West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin Fights Back Against Gun Groups Unhappy With His Support of Background Checks

Manchin tries to win over state gun groups after supporting failed background check vote.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., talks with family members of the victims of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting on Wednesday, June 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a life-long member of the National Rifle Association, surprised many including his own constituents , when he announced his bold and bipartisan decision to barrel ahead in April on a background check compromise bill with gun-rights advocate Patrick Toomey, R-Pa.

[READ: Gun Groups Not Happy With Manchin-Toomey Compromise]

Since then, voters back in West Virginia aren't so sure they can continue to support a senator who forged a compromise on an issue as sensitive as gun rights.

For Manchin, a candidate who once shot a gun in a television spot boasting his NRA endorsement, the tables have turned.

Keith Morgan, the president of West Virginia's Citizen's Defense League, one of the state's largest gun rights advocacy groups, says he last talked with Manchin in January about where the line was drawn with local gun groups and he gave Manchin plenty of warning that there would be consequences for bucking that position.

"I told him that when his reelection time came, if he were on the wrong side of this, we would be at every campaign rally and event fundraiser, and he wouldn't like our signs," Morgan says.

Even the NRA, which once gave Manchin $6,500 for his reelection bid, is gunning for his seat.

[BROWSE: Political Cartoons on Gun Rights and Gun Control]

And while Manchin won't be up for reelection until 2018, the NRA has wasted no time launching television and radio spots accusing Manchin of aiding President Barack Obama in his support for gun control.

The ads only builds on a growing sense of distrust among some of the senator's constituents.

Manchin has seen a drop in public support since April, with his approval rating, which is still among the highest in the Senate, falling from 70 percent to 63 percent according to one GOP-leaning poll.

But Manchin isn't abandoning his background check bill and he continues to meet with families of the victims of the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings. Instead, Manchin has taken a different approach not to back off, but to educate voters on what exactly his gun bill aims to do.

He's established a roundtable of interest groups to discuss his policies with gun advocates in the state and he will air a television ad later this week to combat NRA criticism that he's turned his back on West Virginia's gun owners.

[POLL: Americans Want Senate to Try Again on Background Checks]

"He has been home every weekend and he's been holding public events. He wants to sit down and talk to people and show them the bill, and what it really does," says Jacob Winowich, the executive director of West Virginia's Democratic Party. "The response has been overwhelming."

Yet Manchin has fences to mend.

"A large number of West Virginians felt betrayed by Manchin's actions," Morgan says. "Our promise is to vote for anyone but Joe Manchin in 2018. Joe Manchin may hope public memory will fade, but the problem is that Appalachians have a culture where we remember and hold grudges."

Mac McMillian, president of the Putnam County Gun Club, an NRA affiliated shooting range in the western part of the state, says many feel like the senator made a game-time decision without consulting the voters back home. McMillian even sits on the senator's gun group roundtable and says many feel like their concerns were completely ignored.

McMillian says before Manchin took his role in drafting a background-check bill, he had supported Manchin in the Senate and for governor.

[ALSO: The NRA Wasn't the Only Group That Killed Gun Reform]

"Now he is in recovery mode," McMillian says. "He kind of jumped the gun with his activity. He should have taken a hard line against changing the current law. He should have taken the tone that our current laws need to be better enforced."

National Instant Criminal Background Check System statistics show that few people who lie on their background check paperwork are prosecuted for the crime. According to a Justice Department Inspector General Report, fewer than 1 percent of those who try to buy a gun when they are barred from doing so are prosecuted.