Comments by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin concerning how to prevent violence such as at a school in Newtown, Conn., were controversial, to say the least. Manchin seemed to indicate he is willing to consider some new federal limits on what types of firearms Americans can own.
But it is important to note Manchin, D-W.Va., said much more in comments to a reporter recently. Consideration of his opinions as a whole should not be limited by the bitter disputes that will result from what he said about guns.
Manchin is not an anti-gun fanatic. He is a gun owner and an avid hunter. One of the most memorable political campaign advertisements of recent years showed Manchin using a rifle to shoot a hole in a copy of the "cap and trade" bill concerning the coal industry.
But in December, Manchin noted the massacre of children and teachers at a Connecticut school "changed the way we go from here."
The killer in Connecticut apparently used an "assault rifle," modeled on the military M-4 and M-16 weapons, in his rampage. Such guns - not fully automatic as used by the armed forces - have been sold by the hundreds of thousands. Those available to civilians are semi-automatic rifles, meaning they fire once each time the trigger is pulled. Many come with high-capacity ammunition magazines, or "clips."
It is that type of equipment on which Manchin focused. "I don't know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. I don't know anybody who needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting," he said.
While suggesting restrictions on such equipment, similar to a ban in place for a decade until 2004, Manchin emphasized blanket bans on guns are not acceptable. "Millions and millions of people are proud gun owners and they do it responsibly and by the law," he stressed.
No doubt Congress will debate a new ban on "assault rifles" and high-capacity magazines. At the same time lawmakers - and we as a society - should be talking about the other points Manchin made.
"This is bigger than about guns," the senator said. "It's about how we treat people with mental illness, how we intervene, how we get them the care they need, how we protect our schools."
He is absolutely right. Merely trying to keep certain types of weapons out of the hands of all Americans will not solve the problem of unbalanced people who become homicidal.
So, while Manchin's comments about guns probably will be the focus, his other thoughts are at least as worthy of being discussed and, hopefully, acted upon.