Joe Manchin: We're Not Going To Take Guns Away, But...

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is going to wield a lot of power in the new Senate comprised of 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, and the red state Democrat suggested to CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that he’s on board with using his influence to push for new gun control measures.

Speaking on the network’s “State of the Union” Sunday show, Manchin was asked by Tapper if he would back a ban on modern sporting rifles, but the senator avoided giving a straight answer in response.

“There has to be responsibility in gun ownership. I’m not going to eliminate people having their gun,” Manchin responded. “They shouldn’t be scared to death of Democrats on their Second Amendment, taking their guns away. … So no, we’re not going to take people’s guns away, but there is things that we should not have in people’s hands.”

Sorry to burst Joe Manchin’s bubble, but “we’re not going to take your guns away, but there are some guns that you shouldn’t be able to have” isn’t going to inspire any confidence in gun owners.

If I had to read into Manchin’s comments to divine his intent, I’d guess that right now, anyway, Manchin’s either leaning towards backing Joe Biden’s plan for a ban on so-called assault weapons or tweaking Biden’s proposal slightly to allow for existing gun owners to maintain possession of their rifles. Under Biden’s plan, existing gun owners would be required to either turn their guns over to the government in exchange for an undetermined cash stipend or register their modern sporting rifles under the National Firearms Act.

I suspect that Manchin, who’s presenting himself as a force for moderation in the new Senate, will try to water down Biden’s proposal. A grandfather clause that allows gun owners to keep the guns they own while banning the future manufacture and sale of the most commonly-sold centerfire rifles in the country would be seen by Manchin and other gun control supporters as a compromise, but it’s not likely to bring many Republican senators on board (though GOP members like Sen. Pat Toomey and Sen. Susan Collins might sign on).

If Joe Manchin was trying to de-escalate the tensions in this country with his comments, he failed. If he had stopped before his “but…” he might have done some good. Instead, however, he made it clear that he’s on board with at least some effort to restrict the Second Amendment rights of Americans. That’s going to ramp up the concern among gun owners, not alleviate it.

There’s an easy step for Manchin to take if he truly wants to cool the heated passions of the moment, and that’s to declare that he won’t support any new gun control measures in 2021. Even with Manchin’s backing of a gun ban I think it’s going to be nearly impossible to bring enough Republicans along to get it passed, but if he were to come out and reject the idea of pushing for restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms in the current session, that would alleviate at least some (though not nearly all) of the concerns of the more than 100-million of American gun owners.

I’m confident that it would be a popular move among his West Virginia constituents, but I highly doubt the senator will make any such declaration, especially after the signals he gave on Sunday. Manchin seems intent on trying to get new gun control laws on the books, even if it ratchets up the tensions threatening to tear the country in two.