One of the most important voices in any upcoming gun control debate might have tipped his hand on the Senate floor Monday with two words.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) promised “a thoughtful debate about how to change laws,” echoing similar statements from leading lawmakers in the wake of last week’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 27 people dead, mostly children.
To Veteran Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston, Reid’s last two words were significant.
“I’d be surprised if those words made it into his speech by accident,” Ralston said, surmising that Reid might be evolving on the issue of gun control.
Any evolution on Reid’s part would be crucial if Democrats decide to try to propose any new gun control legislation. Reid has been a staunch supporter of gun rights, and he has touted the NRA’s endorsements and praise. Moreover, Reid is a more important mover in the Senate than West Virginia’s Joe Manchin or Virginia’s Mark Warner, two pro-gun Democrats who have signaled a new willingness to look at gun control legislation.
“We have no greater responsibility than keeping our most vulnerable and most precious resource – our children – safe. And every idea should be on the table as we discuss how best to do just that,” Reid said Monday.
It’s been a shift from his stances in the past. After the massacre in an Aurora, Colo., movie theatre in July, Reid urged patience while some of his Democratic colleagues wanted to act. In 2009, he caused a Democratic fury when he allowed a controversial gun-rights vote to be brought to the floor. It failed, but the NRA praised him for allowing the bill to be brought to the floor.
On his blog Monday, Ralston pointed out how Reid has actively sought out endorsement and flaunted praise from the National Rifle Association. In 2010, for example, Reid was engaged in a bitter campaign for re-election against Republican Sharron Angle. The NRA didn’t endorse either candidate, but the Reid campaign made sure to remind voters of his pro-gun rights record.
Here’s what the campaign sent out after the non-endorsement, according to Ralston:
“The NRA’s relationship with Sen. Reid has been long-standing and productive and – unlike for Sharron Angle – they’ve put their money where their mouth is this cycle. Along with their financial support, the declaration of NRA head Wayne LaPierre that Sen. Reid is ‘a true champion of the Second Amendment’ and that ‘no one has been a stronger advocate for responsible gun ownership than him’ shows beyond a doubt that the NRA believes Sen. Reid to be a strong advocate for Nevadans’ Second Amendment rights in the US Senate.”
Two things have changed since then, of course. Reid was re-elected in 2010, and he won’t face another election until 2016, if he decides to run again at all. And, as he emphasised on the Senate floor Monday, the Newtown tragedy involved children.
Neither Reid’s office nor the NRA didn’t respond to requests for comment. But Ralston thinks the circumstances are different enough for Reid to shift in his thinking.
“I don’t think he believes he owes the NRA anything,” Ralston said. “It could be more of a personal decision for him than many other past political decisions he’s had to make.”