“I think he’s sold us out,” Keith Morgan, president of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, told a crowd of more than 150 people who held signs and cheered motorists who beeped their horns in support as they passed by.
Two blocks away at town square, a crowd of about 40 people rallied in support of Manchin, D-W.Va., who has advocated for a discussion on the causes of mass violence, including military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“It’s quite courageous of (Manchin) to be doing that,” said Tobey Pierce of Shepherdstown, W.Va., whose concern for his elementary school-age grandson’s future motivated him to come out Saturday.
Manchin’s position that “everything should be on the table” in wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has triggered an outpouring of criticism from Second Amendment and gun-rights groups that see the senator’s statements as a betrayal by a lifetime National Rifle Association member.
Morgan likened Manchin in passionate remarks to Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus.
“He got his 30 pieces of silver,” Morgan said. “I don’t think he’s going to be welcome here anymore.”
Manchin said in a statement Wednesday that he hadn’t had a chance to review President Obama’s recommendations on how to curb mass violence, but indicated he was disappointed that the White House did not recommend the creation of a national commission on the issue as the senator has advocated. Obama’s gun-control proposals include requiring universal background checks for all firearms sales, reinstatement of the ban on assault weapons and limitation of ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.
“A national commission can build the consensus we need for real action backed not only by gun control advocates, mental health experts and entertainment industry executives but also by law-abiding gun owners who fully understand the history and heritage of firearms in America,” Manchin said in his statement Wednesday.
Morgan implored the crowd, some of whom traveled from Fairmont and Morgantown, W.Va., for the rally, to continue to lend their support to stopping any infringement on their Second Amendment rights by contacting their elected leaders and making their presence known through phone calls, emails and rallies such as Saturday’s event.
“The House of Representatives is our last holdout,” Morgan said.
While Morgan said the Democratic leaders in the West Virginia Legislature were ignoring the Citizens Defense League and other gun-rights advocates, a contingent of Berkeley County Republican lawmakers, including state Sen. Craig Blair and Dels. John Overington, Eric Householder and Mike Folk, told those gathered at the rally they would not support any infringement on the Second Amendment.
Overington told the crowd that their Second Amendment rights are under assault by the federal government, and indicated past Supreme Court decisions on gun-rights cases could be reversed if Obama is able to appoint another liberal justice to the nation’s high court.
Jefferson County resident Larry Wright was defiant on the gun-control issue.
“If they want to disarm us, they’re going to have to come and take them,” said Wright, who had posters printed with a Greek expression “molon labe,” or “come and take,” that reportedly was said by Spartan King Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae against the Persian Empire.
At the rally in support of Manchin, Jill Korn of Martinsburg said she believes steps should be taken to make it a little harder for people to get guns who shouldn’t have them.
Horn said she supports Manchin’s push for a discussion about gun violence.
“We all need to stop yelling and maybe start listening to one another,” Horn said.
Heather Marshall, president of the Berkeley County Democratic Women’s Club and the organizer of the “Moms for Manchin” rally after learning about the Citizens Defense League event, said they wanted to establish a “peaceful presence” in support of the senator’s position on the Second Amendment issue.
“I don’t think he’s turned his back on them,” Marshall said.