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Congressional members decry agenda

President Barack Obama's Wednesday announcement of his administration's new, tougher gun control agenda has some members of West Virginia's congressional delegation up in arms.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, criticized the president for using executive orders to initiate some areas of his plan instead of bringing the proposals before Congress.

Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat, proclaimed "the problem is bigger, broader than guns." Rep. David McKinley, a Republican, said banning guns would not prevent individuals bent on committing violent crimes from obtaining guns.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, said in a statement he was disappointed the president did not create a national commission on mass violence, as Manchin previously had proposed.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, also a Democrat, said he supported the president's move to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as long as gun owners' rights are protected.

Obama held a noontime press conference Wednesday to discuss his proposals, inspired in part by last month's shooting in Newtown, Conn. His agenda includes an assault weapon and high-capacity magazines ban, as well as more stringent background checks.

At the end of the press conference, he signed a stack of executive orders, requiring federal agencies to make more information available for background checks and the Centers for Disease Control to research gun violence and appointing a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Executive orders do not have to be approved by Congress.

Capito took issue, saying the executive orders were a way to "circumvent Congress on gun control."

"I am disappointed that President Obama issued an executive order today instead of showing willingness to work with Congress and State Leaders to address this serious issue," she wrote in a statement. "The President has displayed a worrisome willingness to use the White House to advance ideological agendas."

Capito said she would consider ideas to address violence, however, including gun laws, mental illness services and the amount of violence in the media.

"West Virginians want us to work together to find common ground solutions to reduce gun violence in the United States - a goal we all share," she wrote.

Rahall seems to support most of Obama's ideas to curb gun violence, although he may stop short of voting for a gun or magazine ban.

In a statement, Rahall suggested lawmakers should focus on prosecuting criminals to the fullest extent of the law and doing a better job of identifying people with mental illnesses and criminal backgrounds who threaten the safety of others.

Rahall also said he supported efforts to make mental health services available to young adults, give schools more money to hire resource officers and strengthen the background check system, solutions already publicly supported by the president.

The congressman pointed out that Congress is not required to accept any of Obama's legislative proposals, however.

"I expect and will push for a full debate, so that West Virginians have every opportunity to understand the proposals before the Congress and to make their views known," he wrote.

Rahall's statement does not specifically address the president's proposal for an assault weapon and high-capacity magazine ban.  Rahall spokeswoman Diane Luensmann said the congressman "is an unabashed defender of the Constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners and will review the President's proposals with those convictions firmly in mind."

Manchin said he still needs to gather information about assault weapons and high-capacity magazines before forming an opinion about Obama's proposed legislation.

Although Manchin said he owns guns, he does not have an assault weapon. He said he doesn't know anyone who uses high-capacity magazines, either, but is seeking opinions from gun owners who do.

"All I'm trying to do is have open conversations," he said. "When I have to make a vote, I will. But I'm just trying to ascertain information."

Manchin said he hoped any gun violence legislation would be "all inclusive." He spoke with the Daily Mail shortly after a meeting at Robert C. Byrd High School in Clarksburg, where he talked to teachers, first responders and others about school safety.

He said many teachers expressed concern about the lack of treatment for children who need help with mental illness.

Manchin said he would support extensive background checks, but that is not going to stop violence. He expressed disappointment that Obama did not establish a national commission on mass violence, which Manchin previously proposed.

"I don't think this is a one-issue problem. I think we have a culture that has become more violent generation after generation," he said.

Rockefeller was the only member of the state's congressional delegation to express outright support for the president's plan.

Rockefeller supported the assault weapons ban passed under President Bill Clinton, which also banned high-capacity magazines and closed loopholes in background checks.

"Today, I support steps that build on these ideas, while making sure our hunters' and sportsmen's rights are protected," he said in the statement.

He said Congress could protect West Virginia's traditions of hunting and gun ownership while still looking for ways to prevent violence.

Rockefeller also supported moves to improve mental health services and reduce the amount of violence in video games and television shows. He said he plans to re-introduce legislation next week that would direct the National Academy of Sciences to study the effect of violent video games and television programs on violent behavior.

Rockefeller said December's school shooting in Newton, Conn., "should be an enduring call to action to do everything we can to save innocent lives."

McKinley said Congress should not "respond rashly or try to politicize a tragedy."

He said the Newtown shootings, which involved a legally purchased but stolen gun, are a reminder to all gun owners to safely lock up their weapons. The congressman said banning guns would not put an end to mass shootings, however.

"Limiting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens will not change the behavior of those determined to use firearms to commit horrific crimes," he wrote.

"Part of the solution also includes enforcing and reviewing existing laws, changing how government and society should deal with mental illness, and addressing violence in popular culture."

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or Follow him at



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