, so that we can do everything in our power to prevent another horrific massacre.”
Though Manchin’s remarks have created angst for many gun owners, the former governor also has said that he wants to reassure the NRA and other supporters of the right to bear arms that his support of the Second Amendment is not in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues to move forward with proposals to curb gun violence that the president has described as “sensible, common-sense steps” that may be implemented either through executive action or legislation. During a news conference on Monday, Obama said his administration will continue to uphold the rights of responsible gun owners.
Because of the national debate, Saturday’s rally is likely to draw gun supporters from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and elsewhere, Thomm said, adding Manchin is seen as a national leader on the gun issue. “I know a lot of people feel Manchin coming out [against guns] the way he has absolutely is a betrayal. He was pro-gun and now he wants to restrict them – and this is something he comes out with immediately [after Sandy Hook].
“For gun owners, our concerns have only grown since December. We feel like we have to send a message. This has got to stop. We don’t need to have these illogical, knee-jerk reactions,” he said.
For more on Saturday’s rally, contact the state CDL President Keith Morgan at 304-421-3404 or search Facebook for “WVCDL Manchin Protest.”