Reply from Senator Joe Manchin

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Dear Mr. Hill,

Thank you for taking the time to contact me and to add your voice to the national conversation on gun rights. While the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut elevated this conversation, we cannot sacrifice our constitutional rights out of fear. As your Senator, it is my obligation and honor to protect the Second Amendment and to make our communities safer – and I truly believe we can and must do both.

Like many West Virginians, I am a proud and responsible gun owner and a lifetime member of the NRA. Also, like many of you, I am a proud parent and grandparent and I believe we must do everything in our power to keep our children safe.

To this end, I worked with Senators on both sides of the aisle, including Republican Senators Pat Toomey and Mark Kirk, to introduce the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act. This measure would do four major things: first, it would require background checks for sales at gun shows and for Internet sales; second, it would strengthen the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) by requiring states to put their available records into this system; third, it would establish a National Commission on Mass Violence to study all causes of mass violence, because we know this is not simply a gun issue; fourth, it would protect and expand the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, active duty service members, and veterans in a number of ways, from legalizing the interstate sale of handguns to establishing a better, independent method for veterans’ to ensure they are not unfairly added to NICS.

This act would absolutely not create a national gun registry; in fact it would make the establishment of any such registry illegal and institute a 15-year penalty for the misuse of even one record by a government employee. Further, this bill would not take away the guns of a single law-abiding citizen. I am a proud gun owner and, like you, I will never let anyone take away my guns.

However, I do believe we must do more to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill. Requiring background checks at gun shows and for sales conducted over the Internet is just common sense. Under current law, if you buy a gun at a gun show from a licensed dealer, you have to undergo a background check by that dealer. However, you can go to a non-dealer table at the gun show and buy a gun without a background check. My legislation simply makes everyone follow the same rules and makes it harder for felons and those adjudicated as dangerously mentally ill to purchase firearms.

My legislation does not establish a “universal” background check. You could still give, loan, or sell a gun to a family member or neighbor without conducting a background check – that is just common sense. Only advertised private sales, like those on the Internet, would require a check. Those posted in church bulletins or arranged by word-of-mouth would not require a background check. Further, if you have a concealed carry permit that was issued within the past five years, you would not need to undergo an additional background check, no matter where you buy a gun.

These background checks work only if state records of felons and those adjudicated as dangerously mentally ill are in NICS. For example, the Virginia Tech shooter, despite being a prohibited purchaser, was able to successfully pass a background check because his records had not been entered into NICS. To prevent this kind of tragic oversight, my legislation would eliminate unnecessary responsibilities for states and direct future grant money toward creating systems to send records to NICS, while penalizing those states that fail to comply by reducing their federal funding.

With that said, we know that mass violence is not just a gun issue. For this reason, my amendment would establish a National Commission on Mass Violence to study, in-depth, all causes of mass violence in our country. The tragedy in Newtown stemmed from the failures of multiple systems. This commission would bring together experts from every field – school safety, mental health, the video and entertainment industry, gun rights, and law enforcement – to utilize their expertise to find meaningful action we can take to prevent mass violence. Violence destroys the dignity, hopes and lives of millions of Americans, and we have a unique opportunity to stop this epidemic – but only if we can put politics aside and have an honest and effective conversation about what to do about our culture of mass violence.

Finally, my act would protect and expand the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, including protections for active duty service members and veterans. Under current law, individuals are prohibited from purchasing a handgun outside their state of residence. My legislation would change that and allow the interstate sale of handguns, not just rifles and shotguns. It would also allow gun dealers to participate in gun shows outside of their own state and even allow face-to-face transfers between dealers at gun shows taking place in a state in which they are not a resident. To protect the rights of those who have served this country, all veterans currently in NICS would be notified of their status and given the chance to appeal to an independent board or court. This appeals process would also apply when a veteran is newly entered into NICS and the veteran would continue to be able to legally purchase and carry a firearm until the appeals process is exhausted. This bill would also expand Second Amendment rights for active duty service members. Current law unfairly restricts service members to purchasing guns only in the state where they are stationed. My proposal would fix this outdated law to allow active duty service members and their spouses to purchase firearms in both their home state and the state in which they are stationed.

Again, let me be very clear about what my bill would not do:
· It would not take away anyone’s guns.
· It would not ban any kind of firearm.
· It would not ban or restrict the use of any kind of bullet or any size clip or magazine.
· It would not create a national registry; in fact, it clearly makes illegal the establishment of any such registry and institutes a 15-year jail penalty for the misuse of even a single record by a government employee.
· It would not, in any fashion, infringe upon the rights of law-abiding citizens.

While our legislation received a bipartisan majority of Senators, it failed to receive the 60 votes needed for passage. However, I still believe that this is not the end of the conversation and I will continue to build upon the common ground that we have achieved thus far.

Moving forward, we must continue to involve all of the various stakeholders in this national conversation. I know that families across West Virginia and the United States join my family in offering our prayers to the families of the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School and to the entire community of Newtown, and to the victims of mass violence everywhere. As your Senator, I will work with everyone to find a way to ensure the safety of our children.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if I can be of further assistance.

With warmest regards,

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