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Last updated: July 17. 2013 6:03PM - 253 Views
From the Hill to the Mountains: A weekly column by U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)



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In the wake of the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, an elevated conversation on gun rights has persisted across this country, however we cannot sacrifice our constitutional rights out of fear. As your Senator, it is my obligation and honor to protect our Second Amendment rights and to keep our children safe – and I truly believe we can and must do both.


Like many West Virginians, I am a proud and responsible gun owner and a lifetime member of the NRA. In fact, I have received an A-rating from the NRA for my support of gun rights in the Senate. Also like many of you, I am a proud parent and grandparent and I believe we must do everything in our power to keep our children safe.


As I have said from the beginning, this is not simply a gun issue. The tragedy in Newtown stemmed from the failures of multiple systems, which is why I continue to support establishing a National Commission on Mass Violence. This commission would bring together experts from every field – school safety, mental health, the video and entertainment industry, gun rights, and law enforcement – to utilize their expertise to find meaningful action we can take to prevent mass violence. Violence destroys the dignity, hopes and lives of millions of Americans, and we have a unique opportunity to stop this epidemic – but only if we can put politics aside and have an honest and effective conversation about what to do about our culture of mass violence.


To this end, I have been working with Senators from both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats, to draft legislation that would accomplish two goals. First, it would establish the National Commission on Mass Violence. Second, it would require a criminal and mental health background check to purchase a firearm. This is a commonsense measure that will make it more difficult for criminals and those deemed by a court to be mentally ill to access guns, while not infringing on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans. My bill also includes special protections for the rights of veterans. It will include reasonable exceptions, such as not requiring criminal checks when giving or selling a gun to a relative or when loaning a gun to a neighbor. Also, if you already have a concealed carry permit, you would not need to undergo additional criminal checks to purchase another firearm. This legislation would absolutely prohibit the establishment of any gun registry by the federal government.


Let me be very clear about what my bill will not do:


• My bill will not take away anyone’s guns.


• My bill will not ban any kind of firearm.


• My bill will not ban or restrict the use of any kind of bullet or any size clip or magazine.


• My bill will not create a national registry; in fact, it clearly makes illegal the establishment of any such registry.


• My bill will not, in any fashion, infringe upon the rights of law-abiding citizens.


However, there are also other Senators who have introduced legislation on these issues, including Senator Feinstein’s Assault Weapons Ban. While I appreciate Senator Feinstein’s dedication to preventing mass violence, I do not and will not support this bill or any weapons ban. It is simply unconstitutional.


Moving forward, everyone needs to be involved in this discussion, including my friends at the NRA, mental health experts, the entertainment industry, teachers, law enforcement and elected officials on both sides of the aisle. I know that families across West Virginia and across the United States join my family in offering our prayers to the families of the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School and to the entire community of Newtown, and to the victims of mass violence everywhere. In these coming weeks, our words can offer little comfort. As your Senator, I will work with everyone to find a way to ensure the safety of our children.


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