* Gun-rights advocate Reid will decide what Senate will vote
* Reid has expressed doubt about ban on assault weapons
* Senate may focus on measures that could pass
By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, Jan 16 What will Harry Reid do?
As President Barack Obama's gun-control package heads to the
U.S. Congress, one of the big questions hanging over Capitol
Hill is how Reid - a fellow Democrat and the Senate majority
leader - will manage the most ambitious proposal for gun
restrictions since the 1960s.
In the political drama likely to play out over guns, Reid is
hardly the gun-control advocate from central casting. Like many
Republicans and several fellow Democrats from conservative
states, Reid, 73, has often opposed limits on gun owners.
He was endorsed for re-election by the pro-gun National
Rifle Association in 2004, though not in 2010. He has voted to
protect gun makers from lawsuits (2005) and supported allowing
firearms in checked baggage on Amtrak trains (2009).
But the Nevada Democrat has also supported various calls for
more background checks of prospective gun buyers.
Expanding such checks is a focus of Obama's plan, which also
includes proposals for a ban on the sale of military-style
assault weapons, a new federal gun-trafficking law and a
10-round limit on ammunition magazines.
Many lawmakers and analysts believe a ban on assault
weapons is unlikely to clear Congress, and that Obama's proposal
will probably be whittled down significantly before a version of
it can be passed.
They said that in the Republican-led House of
Representatives, getting a vote on any gun legislation could be
difficult. And in the Democrat-led Senate, they said, it all
depends on Reid, who as majority leader decides what legislation
makes it to the floor.
As recently as Sunday, Reid expressed doubt about an assault
weapons ban and suggested that expanding background checks would
be a more realistic goal.
"Is (a ban on assault weapons) something that can pass the
Senate? Maybe," Reid said in an interview with a PBS television
affiliate in Las Vegas. "Is it something that can pass the
House? I doubt it."
REID A 'SMART GUY'
On Capitol Hill, Reid's message was interpreted to mean that
he would not ask Senate Democrats to support the assault weapons
ban, or other measures that would anger conservatives in their
home states, if those measures had no chance of passing the
"Reid doesn't want to expose members to votes on bills that
might not even be brought up for a House vote," said a senior
Democratic aide who was not authorized to speak publicly. "But
some of his own Democrats may introduce their own bills to ban
assault weapons and push for votes on it."
Larry Sabato, heads of the University of Virginia Center for
Politics, agreed that Reid was "positioning himself to only pass
things in the Senate that can pass the House."
A senior Republican aide, who asked not to be identified,
predicted Reid was unlikely to call a Senate vote on an
assault-weapons ban unless it were filled with loopholes.
"Harry Reid is a smart guy," the aide said. "To gun
activists, banning assault weapons sounds too much like, 'The
government is trying to take away my guns.' It is not going to
After Obama announced his plan on Wednesday, Reid said he
was "committed to ensuring that the Senate will consider
legislation that addresses gun violence and other aspects of
violence in our society early this year."
Reid added that "all options should be on the table moving
SOME DEMOCRATS ANXIOUS
Polls indicate that after the massacre of 20 children and
six adults last month at a school in Connecticut, most Americans
want restrictions on the type of rapid-firing "assault" rifle
that was used in the shootings.
Illinois Representative Bobby Rush, a Democrat who became a
gun-control advocate in 1999 after his teenage son was gunned
down in Chicago, said Reid was part of the reason he fears
Obama's efforts may come up short.
"I see Democrats like Harry Reid never in favor of
meaningful gun legislation," Rush said.
"Reid should bring (a proposed ban on assault weapons) for
vote and see what happens," Rush added. "If there are enough
agitated Americans who make their voices heard, they can move
In the Senate, the gun legislation will originate in the
Judiciary Committee. The panel's chairman, Vermont Senator
Patrick Leahy, said on Wednesday that the first hearing on
Obama's gun proposals would be on Jan. 30.
If the committee winds up approving an assault weapons ban
and Reid does not allow a vote on it, "I'd be very
disappointed," said Democratic Representative Jim Langevin of
Rhode Island, a long-time backer of banning assault weapons.
And, Langevin said, "so would a lot of other Democrats."