West Virginians plan to rally in front of the Charleston, W.V. offices of Sen. Joseph Manchin III (D-W.Va.) Dec. 22 in protest of his abandonment of the pro-gun rights positions he campaigned on in 2010 and 2012.
“We are expecting 300 to 1,000 people to attend — it will be bigger than any of the events we held during the campaign,” said Keith T. Morgan, the president of the Charleston-based West Virginia Citizens Defense League.
“We have received hundreds of RSVP’s through our Facebook page and tons of emails,” he said. “It is front page news here and we’ve gotten a lot of statewide coverage.”
Manchin sells himself as a pro-gun rights conservative, but his deeds do not match his words, he said.
“During his term as governor here, through the party leadership, he systematically and routinely made sure that any pro-gun bills or substance died in committee,” he said.
In a Dec. 17 statement, Manchin said he was motivated by the Dec. 13 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., to find ways to restrict gun rights that would prevent future mass shootings.
“This awful massacre of our youngest children has changed us, and everything should be on the table. We need to move beyond dialogue — we need to take a sensible, reasonable approach to the issue of mass violence,” he said.
“I ask all of my colleagues to sit down with a seriousness of purpose to address the causes of these tragic crimes, including mental health treatment, military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and our culture, which seems to glorify violence more than ever in our video games and movies,” he said.
After the White House revealed that President Barack Obama had called the senator about his willingness to put restricting gun rights on the table, Manchin said in a Dec. 18 statement: “The President called me this afternoon. We agree that as Americans and parents, all of our children belong to all of us – and we must work together to keep our precious children safe.”
Manchin said, “What I have learned since coming to Washington is that there are some who will vilify you for being open to a conversation with anyone you might not agree with. That’s wrong – as Americans, we all need to sit down and have a serious, adult conversation about the best actions to move forward.”
The 65-year-old, who went to West Virginia University on a football scholarship, a Democrat, was the governor of West Virginia from 2005 until 2010, when he won the 2010 special election to fill the unfinished term of the late Democrat Robert C. Byrd. In 2012 Manchin won his own six-year term.
In the 2012 election, WVCDL did not endorse Manchin or his GOP opponent, coal executive John R. Raese, but Morgan said he made it clear that Raese was his personal choice.
Raese said he is always surprised when people suggest to him that Manchin is a conservative or strong in his support of gun rights. “He voted with Barack Obama 87 percent of the time, now that doesn’t sound like a conservative to me.”
Manchin has flipped his positions before, he said.
He campaigned in West Virginia claiming to be against the president’s health care reform bill, a carbon tax and then flipped his position, he said. It is not a surprise that Manchin after campaigning as a pro-gun rights candidate, support restricting gun rights after the election is over. “These are just three examples.”
Thorney H. Lieberman, the director of New Direction West Virginia, said he was surprised that Manchin would support gun control, he said. “There are a lot of gun owners in this state, a lot of hunters and a lot of libertarian people.”
During his campaigns, Manchin always gave the impression that he was solidly for gun rights, he said. “Come on, he shoots a gun in his campaign commercials—people don’t pick up a gun and shoot it in a commercial unless they want you to believe they are pro-gun.” Manchin was endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
“I have taken issue with the NRA for their endorsements,” he said. “They endorse people without any kind of familiarity with what is going on on the ground.”
Lieberman was the president of the West Virginia Conservative Foundation in 2010, but then in 2012, the WVCF was closed and NDWV was started as its legacy organization, he said.
NDWV is not focused simple on gun rights, but takes it on as part of its more general conservative platform and program, he said.
Lieberman said he would never consider Manchin a conservative. “No, not at all, he votes with and he just goes along in Washington—he tries to portray himself as something he’s not.”
Manchin’s personal popularity gives him the edge in West Virginia, not his position on the issues, he said.
“He is so well-liked in West Virginia, you can’t go against him,” he said.
“I guess it’s because of his smile, it’s certainly not because of his record, especially after he’s gone to Washington,” he said.
“He did a fairly good job here as governor, but you have to remember that West Virginia is last in just about every category in the United States,” he said.
“He certainly did not turn this state around.”