Horrified by the Connecticut school massacre, Sen. Joe Manchin wants a free and open dialogue on American's culture of violence, focusing not only on firearms, but mental illness, violent video games and Hollywood's obsession with blood and gore.
Manchin emphasized in a telephone news conference that he is in no way asking for a ban on so-called "assault" rifles, despite one news source's report saying he endorses New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's call for one.
"Oh, no, that's awful," he said of the report.
"You know me, that's not true. This is a kind of craziness. You have people that want to use the scare tactics and extremes, trying to draw a political wedge when we're trying to have an open, honest dialogue."
Instead, Manchin said he agrees with Sen. Joseph Liebermann, I-Conn., in seeking a blue-ribbon panel to discuss all facets of violence, with all interested parties at the table.
"I'm not supporting a thing except open dialogue," he said.
"For the sake of decency, can't we do that without villainizing somebody and putting them in a corner and trying to put a target on people, if you will?"
A longtime hunter and member of the National Rifle Association with an "A" political rating, Manchin cautioned against those that would seek to ostracize the nation's largest gun safety and ownership organization.
"There are people waiting to pounce on them," he said.
"There are people waiting to villainize them. That is the wrong approach. You're not going to get any meaningful changes or even meaningful dialogue if you're going to demonize people you should be working with. That's the problem in Washington today. We have guilt by association."
Manchin described himself as a "proud" member of the NRA, adding, "I'm a defender of the Second Amendment, which I will always be."
Manchin watched the slaughter of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., unfold on news networks, an unthinkable act of carnage he still finds difficult to accept as real.
"It's just hard for me to comprehend," the Democratic senator said.
"It's hard for me to get my thoughts around any of this, this type of crime against babies and children. I just can't fathom that."
Manchin says part of the dialogue must be the blood-and-gore that saturates much of the fare coming out of Hollywood, along with graphic violence that drenches video games popular with children.
"Everybody talks about gun control," the senator said.
"We're talking about a vast array of things how we as a society have gotten to this level where we not only tolerate but accept it (violence) but we glorify it in movies and everything else we do. But we've got to be very careful. We've got a First Amendment along with a Second Amendment."
At the same time, Manchin said the gratuitous violence in movies and games "probably changed all of us."
Another topic that needs studying is the possible use of armed and trained guards positioned in schools, Manchin said.
"We have to rethink where we are," he said in the aftermath of the school shooting.
"I know some schools have officers in them. It can be positive if done in the right way."
While Manchin is adamant that he isn't backing Bloomberg's call for a revival of the assault weapons ban that expired eight years ago under a sunset provision, the senator said he never carries more than three rounds when he deer hunts.
"I don't know people that basically go hunting with assault rifles with 10, 20 and 30 rounds in their guns," he said.
Manchin said he doesn't have any data on the effectiveness, or lack thereof, with the 10-year ban on so-called assault weapons, enacted Sept. 13, 1994, and signed by former President Bill Clinton.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Provision says its own research on the ban, along with other gun control measures, led to "insufficient evidence" to ascertain if such laws prevented violence.
"I'm not going in that direction," Manchin said, when asked if he would support a renewed ban.
"I think everything should be on the table. I'm not afraid to say, 'Let's talk about it' for fear that someone might interpret that I support or don't support ... I'm not afraid of the political ramifications in taking a responsible action. My goodness, have we gotten so toxic in our environment that we can't even have serious dialogue and conversation by responsible people?"
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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