LAS VEGAS -- At Wild West Guns, where stuffed caribou and Dall sheep adorn the walls, customers know Harry Reid as someone who understands guns.
They can tell you he received a B rating from the National Rifle Association. That he helped secure land and money for one of the world’s largest shooting ranges. And that he once carried a gun as a police officer.
But now – amid enormous pressure, frustrated gun owners say – the longtime Democratic U.S. senator from Nevada has started to waver on an issue that has divided American society for decades.
“He’s in a tough spot,” said Dana Seleznoff, 50, as he wandered through the store on a break from his job as manager at a mobile billboard company. “He was born and raised here.”
It’s simple, says Seleznoff, the owner of 102 guns: If Reid votes against gun control, the senator is voting with Nevada. If he votes for gun control, he’s voting with Washington.
President Barack Obama is pushing Congress to pass the nation’s most aggressive gun control plan in generations, following the December mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., that claimed the lives of 26 victims, including 20 elementary school children. It would ban assault weapons, limit the capacity of ammunition magazines and require background checks on all purchases. The Senate already has launched hearings.
Reid, the Senate majority leader who likes to talk about how he used to hunt jackrabbits for his grandmother’s stew, not only gets a vote, but he controls what bills make it to the floor for a vote. He said he expects a series of bills on gun control to come to the floor for a vote in the coming months.
As he weighs his allegiance to his president with his Nevada roots, his support so far for the proposals has been tepid.
“He’s under incredible pressure right now because he’s got . . . his own beliefs,” National Rifle Association President David Keene told reporters at a recent roundtable interview. “He’s got the views and the demands of his constituents on the one hand, and the pressure he faces from party leaders and his president on the other. So where Harry Reid ends up in this debate is anybody’s guess, and I think that’s one of the guessing games that’s going on around Washington now.”
Reid declined to comment for this story. But in an interview Sunday on ABC he said he supports expanding background checks, though he was noncommittal on all other proposals. That includes the assault weapons ban, which he previously voted against and has said would be unlikely to pass a divided Congress.
“We’re going to have votes on all kinds of issues dealing with guns,” he said on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” “And I think everyone would be well-advised to read the legislation before they determine how they’re going to vote for it.”
In the coming weeks, Reid’s decisions on the contentious issue will help determine the outcome of one of Obama’s top second-term goals, as well as the future makeup of a chamber controlled – barely – by Democrats.
“He’s more concerned with the Democratic Party than the country,” said Don Chism, 62, a commercial real estate agent browsing Wild West Guns who says he owns eight or nine firearms.