WASHINGTON - Sen. Joe Manchin, a hunter and lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, said it's time for all involved parties to cut through the political rhetoric and have an honest discussion about the future of our nation - from gun ownership rights and responsibilities to the way violence is portrayed in the media.
Manchin, D-W.Va., said "everything should be on the table" following Friday's killing of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn. This includes not only possible assault gun restrictions but also mental health issues and a frank discussion on our nation's moral compass.
"I'm not afraid to say, 'Let's talk about that,'" Manchin said during a conference call Monday. "I'm not afraid of the political ramifications.
In this image taken from a 2010 campaign video called “Dead Aim,” Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia carries a rifle that he later fires at a copy of the cap-and-trade bill.
"We need to move beyond dialogue - we need to take a sensible, reasonable approach to the issue of mass violence," he said. "I ask all of my colleagues to sit down with a seriousness of purpose to address the causes of these tragic crimes, including mental health treatment, military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and our culture, which seems to glorify violence more than ever in our video games and movies. ... We have to re-evaluate who we are as a society. This needs to have an adult conversation about the society we have become and the direction we are going."
He called for the NRA to be part of the discussions. "This conversation needs to include those of us who strongly support the Second Amendment of our Constitution, because we, too, are proud parents who want all our children to have a safe place to learn and play. All this can be discussed while still protecting our Second Amendment rights," he said.
Manchin received some criticism Monday for his 2010 political commercial in which he shot a copy of the Cap and Trade bill. "As a gun guy, I operate my guns in a safe, responsible way, as do most West Virginians. But with that said, I will defend the rights of gun owners as long as I live. I feel so strongly about that. Mostly, I believe there is a responsible, sensible way we should be conducting ourselves, and there should be an open discussion with all sides at the table."
Congress banned assault weapons in 1994, but that ban expired in 2004. The ban has never been renewed, and Manchin said he has his staff researching why it has not been reconsidered.
He doesn't know yet if he would support reinstating the ban, but he added he won't let public opinion and potential political ramifications sway his decision.
Every child should have a safe place, and it's not always their home but has to be their school, he continued.
"Now that's not even safe," Manchin said. "Don't you think we should sit down and talk about it?"
President Barack Obama on Sunday vowed to use "whatever power this office holds" to safeguard the nation's children, raising the prospect he will pursue policy changes to stem gun violence.
Manchin is the most prominent gun rights advocate to speak publicly following the shootings.