CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than 100 protesters stood outside Sen. Joe Manchin's office in downtown Charleston Saturday morning, holding signs promoting gun rights and criticizing the senator.West Virginia Citizens Defense League President Keith Morgan said his group is "quite displeased" with Manchin, D-W.Va., after his comments regarding gun control issues last week.On Monday, Manchin said the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., have made him want to discuss regulations about gun ownership. He said he doesn't know "any people who go hunting with assault rifles with 30 rounds in their guns."On Wednesday, he said he is not "supporting a ban on anything" but wants to begin a dialogue about gun control issues in the wake of the school shootings.Morgan said his group feels betrayed by Manchin, a conservative Democrat who has received an 'A' rating from the National Rifle Association, the country's largest gun-rights advocacy group, with 4.3 million members.The protest on Virginia Street began at 10 a.m. and lasted one hour.Morgan said he was "pleased with the turnout, considering the weather conditions." Saturday morning was chilly and the ground was still covered with snow. He said that if the protest had been in June, "we would have had 1,000 people down there, but the fact that we had the crowd that we did, given the weather conditions, I couldn't be more proud of West Virginians."Morgan said one Manchin supporter stood near the crowd, with a sign that read, "Manchin is right."
West Virginia's junior senator responded to the Citizens Defense League protest in a statement Saturday afternoon."I welcome this conversation and an open dialogue with members of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League -- and all groups that feel strongly," Manchin said. "I hope that Keith Morgan and other members of the group will sit down with me and have an open discussion. In West Virginia, sitting down together is how we fix things."Manchin continued, "For my part, I ask the members of the Citizens Defense League and others with strong views to be open to this discussion. My hope is that, in West Virginia, we don't go down the Washington path, where guilt by association becomes guilt by conversation. These issues are too important to ignore."Manchin said he encourages everyone to "contact my office to share your views on the issue of confronting mass violence. Since the killings of our children at Newtown, I have called for an open discussion with everything on the table, so that we can do everything in our power to prevent another horrific massacre of our most innocent children."Morgan said his group would be open to talking with Manchin, but that the senator is just "badly out of touch with West Virginians in general."We are certainly willing to sit down and listen to Senator Manchin, but our membership has started referring to him as 'flipper' and we would approach his opinions most likely with a grain of salt," Morgan said after hearing Manchin's statement. "Senator Manchin's seat may be in jeopardy. We're not going to forget this in six years."Morgan said that after the group conducts a second protest -- which doesn't yet have a set date but will be outside Manchin's Martinsburg office -- members of the Citizens Defense League will sit down with the senator to "see what Manchin can do to help gun owners in West Virginia."
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