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Manchin says it's time to talk about gun regulations

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a longtime supporter of gun rights who famously shot a piece of legislation in a recent campaign advertisement, said Monday that last week's shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut have made him want to discuss regulations about gun ownership.

"I never thought in my life that I would ever see this type of attack on our children. It is hard for me to comprehend," Manchin, D-W.Va., said during a telephone press conference Monday afternoon.

Manchin said he'd been hunting with family members during the weekend, and noted his lifelong membership in the National Rifle Association, the nation's largest group representing gun owners. But he said guns like the ones used in Friday's school massacre by 20-year-old Adam Lanza don't have anything to do with hunting.

"Assault rifles were designed for the military, multiple-round clips," Manchin said. "I never had more than three rounds in my gun. I don't know any people who go hunting with assault rifles with 30 rounds in their guns."

Lanza had multiple 30-round magazines for the rifles he had with him at the school where he killed 26 people, including 20 children, before shooting himself.

"I believe everything should be on the table. We should be talking about everything," Manchin said. "We should bring the NRA in. They need to be at this table."

Manchin said several other issues should be talked about, including mental illnesses and promoting violence.

"I am proud of the guns I own and how I use them in a responsible way," Manchin said. "I will support Second Amendment rights as along as I live. But it should be a responsible way that we are conducting ourselves.

During his telephone press conference, Manchin praised Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., for saying we "should look at everything, look at violence and how we have glorified it."

Lieberman, who is leaving the Senate, said the country should not only look at our gun laws, but our "entertainment culture" that glorifies violence.

"Not only do we promote violence. We glorify it with the videos children watch and the games they play.

Manchin also believes "a mental health component would help in issuing gun permits." Congress, he said, should look at ways to improve the nation's mental health system.

Manchin talked about a television advertisement in his 2010 campaign for Senate, in which he used a rifle to shoot a hole through a "cap and trade" bill, referring to legislation to increase environmental regulations on coal.

"If you look at the rifle I was using, it was a one-shot rifle I use when I am hunting. I used it in the most responsible and safe manner. That is what I was taught," he said.

Congress passed a nationwide assault weapons ban in 1994, but the ban expired in 2004. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., plans to introduce similar legislation in the near future. Manchin didn't say Monday if he would support that bill.

"We will be anxious to see it," he said. "We want to see if it is a responsible way to move forward."

West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas issued a statement late Monday afternoon calling Manchin's statements "classless" and accusing him of trying to politicize the Sandy Hook deaths.

Other members of Congress known for their pro-gun rights stances, including Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also said Monday that they wanted to re-examine the nation's gun laws after the Sandy Hook shooting.

"This is a dialog that needs to happen now. I am not saying there will be mammoth changes," Manchin said. "But as a lifetime gun owner with an 'A' rating from the NRA, I am not afraid to discuss these issues."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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