CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Former President Bill Clinton, in a keynote address to West Virginia Democrats on Friday night, touched on background checks for gun owners in the wake of the Oregon community college mass shooting.
“Those of us who grew up in hunting country—and who believe the 2nd Amendment guarantees everybody the right to keep a gun to go hunting, to sports shoot and to protect themselves and their families—most of us think it’s crazy that we don’t do background checks,” Clinton said.
Ticket sales for the party’s Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner spiked upon news of Clinton’s appearance. About 2,000 people packed into the Charleston Civic Center. The speech followed a rousing introduction from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who called Clinton “the best president we’ve ever had.”
Clinton was the last Democrat presidential candidate to carry the Mountain State in an election, which he did twice.
“I love West Virginia,” he said. “I thought for several years I was moving here. You voted for me in 1992 and 1996. You haven’t voted Democrat since; I want to change that.”
After recent Republican debates drew large audiences in prime time, Clinton thought both events involved too much mudslinging. He drew laughs when he said: “I watched all five hours of those two Republican presidential debates. I thought, I don’t belong here. I’m not mad at anybody.”
Clinton briefly touched on the desperate state of the coal industry.
“I can’t resolve all the coal issues, but I’ll tell you something else that should be done,” he said. “Whatever happens, we know coal employment in America peaked in 1920. Production peaked in 1950. We know that at some pace or another, there is a trend underway that cannot be reversed. Nobody has a right to claim anybody’s life over it.”
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin also gave a speech before Clinton, criticizing state Republicans for wanting to get rid of prevailing wage and teaching standards since taking control of the legislature in January.
Clinton expressed optimism for the future of America.
“There’s no country in the world better positioned than we are for the future,” he said. “We’ve got a diverse workforce. We’ve got people here from every place on earth. We have the ability to support ourselves with energy. We have technology and great universities.”