CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The latest New York Times Magazine contains a long account of the 2013 showdown between West Virginia's Sen. Joe Manchin and the National Rifle Association -- a clash won, so far, by the all-powerful gun group.
Although the NRA has only 5 million members -- barely more than 1 percent of the U.S. population -- it terrifies most politicians and wields vast clout in legislative bodies. Few U.S. leaders have enough courage to oppose it. Manchin is a dramatic exception.
The Times report says the West Virginia senator keeps an NRA trophy at his Washington office, near photos of children killed in the horrifying Connecticut school massacre -- implying that he supports gun owners, but also stands with gun victims. Such a position is "politically ill-advised if not suicidal," the article says.
Manchin always was a loyal gun advocate, it recounts -- but the deaths of 20 children at Newtown jolted him to the core. A photo shows him grieving with parents whose tots were killed.
While most Congress members did nothing, Manchin drafted a bill to extend background checks to weapons purchased at gun shows and through the Internet -- an attempt to keep murder instruments away from criminals and psychotics. Polls find that 92 percent of Americans support such universal checks, as do 77 percent of hunters and 74 percent of NRA members.
But NRA lobbyists swiftly mobilized Capitol Hill forces against him. It utilized a commercial telephoning outfit to rouse gun-lovers, who called Manchin's office in a ratio of 200-to-1 against the bill. In the end, his reform got a majority 54-46 vote in the Senate, not quite enough for the 60 needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.
"Afterward, several senators came up to shake Manchin's hand and express kind words for his political courage and determination," the report says. Meanwhile, the West Virginian tried to soothe Connecticut parents whose children were killed.
The New York Times analysis concludes that America's mood is shifting against gun zealots. Fewer and fewer Americans use hunting guns to kill animals. The U.S. crime rate keeps declining, so there's less fear of dangerous intruders, it says. Therefore, fervent backing of the NRA is likely to decline.
We hope it happens. Meanwhile, we're proud of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., for the bravery and leadership he displayed against America's most brazen lobby.
Remember, hunter guns aren't the basic problem. Danger lies mostly in hidden pistols and mass-murder assault guns. America is long overdue to provide protection from this deadly menace.