CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Talks continue among U.S. senators regarding gun legislation as some lawmakers use the August recess to pitch policy proposals for when Congress reconvenes in September.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is among the lawmakers involved in the discussions; he and Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey have spoken to President Donald Trump about their proposal to increase background checks, which was first introduced following the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“There are so many things they’re looking at right now,” Manchin told MetroNews last week.
“If the president gets behind something, there’s going to be people who think he didn’t go far enough and people who think he went too far and we didn’t need anything. The president truly is the leader on this. He sets the tone.”
Recent discussions surrounding possible legislation come after mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio earlier this month. Manchin said multiple lawmakers are staying busy trying to craft the best legislative solution, noting Toomey’s staff and the offices of Delaware Sen. Chris Coons and Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy.
Manchin added there are multiple directions lawmakers can go, including encouraging states to adopt “red flag” laws or taking up a single omnibus measure with multiple proposals
He told reporters earlier this month he believes the Manchin-Toomey bill has the best chance of reaching the president’s desk.
The Senate came short of passing the measure in 2013; the bill would have extended background checks to online transactions and gun show purchases.
“They’ll be some modifications to our bill because our bill is five, six years old,” Manchin said.
Manchin said federal agencies are now “much better and much quicker and much more thorough” in handling cases. He made note of the March 2018 appropriations act requiring federal agencies to submit reports on people who are prohibited from possessing a firearm as well as improved efforts to report information to the background check system.
“The Manchin-Toomey bill has been out there since 2013. People have had six years, and people have looked at that bill upside down, one side and the other. They had to really hunt for a reason not to think it was common sense. They had to really hunt to find something,” he said.
During his conversation with reporters, Manchin said Republican lawmakers were worried the Obama administration would use the Manchin-Toomey bill to limit noncriminals’ access to firearms.
“That would not have happened, but that was their concern,” he told MetroNews. “With President Trump, I don’t think anyone’s going to believe he’s going to go after more.”
Manchin said extending background checks make “gun sense.”
“I’m a law-abiding gun owner. I didn’t buy a gun to hurt anybody. I bought my guns because I enjoy going out hunting, skeet shooting and do all the sporting things and the camaraderie that goes with it, and I shouldn’t be denied that,” he said. “But on the other hand, common sense is common sense.”
Manchin also noted the threat of straw purchases, in which a person buys a firearm for someone who is cannot legally purchase a gun.
“You never sell your gun to strangers. You never sell your gun to someone you know who is unstable or has criminal activity,” he said. “I’ve always said you have to look at law-abiding gun owners as law-abiding citizens.”
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., are expected to back a grant program that would encourage states to adopt “red flag” laws, in which someone can petition a court to temporarily restrict another person’s ability to have or buy a firearm. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia already have such law in place.
West Virginia Delegates Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, and John Doyle, D-Jefferson, are discussing introducing a “red flag” bill in the state Legislature, which was met with Republican opposition.
Manchin did not talk about the proposal specifically, but said state lawmakers should not ignore the chance of gun violence.
“We’re not immune at all. It can happen anywhere in America,” he added.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told WHAS-AM in Louisville, Kentucky, on Aug. 8 the Senate would not be called to return to Washington, D.C. early, but he wants to facilitate the dialogue on policy.
“There has to be a bipartisan discussion on what we can agree on,” McConnell said on continuing the recess. “If we do it prematurely, it’ll just be another frustrating experience for all of us and for the public where people are just trying to score political points and not trying to get an outcome.”
McConnell noted talks would include the proposed “red flag” law grant program and background checks, specifically mentioning the Manchin-Toomey proposal.
“Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we come together on and pass,” he said.
McConnell said Trump is “anxious to get an outcome;” Manchin noted something similar to MetroNews, saying Trump and lawmakers can address this issue next month, even with a government funding deadline looming.
“The president is definitely engaged. We’re very encouraged about that. He has not backed away,” he said. “We’ll just see how far they want to go.”
Regarding Trump’s potential in getting a proposal passed, Manchin noted the Department of Justice’s efforts to ban bump stocks; the ban went into effect in March, more than a year after a gunman used a gun equipped with the device to kill 58 people at a Las Vegas music festival.
The National Rifle Association’s legislative arm opposed the ban, instead pushing for an amnesty period.
Manchin, a lifetime NRA member, praised the president for standing up to organization, which has backed Trump since the 2016 election cycle.
“I think that showed him the majority of people want common-sense responsibility with these types of devices and guns. They want to make sure there are responsible people on the other end,” the senator said. “He stayed the course on that, he got it, the NRA wasn’t for it, and it didn’t harm him any.”
Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s CEO and executive vice president, spoke privately to the president following this month’s shootings. He noted in a press release the organization’s opposition to “any legislation that unfairly infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens.”
The Washington Post reported LaPierre told Trump expanding background checks would not be popular among the president’s base.
“The inconvenient truth is this: the proposals being discussed by many would not have prevented the horrific tragedies in El Paso and Dayton. Worse, they would make millions of law-abiding Americans less safe and less able to defend themselves and their loved ones,” LaPierre said in the press release.
The NRA opposed the Manchin-Toomey proposal in 2013.
When asked why the public should take Congress seriously on gun legislation, Manchin shared while partisanship has made politics hostile, Congress can and has come together in the midst of a national crisis.
“And as far as I’m concerned, we’re in a crisis,” he said.
MetroNews reached out to the office of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., to talk about mass shootings and gun legislation; she was unavailable for an interview. She told MetroNews earlier this month she wants to see changes specifically regarding mental health services and efforts identifying threats.