Despite his long history of supporting gun rights and organizations such as the National Rifle Association, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on Monday called for all parties in the gun policy debate to place personal interests aside and move forward on critical gun-rights discussions.
Manchin identified gun-right laws, mental health treatment and society's tendency to violence as the main issues that need to be tackled by Congress in the coming months as the nation grieves over Sandy Hook Elementary's 20 children murdered in their own classrooms - in addition to the seven adults murdered in Newtown, Conn. - by gunman Adam Lanza Friday.
A longtime member of the NRA, Manchin said, "This awful massacre of our youngest children has changed us, and everything should be on the table. We need to move beyond dialogue - we need to take a sensible, reasonable approach to the issue of mass violence."
He added, "This is dialogue that needs to happen now. As a proud gun owner and hunter, I am not afraid to have that discussion."
As President Barack Obama and Congress begin to grapple with the question of why a young man would commit such a hideous mass killing, Manchin said it is imperative that Congress work across the aisle to conduct responsible discussions to reach helpful conclusions to prevent future incidents.
"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," the senator said during a phone conference with media Monday.
"I want to bring everyone to the table We should bring the NRA into this discussion," Manchin said. "I'll sit with anybody in the room on any subject and work across the table. If this is the time to have it, let's do it."
Although Manchin did not come out in clear support Sen. Dianne Feinstein's plans to introduce a bill limiting the ownership of semi-assault weapons, he did appear open to discussions related to creating limitations on specific assault weapons and types of high capacity magazines.
Manchin said semi-automatic rifles, like the one used by Lanza Friday, "were designed for the military" and not for everyday civilians.
The aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting has caused a great amount of discussion about the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibited the manufacture of certain semi-automatic firearms for civilian use. The ban expired in 2004, and as a result of Friday's mass killings Feinstein, D-Ca., said on MSNBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that she intended to introduce a gun control bill on the first day of the next Congress similar to the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban. Feinstein said her bill would work to limit the possession, sale and transfer of assault weapons, along with high-capacity magazines.
Regarding Feinstein's proposal, Manchin said, "I haven't gone in that direction. I just don't know enough but I'm not afraid of the political ramifications of taking the responsible position."
When discussing gun rights, Manchin said using scare tactics is not the right approach to take. He emphasized his strong support for the Second Amendment, but believes greater action needs to be taken to prevent another senseless mass killing.
"Furthermore, 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," Manchin said. "All this can be discussed while still protecting our Second Amendment rights."
Manchin added, "I'm a proud member of the NRA I'm proud of the guns I own and know with that I will defend the Second Amendment right as long as I live."
Manchin said America's culture has become prone to violence.
"Look at our society of violence. Look how we have glorified it," Manchin said, pointing to examples of extremely violent video games and Hollywood movies. "The world is a violent world."
In 2010 Manchin aired a political advertisement in which he was shown shooting cap and trade legislation with a rifle. When asked by reporters Monday if his advertisement contributed to society's glorification of violence, Manchin responded, "It was not intended to glorify gun use. It's our (state's) culture If you look at the rifle I was using it had one shell. I did it in the most responsible way.
"There is a proper and safe way to handle guns," Manchin insisted. "I'm a proud gun owner and a responsible gun user."
Manchin said officials need to bring the discussion of mental health treatment in the U.S. to the forefront.
"I think we should have a responsible discussion for mental health We can't be afraid to talk about it," he said. "All of this needs to be in an adult conversation in the most realistic terms."
Manchin said he and his wife Gayle are also taking time to pray for the families affected by Friday's mass killing.
"Finally, I know that all Americans will continue to pray for comfort for the families of these children and the women who gave their lives to protect them at school," he said. "They will always be in my prayers, Gayle's prayers and the hearts of the people of West Virginia."