(WASHINGTON) -- In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., a surprising voice has emerged: Sen. Joe Manchin, a proud pro-gun Democrat from West Virginia, who has stepped forward as a possible dealmaker on new gun control laws.
"Never in my life did I ever think we would have 20 children slaughtered," says Manchin. "So it changed everything, it changed me, it changed all of us."
Manchin says it is difficult to get people even talking about the issues -- namely gun control and mental illness -- but says he has started, and he began with the biggest group.
"My friends at the NRA ... they're hurting as much as anybody right now," says Manchin.
"We need to have the NRA at the table, you cannot have meaningful changes unless you understand all sides of the issue," adds the senator, who says he believes he can bring the NRA and other sides of the party together.
Manchin says he will defend the Second Amendment and that he is a proud NRA member. But adds that he also has a responsibility to speak up.
"We're talking about military assault rifles," says Manchin. "This is a conversation worth having. I don't know if we could have saved one child, if we could have, it'd have been worth it."
"If we can't keep our children safe and I'm afraid to have a dialogue because I'm afraid someone might vote against me, I don't have a right to be here," he adds.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio