MARTINSBURG – Hundreds of pro-Second Amendment protesters picketed U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s Martinsburg office Saturday in response to what they perceive as a weakening of his pro-gun stance following the shootings in Newtown, Conn.
“We came out here in response to Senator Manchin, as well as other politicians across the country, and their reaction, after the tragedy at Newtown, to swiftly ban [types of guns] or infringe on our Second Amendment rights,” said Arthur Thomm, vice president of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun rights activist and lobbying group.
Thomm said he disagreed with a statement Manchin made to the group last week when he indicated that 75 percent of West Virginians agree with him that the Second Amendment has to do with hunting and sports shooting, and not with self-defense.
“We are here to send a clear message that that is absolutely not the case,” said Thomm, who estimated that about 450 people had turned out in support of the rally throughout the day. “We had people from the Eastern Panhandle, folks from Charleston, folks from Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland as well.”
A nearby counter-protest drew a much smaller following.
Thomm said he was concerned to some extent with recent gun-related executive orders released by President Barack Obama, and to a greater extent with proposed legislation to ban assault wepons and limit magazine capacity.
“Any infringement on our Second Amendment rights is unnecessary,” Thomm said, adding he takes issue with the attempt to label semi-automatic guns as assault weapons. “What they consider an assault weapon is simply a standard rifle with cosmetic differences that make it appear to be an assault weapon,” he said. “A [real] assault weapon is a military-grade, fully automatic rifle, which none of these are. The government is trying to define an assault weapon by features like a pistol grip, an adjustable stock, a flash suppressor – these are all just cosmetic differences that make them look different.”
Thomm said private citizens should not be subject to high-capacity magazine restrictions. He pointed to a recent incident during which police shot an armed man 18 times.
“If law enforcement can have high-capacity magazines, and they are facing the exact same threat that a citizen is, then we should be able to have the same means that they do,” he said.
Berkeley County Delegate John Overington spoke at the rally in support of Second Amendment rights.
“This First Amendment protest is backed up by the Second Amendment,” Overington argued in a subsequent interview. “The Second Amendment backs up, through firearms, the First Amendment.”
“There are two reasons why many people want firearms: to protect themselves against crime and to protect themselves against an oppressive government,” he said. “More people have been killed by their own government than by criminals – many times more. A government should fear its people, not the other way around.”