Sen. Joe Manchin Visits Tyler County
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series detailing U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) trip recently to Tyler County. This first installment discusses balancing freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution with a desire for security.
By MILES LAYTON
MIDDLEBOURNE – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin visited the Tyler County Senior Citizens Center to talk with citizens about many issues including gun control and background checks.
Manchin, D-W.Va., answered questions and addressed concerns on Friday a few days before the Senate voted about whether to restrict firearm sales.
Manchin issued a statement Monday that said he voted to prevent terrorists and those seeking to do harm to Americans from obtaining a weapon, and to prevent the federal government from instituting universal background checks. The debate comes less than two weeks after a gunman pledging radical Islamicist ties to ISIS killed 49 people and injured 53 others on June 12 at a club in Orlando, Fla.
The Senate rejected four gun measures offered in the wake of the Orlando massacre, including proposals to keep guns out of the hands of people on terror watch lists.
A few days earlier at the Senior Center, Manchin elaborated about his positions regarding background checks and gun control.
Based on questions from Paden City Mayor-elect Joel Davis, Manchin discussed surveillance of American citizens who may travel to the Middle East and might be on “no fly” watch lists.
“If a person is thought to be dangerous enough not to get on an airplane, should they not be able to buy a gun in America?” Manchin asked.
Davis said, “But with that list, anybody can be put on that list even Senator (Ted) Kennedy.”
Manchin said Kennedy was on the list (when he was alive), but his name was later removed.
Davis responded by saying that it may take forever for an average person to be removed from the list. His concerns were about whether federal tactics infringe on due process rights guaranteed in the Constitution.
In recent days, Manchin came under fire for remarks he made on MSNBC.
“If a person is on the terrorist watch list like the gentleman, the shooter in Orlando, twice by the FBI, we were briefed yesterday about what happened but that man was brought in twice. They did everything they could,” Manchin said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “The FBI did everything they were supposed to do but there was no way to keep him on the nix list or keep him off the gun buy list. There was no way to do that. So can’t we say that if a person under suspicion, there should be a five-year period of time that we have to see if good behavior, if this person continues the same traits, maybe we could come to that type of an agreement. But due process is what’s killing us right now.”
Manchin insisted Friday at the Senior Center that he is not against the Constitutional right to due process.
When addressing Davis’ concerns, Manchin admitted that there may be “an interruption” if three names are the same with some “crazy radical and you happen to have the same name, there’s a possibility.” He said a person who is mistakenly on the list could have their name removed. Manchin said the federal government can’t just put someone on the watch list, but must have probable cause to do so. He said for example, someone, who boasts via the Internet about doing stupid crazy stuff, would get more scrutiny. Then there are those who are not only making crazy statements, Manchin said, but those who are communicating with folks in different countries or visiting places causing a lot of America’s problems are coming from where the terrorists are coming from who are put on the list.
Davis asked if people could be alerted if they are on the list “because you don’t know until you try to fly.”
Manchin said alerting people who are under surveillance that they are on a no-fly list may compromise any investigation.
“They’re not going to tell you. They can’t notify you because then the investigation is for naught,” he said. “Sometimes we might follow you around thinking that you are the bad guy. You might prove to be the bad guy and you might show us to other bad guys. We’re not going to tell you up front, ‘hey guess what? We’re going to walk around with you a little bit.'”
The room erupted in laughter when Davis said, “That could really ruin a trip!”
Manchin said the values of freedom must be balanced against the need for monitor those folks who may have intent to commit terrorism.
“Freedom is as free as it can possibly be in the freest country on earth, but the United States, as leader and superpower of the free world, you got a target where people are shooting at you,” he said. “We’ve got to do some things and I’m very careful about that. I don’t want my rights, your rights or anyone else’s rights (infringed) that’s not going to happen but there might be some inconveniences, an unintended inconvenience.”
Manchin discussed his proposals to allow for a background check on the purchase of firearms.
“After the Newtown (Connecticut) shooting these 20 little babies got killed, 5 and 6 year olds, just moves you, tears your heart that made me rethink,” he said. “I’m NRA. I have guns. I go hunting. I shoot. I do everything like most of you all. So when that came about, I saw my senators who don’t come from gun culture states and know nothing about guns they’re going to do this, ban this.”
Manchin challenged senators to change their perception of gun owners.
“First of all, I own a gun,” he said. “Do you (senators) look at me as criminal because I own a gun? I broke the law is that how you look at me? You got a fancy car that will go 140 mph. I’m looking at you as a criminal. Why did you buy it? That’s the difference. I wanted to buy a gun; you wanted to buy a fast racing car. Whatever. So I said, ‘I have that right. My Constitution allows me to do that.'”
After listening to Manchin’s impassioned plea for gun rights, senators asked for his advice when drafting gun control legislation.
“I said first of all what you got to do is accept me as a law abiding gun owner,” he said. “I’m not going to sell my gun to a stranger, to a crazy person or a criminal. I won’t even give my gun to a friend or family member who I don’t think is responsible. If you can accept that, I’ll do the right thing. And you won’t have to watch me for everything I’ll do because I’m not going to do it. I wasn’t raised that way.”
Manchin said by applying these values of responsible gun ownership, there should expect a background check at gun shows or for firearm purchases via the Internet because “I don’t know that person and they sure as heck don’t know me.” He said all the law did was strengthen background checks among other things to support responsible gun ownership that didn’t jeopardize the public’s safety.
Not everyone is in favor of congressional attempts to place restrictions on the Second Amendment.
“We had a good piece of legislation, but then people were told all over West Virginia that Joe Manchin wants to take your guns away,” Manchin said. “I said (to those questioning his position) I’m trying (so that you can) keep your guns if you are responsible. Now if you are crazy or a criminal I want to take them away you shouldn’t get them. I guess I am guilty of that. That’s all I did.”
Shirley Neff of Middlebourne, a volunteer at the Senior Citizens Center, asked about gun control for criminals who might not necessarily be inclined to obey the laws restricting their possession of firearms. She said if a criminal doesn’t have a gun, that person may break into a home to steal a weapon. Neff said her point was that criminals are going to get guns one or way or another regardless of the laws.
Charles Reed, a longtime gun owner, discussed guns and rifles with Manchin, who spoke of owning firearms since he was a boy.
“It’s a culture it’s how we live,” Manchin said.
The Senator then shifted gears into the debate over banning assault rifles and expressed his support for a common sense approach for background checks.
“I’m not advocating that they ban anything,” he said. “I’m just saying I want to know who you are (a background check when trying to purchase a firearm).”
Manchin moved away from background checks and talk of crazy folks or criminals acquiring guns by speaking of his opposition to a treaty allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. The Senator said he couldn’t support the treaty because it didn’t include restrictions for Iran to cease its support of terrorism across the globe. He said though the major world powers were in favor of a treaty, questions remained about why Iran supports terrorist groups like Hezbollah.
As Manchin said, “When it came down to it, I voted against it. The facts didn’t prove it out. I couldn’t support it because of that,” he received applause from the standing room only crowd at the senior citizens center.