CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The National Rifle Association's leadership has met its match. And it's coming from right here in West Virginia, delivered by their former ally, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, who will begin airing ads to counter the blitz he has gotten from those fanatical gun lobbyists.
Americans must ask themselves if they are willing to make sacrifices so that others may feel safer. Statistics show that rural folks favor unimpeded gun rights while urban populations want tougher laws. Clearly, more people live in cities, which would seem to ease the path to more gun controls.
But NRA execs have long rallyied their troops and sent money to U.S. lawmakers from rural states, who make up enough of Congress to stop bills. Who benefits from this? It is the gun manufacturers, who pay the $1 million salary of NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre -- who has a bodyguard and who avoided the Vietnam War by allegedly getting his family doctor to testify that he had a mental illness.
A dead fish rots from the head, and LaPierre is unquestionably the vilest carcass in Washington. He is a mercenary and a liar, as Sen. Manchin has noted. The good news is that advocates for reasonable gun restrictions now have the ammo they need to take down NRA's leadership. Much ammo is coming from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords.
Manchin is under the gun because he spearheaded a sensible proposal to expand background checks to prevent gun violence. It's an effort supported by 90 percent of Americans, even the NRA's own members. Yet, the U.S. Senate was unable to garner 60 votes needed to pass that body. How can such a no-brainer bill get stopped in its tracks?
Nearly every Republican opposed it, and some Democrats from rural states. Those lawmakers are choosing their political futures over public safety. Now that some of them are under attack by their own constituents, however, certain senators have expressed a change of heart.
It comes down to character. It's not just the character of spineless politicians who cower in their offices and fret at the sight of NRA lobbyists. It's also that of the NRA's leaders, who made a number of false claims involving everything from Sen. Manchin's bill to the Second Amendment itself. As for the bill, it is narrowly focused and prohibits firearms registration. As for the NRA's constitutional interpretation: Well, even conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger said that gun nuts perverted it, calling their view a "fraud."
Certain gun enthusiasts, meanwhile, have made physical threats to some West Virginia legislators who stood up to them. Nationally, President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg have gotten poisonous letters. In all cases, federal investigators are vowing to capture anyone who breaks the law -- just as they did with outgoing NRA President David Keene's son, who tried to shoot another driver in a road rage incident and got a 10-year prison sentence.
How will this fringe element, which has gathered under one party's banner and devotes itself to a single issue, play out nationally? If a political party goes against the grain of American culture, then the opposing party will win majorities -- enabling it to elect presidents, who, in turn, will appoint the judges who decide law as well as the regulators who carry out the will of Congress.
Bringing it back home, it is highly unlikely that the NRA can defeat Manchin, just as it failed to beat home-state senators Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller after they voted in favor of an assault weapons ban in the 1990s. It will be lesson for all elected officials, showing that they needn't fear a political lobby eventually destined to be relegated to the nuthouse.
Rural districts may be rooted in gun ownership. But urban areas are the ones subjected to much of the gun violence. The two sides can certainly reach a reasonable compromise, enabling homeowners to protect themselves from criminals while preventing ordinary citizens from getting gunned down in public.
Silverstein, of Charleston, is a national business writer for Forbes and EnergyBiz.