As the Biden administration prepares to enter office, Second Amendment activists are looking to a Democrat in the hopes that he will serve as a bulwark against his own party's efforts to tighten gun-control laws.
With Democrats set to take control of the presidency and both houses of Congress in just seven days, Second Amendment activists are raising the specter of sweeping legislative action, from an assault-weapons ban and universal background checks to a federal red-flag law that would allow police to seize guns from those perceived as a threat.
The activists are looking to the upper chamber's most conservative Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (W. Va.), as a key ally, pointing to his opposition to the sorts of procedural changes, such as ending the filibuster and court packing, that could allow Democrats to pass gun-control legislation with a simple majority.
"If [Manchin] caves on that, we lose everything. If he stands strong, then we can defeat everything," said Erich Pratt, senior vice president of the Gun Owners of America.
Ending the filibuster would allow Democrats to pass legislation on a party-line vote, leaving Republicans out of the conversation. Pratt said the filibuster has been key to defeating gun-control bills.
"The reason that we have been so successful in defeating gun control over the past decade is because of the Senate filibuster," Pratt told the Washington Free Beacon. "We killed every single gun-control restriction that Obama proposed in 2013 because the Democrats, along with RINO Republicans, couldn't muster 60 votes in the Senate."
On Saturday, Gun Owners of America sent an email to its West Virginia members, warning that incoming Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer "might promise Manchin a key committee chairmanship or financial support for his next election in exchange for his promise to kill the filibuster."
Court packing could also have an impact on gun legislation, according to Pratt. By adding more justices to the Court, Democrats could dilute pro-Second Amendment voices on the bench. "If they can add four new seats to the Court and fill them with anti-gun zealots, then Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be able to rule with an iron fist," Pratt said.
Gun Owners of America isn't alone. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) is also looking to the West Virginia Democrat as a lifeline.
"It will be a test for those like Senator Joe Manchin to see if they stand by their word to protect Second Amendment rights and refuse to give Senator Schumer the tools he needs to force through his gun-control agenda," NSSF director of public affairs Mark Oliva told the Free Beacon. "That includes standing up to ideas like ending the filibuster, admitting the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico as states just to seat four more Democratic senators, and refusing to pack the U.S. Supreme Court."
Manchin was first elected in a 2010 special election to fill the seat vacated by the death of Sen. Robert Byrd (D.) after he'd spent five years as West Virginia's governor. During his time in the Senate, he maintained a pro-Second Amendment stance, a position that likely helped him in a state in which an estimated 54.2 percent of the population own firearms, according to WorldPopulationReview.com.
That said, Manchin's gun record also serves as a warning for Second Amendment activists. While the Democrat has historically run on a pro-gun platform, even shooting a cap-and-trade bill in a 2010 commercial to show his support for the Second Amendment, he has shown increasing support for some gun-control measures in recent years.
In 2013, Manchin teamed with Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) to sponsor a bill that would require background checks for gun shows and online sales between private parties. Manchin saw the bill as a compromise against a more encompassing background-check bill in the Senate. At the time, Manchin said, "If you're a law-abiding gun owner, you'll love this bill."
But Second Amendment groups didn't love the bill, arguing that it would criminalize transactions between law-abiding citizens. Ultimately, it failed to pass the Senate because it couldn't get the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster.
That filibuster is what Second Amendment activists are counting on Manchin to protect.
"In an apocalyptic environment where the filibuster has been eradicated, Americans could expect to see a Democratic Congress ramming through gun bans, gun-owner registration, and more," Pratt said.