Harry Reid and Gun Control

by Charles C. W. Cooke

The Hill, with some bad news for the gun-restriction lobby:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday pledged to hold an open amendment vote on a major gun reform bill — a move that could trim the scope of the expansive measures being sought by liberal Democrats and gun-control groups.

The decision could significantly increase a bill’s chances of passage, granting centrist senators on both sides of the aisle more leeway to vote safely on specific aspects of gun control that could otherwise haunt them at the polls in 2014.

“This is an issue that we are not going to run from. It is an issue we need to talk about,” Reid said. 

Perhaps. But it’s not an issue that Harry Reid is going to run toward, either:

Reid has signaled he does not support an all-out ban on assault weapons, which many Democrats, including President Obama, are seeking. But Reid told reporters that he hopes the Senate’s eventual gun-reform bill will be a consequential one. 

“What I am hopeful we can do is we can get a bill reported out of the Judiciary Committee. It may not be everything that everyone wants. I am hopeful it will have some stuff in there that’s really important. And then I expect to have a free amendment process on the floor,” Reid said.

So: In the one chamber of Congress in which firearm legislation has the best chance, we have a reluctant Senate majority leader agreeing to a limited bill that will be subjected to an open amendment process, and which, he has said separately, has to be moderate enough to pass the House in order to be put up for a vote. Not exactly the stuff progressive dreams are made of. Reid is a wily old thing, but he is in an impossible position. In 2010, Reid invited the NRA’s president to Nevada and told the assembled crowd that his rifle was his “friend.” In return, La Pierre called Reid “a true champion” of the right to bear arms. Dianne Feinstein he is not.

Some have suggested that Reid’s strongly pro-gun stance is pragmatic, a product of his close call with Sharon Angle. There is some truth to this. But his voting record shows a senator more at ease with the Second Amendment than many in his party. In the 1990s, Reid was largely in step with the Clinton agenda. But more recently he has softened, voting “yes” to allow firearms in checked baggage on Amtrak trains, against the extension of the “assault weapons” ban (for which he voted in 1994), and for a bill that prohibited civil liability actions from being taken against gun manufacturers for crimes committed with their products. This trend doesn’t look good for the restrictionists.

On his blog at the Washington Post, Greg Sargent has taken a break from saying things over and over again in the hope that they become true and found something he thinks is surprising: In general, Congress doesn’t like gun control. Sure, the “assault weapons” ban was going to be difficult, Sargent says,

but the assault weapons ban is not even the centerpiece of Obama’s proposal. Universal background checks are, and if Obama gets that it will be a major achievement in its own right. Given that huge majorities — including of Republicans and gun owners — favor universal background checks, you’d think Dems up for reelection could support them. Right?

The picture is mixed. Thus far, only two Dems up for reelection next year are supportive of background checks, while the others either won’t say yet or have not responded to my questions.

This is not remotely surprising. It is possible that the universal background check provision goes through Congress. Possible. (An “assault weapons” ban certainly won’t, and nor will serious limits on magazine size.) But it honestly wouldn’t surprise me if the entire proposal collapsed into nothing and was forgotten, folded quietly and tucked beneath the carpet in favor of the fight over immigration or spending. The Sandy Hook coverage has to stop at some point — after a while, people will tire — and when it does, the gun-controllers will be up against the immutable fact that gun violence is still falling and that school violence is falling with it. The problem with having a president like Barack Obama is that he can suck all of the oxygen out of a cause. The public is poor at following legislative procedures. Who could blame them if, after a couple of months have passed, they think that the issue has been dealt with, and switch the channel?