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Harry Reid
Obstacle or facilitator in gun-restriction maneuvers?
One reason President Obama made a direct appeal to Americans in congressional districts across the country to support the gun-violence proposals he announced Wednesday is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The five-term senator from Nevada told The Hill Wednesday that he will bring gun legislation to the Senate floor this year, but he did not specify exactly what that would be. He opposes passing a new version of the 1994 assault weapons ban of certain semi-automatic rifles that expired in 2004. That's one of the president's key proposals.

As nearly every close observer has pointed out, getting that ban through the Senate is likely to be a dicey affair under the best of circumstances, but it will be immeasurably more difficult if it doesn't have Reid twisting some Democratic arms to do it. And that is obviously something he is unlikely to do without a relentless barrage of public pressure.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who shepherded the 1994 ban through the Senate, said in an interview Wednesday said she was disappointed with Reid's opposition. But she nevertheless plans to introduce legislation to impose a new ban on Jan. 24:

“I’ve spoken to Senator Reid about it,” Feinstein said Wednesday, but she declined to share details of the conversation. “I know it’s an uphill battle, but that doesn’t mean that on principle or conscious we shouldn’t do it,” she said. “You have to try, you can’t sit back and just let the gun organizations call public policy.”

Reid has a long-standing relationship with the National Rifle Association. Although the organization did not endorse him for reelection in 2010, it contributed more than $4,000 to his campaign and its unhinged but well-paid executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said of Reid that year that he was "a true champion of the Second Amendment" and that "no one has been a stronger advocate for responsible gun ownership than him." The organization did not back Reid's opponent, Sharron Angle, who infamously noted that it might be time for "2nd Amendment remedies" to deal with "tyrannical" government.

That "true champion" has opposed most gun restrictions in the past. But on Wednesday, Reid said "all options should be on the table moving forward" in the complex effort to reduce gun violence. That would seem to indicate some flexibility even on the matter of the assault weapons ban. Or it may be mere blather.

Getting the Majority Leader on board with the assault weapons ban and the high-capacity magazine ban is going to require a boatload of cajoling, nudging and needling. Even if he is persuaded, and there's excellent reason for doubt on that score, getting enough votes to pass the ban will be a formidable task. In the House, it faces even more daunting odds.

There, its best use may turn out to be a bargaining chip for getting other items on the president's list of proposals passed. Until the Senate moves, however, Speaker John Boehner has made it clear, nothing will be done in the House. He may mean nothing will happen in the House anyway. But the last thing we need to fall prey to is despair over the well-known obstacles to reasonable gun restrictions in the House.

So, first things first. For now, progressives should put the screws to any wavering Democratic senators, including Reid.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 12:52 PM PST.

Also republished by Shut Down the NRA and Daily Kos.

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