CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Generally speaking, Republicans are the party of pistol-carrying and backers of mass-murder assault weapons with 30-shot magazines, the sort used by psychotics in repeated massacres. (Republican Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and council leader Tom Lane are exceptions, since both oppose gun madness.)
Generally speaking, Democrats try to protect Americans from enormous death and mutilation inflicted by pistols and military-style guns. President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and first lady Michelle Obama are waging a nationwide safety crusade.
This week, West Virginia's Sen. Joe Manchin played an important national role, trying to bridge the gulf between right-to-bear-arms zealots and sensible folks striving to reduce the slaughter.
Manchin choked up as he met parents whose first-grade tots were killed in the Connecticut school tragedy. "I'm a parent, a grandparent ... and I had to do something," he said as he passed around tissues. He added: "Truly, the events in Newtown changed us all. Americans on both sides of the debate can and must find common ground."
Bravo for the West Virginia senator's courageous attempt. Previously, he was identified chiefly with pro-gun forces. After he began seeking compromise, far-right voices denounced him viciously. State GOP Chairman Conrad Lucas accused him of "spitting in the face of West Virginians." But we think Manchin showed stature. His middle-of-the-road plan is modest, but it's a solid step -- with more chance of passage in the Republican-controlled House.
The bill drafted by Manchin and a Republican senator would beef up background checks to prevent criminals and psychotics from buying weapons. It requires screening for all guns sold at flea markets, online and at gun shows -- but checks wouldn't be performed when guns are traded between relatives, friends, church members or co-workers. Their bill also mandates a National Commission on Mass Violence.
When the U.S. Senate began debate on gun safety Thursday, Republicans had vowed to filibuster and halt it. But Manchin's compromise was credited with helping swing 16 GOP senators to the other side, wiping out chances for a filibuster. "We are turning the page against the NRA's dominance," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said.
Numerous votes on many aspects of the issue will be taken before the Senate passes a final measure -- and some Republicans in the House undoubtedly will try to kill the Senate's proposal. But at least a crusade against gun madness is in progress.
We agree with Vice President Biden who accused the gun lobby of spreading "misinformation" and fanning "paranoia" among U.S. gun-owners, while most American families want protection from guns. Biden wisely added on the "Morning Joe" network talk show:"This is one of the cases where the public is so far ahead of the elected officials. I mean, so far ahead. You saw it in immigration. You saw it in marriage issues. You're seeing it now. The public has moved to a different place."