PARKERSBURG - A West Virginia senator who claims to be an advocate of gun owners' rights is not, the president of a West Virginia organization dedicated to the Second Amendment said.
Sen. Joe Manchin since Monday in statements, press conferences and television news shows said all issues must be discussed to curb gun violence in the aftermath of the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 28 people are dead, including 20 young children and the gunman who was armed with semi-automatic weapons.
Manchin, backed by the National Rifle Association, has drawn the ire of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League that has organized a protest for 10 a.m. Saturday at the senator's Charleston office.
"Sen. Elmer Fudd doesn't understand the purpose of the Second Amendment," league President Keith Morgan Wednesday told The Parkersburg News and Sentinel.
Manchin believes the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, deals with deer hunting, Morgan said. Self defense is the primary purpose, he said.
The senator, elected to a full six-year term in November, gives the appearance of being in favor of gun owners rights and has been mistakenly labeled as a friend of gun owners by the NRA, Morgan said.
"It saddens me to be proved right," Morgan said.
As governor, Manchin used his position to prevent legislation for such rights to get out of committee in the Legislature, Morgan said.
"When it comes to the right to bear arms, the man is an absolute snake," Morgan said.
The protest is open to the public, Morgan said. From the reaction and RSVPs received since the protest was announced, he anticipates a large crowd.
"There's a chance we could have thousands of people there," he said.
The newspaper requested a comment from Manchin, to which he said "I welcome anyone who wants to exercise their First Amendment rights, and I encourage all West Virginians to contact my office to share their views.
"After the tragedy at Newtown, I truly believe that we need to have a serious, adult conversation that puts everything on the table. We cannot have that dialogue unless we talk about mental health needs, high-capacity semiautomatic firearms and clips, and the entertainment industry's glorification of violence," Manchin said. " I will look at any solution and evaluate it on the merits. I know that my friends at the NRA will participate in this conversation and I believe that all parties should be willing to come together. As a U.S. senator, I believe that all Americans must be willing to come to the table. We owe at least that to the babies who were slaughtered in Newtown."
Manchin also reiterated a statement he made on Tuesday after a telephone conversation with President Obama: "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 deaths of these children and their teachers demand that each and every one of us in Washington and the United States be willing to talk with each other."
The senator's office in Charleston is at 300 Virginia St,. East.
The NRA, among the largest lobbying groups in the country, has not made a statement on the shooting. It said in a release this week that it, too, was shocked and saddened by the "horrific and senseless murders in Newtown."
"Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting," the NRA said.
A major news conference will be held Friday in Washington, D.C., the NRA said.
In the meantime, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has asked West Virginans to honor the victims in Newtown by observing a moment of silence at 9:30 a.m. Friday. Churches and government buildings are encouraged to ring their bells 26 times for each victim, the governor said.
"I spoke to Connecticut Gov. Malloy and told him people across our state are praying for the families and friends of those affected by last week's terrible events," Tomblin said. "While we can't begin to understand their pain, we hope they find comfort in the very difficult days ahead."