U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin has proven that he is worthy of the seat once held by Robert C. Byrd. By joining with Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey on background checks for firearms purchases, he has increased his profile as a national leader and has demonstrated good sense and humanity. Hitting on a compromise that keeps arms away from those who are a danger to themselves and society without harming the rights of gun owners, he displays measured and wise leadership.
As he says it would have been "easy" to simply vote mindlessly against any reform however reasonable. Moreover by meeting with the families from Newtown, he showed a warmth rarely seen in politicians. There was a depth of understanding and a desire to get to the truth, which made Manchin look truly impressive. Toomey, as well, deserves praise for courage and for processing character. In each case they justified the voters' decisions to send them to the Senate.
Their stance had very little to do with guns and more with common sense. Should criminals and the mentally ill be denied access to high-powered weapons? Answer: most assuredly. It is limited to purchases at sporting goods stores and gun shows; private transactions are off-limits. Although the National Rifle Association and their competitor the Gun Owners of America oppose even the slightest of reforms - which this most surely represents - many of their members do not.
The NRA, by opposing everything, gives the impression that they are knee-jerk. They backed background checks in 1998, only recently staking out an unbending stance. Manchin and Toomey have been A-rated supporters of the organization and to their minds are ardent supporters of the 2nd Amendment. In a way they have offered the NRA a way out by embracing a mild reform while virtually keeping everything else the same. Manchin and Toomey recognize what they do not, that the next Newtown may lead to greater calls for regulation and that the NRA would be smart to embrace a compromise on a minor reform as a way of strengthening its credibility.
In an odd way it could have saved the NRA from itself. Because the NRA won this time does not mean it can keep winning if it sticks to such a rigid formula of opposing all change.
If it had passed, assault weapons would have remain untouched and even the massive magazines would have gone unaddressed. The Manchin-Toomey compromise would have allowed the NRA to appear reasonable without giving up any of its cherished positions. By rejecting everything, they win a battle while risking, down the road, the war.
Certainly the NRA should not react by attacking Manchin and Toomey. No greater friends will they ever have.
To insist on unthinking support, the NRA appears dictatorial and confident that its supporters will behave as drones. Meanwhile, it alienates those that have the best interest of the organization at heart even if its current leadership does not.
It would be absurd to label Manchin or Toomey radicals. Both are conservatives of the best stripe. Particularly Toomey, who is a favorite of the Club for Growth and leans to the right, most assuredly he wishes the NRA well and by supporting this small reform shows it.
As for Manchin, West Virginians can be proud that their senator is landed as an effective leader. As Joe Scarborough has stated, Newtown was a "game changer." For Manchin - like an old conservative John C. Calhoun once stated - it was time "to meet danger at the frontier." By insisting that something be done the senator protected the NRA while recognizing threats that may emerge.