Senator Joe Manchin, who once famously fired a bullet into a cap-and-trade climate bill in a political ad, has been moved by the latest gun tragedies to at least keep an open mind about President Biden’s proposal to ban “assault-style” weapons.
“I have to be open to a discussion,” Manchin told me. The Democratic Senator from West Virginia is part of a bipartisan group of Senators working toward gun safety legislation that can clear the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate.
Manchin is a long way from supporting a ban, but the fact that he is not opposed to the possibility is significant. “It’s one that you have to consider,” Manchin said on Talkline Friday. “I’m open to looking at anything that would protect our children, and these seem to be the weapons of choice for these mass shootings.”
The gunmen used AR-15-style rifles in the mass killings in Buffalo, Uvalde, Orlando, Sandy Hook and Parkland. The shooter at the Tulsa hospital used a .223 semiautomatic rifle, similar to an AR-15. These are the types of guns Biden and Manchin are referring to when then they talk about “assault weapons” and these are the guns the President wants to ban.
Clearly, these weapons in the hands of a determined killer can cause terrible carnage, especially at a soft target, such as a school. However, they are not the guns most often used in mass killings.
According to the data website Statistica, “Handguns are the most common weapon type used in mass shootings in the United States, with a total of 146 different handguns being used in 98 incidents between 1982 and June 2022. These figures are calculated from a total of 129 reported cases over this period, meaning handguns are involved in about 76 percent of mass shootings.”
Congress passed a ban on certain semi-automatic rifles and large capacity magazines in 1994 and President Bill Clinton signed it into law. However, it expired ten years later and was not renewed by Congress. There remains debate on the effectiveness of the ban.
A study for the Justice Department concluded, “There has not been a clear decline in the use of ARs, (assault rifles) though assessments are complicated by the rarity of crimes with these weapons and by substitution of post-ban rifles that are very similar to the banned AR model.”
Meanwhile, Manchin said on Talkline he is in full support of several other proposed gun control measures. They include raising the age limit from 18 to 21 for the purchase of semiautomatic rifles, red flag laws that can be used to take guns from individuals suspected of planning harm to themselves and others, and expanded background checks.
Manchin, along with Republican Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey co-authored a bill in 2013 that expanded the requirement for a federal background check for all gun purchases, except transfers within immediate family. However, even that modest proposal failed in the Senate, which prompts the question of whether more far-reaching gun safety legislation would have a chance.
At the very least, Manchin would like a full debate in the Senate on any and all gun legislation. He said with a floor debate, “The American people will have an idea why (members) support something or are against something.”
But that may be difficult, since members typically avoid putting themselves in a position of having to vote on amendments that may hurt them at re-election time, so they use Senate rules to avoid those awkward situations.
Still, Manchin believes the group of bipartisan senators he is working with is making progress. “We may find a pathway forward on something that makes a difference,” he said.