Sunday, July 26, 2009 | 2 a.m.
The first time Sen. Harry Reid won the National Rifle Association’s endorsement for his Senate campaign was 2004. That was the same year the colleague whom Reid would replace as Democratic leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, lost his own race, in part because of opposition from gun owners.
Reid had never been an antagonist of the Second Amendment rights group. An elected official from the West, he always had a healthy appreciation for gun owners’ rights.
But after watching the Democratic Party’s electoral losses on gun issues over the years, he became a reliable proponent of the gun rights agenda.
Now as Senate majority leader, Reid is an odd-man out in Washington — a top Democratic leader who is more pro-gun than several of his lieutenants or rank-and-file members.
It should come as no surprise then that Reid allowed a vote to proceed last week on an NRA-supported bill that was despised by several high-profile Democratic senators.
The legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. John Thune would allow gun owners with concealed weapon permits in their home states to transfer that right to carry into another state that also has a conceal carry law. Thune, incidentally, was the challenger who brought down Daschle in South Dakota that year.
For 20 years, the gun lobby has been increasing the number of states offering concealed weapons permits.
Several states have reciprocity agreements with other states, and 11 states will accept permits from any other state. Only Wisconsin, Illinois and the District of Columbia do not offer concealed weapons permits and would not be required to accept out-of-state permits under the bill.
But opponents think states should have the authority to determine gun laws, and not be forced to accept permits from those with more lenient requirements. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence opposed the bill.
The legislation failed, after being offered as an amendment to a broader bill.
But the effort fell just two votes shy of the 60 votes needed to advance.
In an unusually overt break in party leadership, top Democrats were fighting to kill the legislation. Reid’s lieutenants engaged in indelicate wrangling to keep Democrats as one. One Southern-state Democrat switched his vote from no to yes after the first tally showed enough votes for defeat.
Reid voted in support, as did 20 of his Democratic colleagues — a sign of the gun lobby’s power and the lengths the party has come in supporting Second Amendment rights.
Even in defeat, the National Rifle Association was pleased.
This was the first time the legislation had been brought to a vote in the Senate and it won vast bipartisan support from 58 senators.
“We were very appreciative of Sen. Reid’s leadership,” said Chris Cox, chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. “Had it not been for his leadership, this vote would not have taken place.”
Just a little more than a week earlier, the NRA sent a letter to its Nevada members noting Reid’s accomplishments.
The letter reads like a greatest hits list of Second Amendment legislation under Reid’s watch:
He opposed the Obama administration’s interest in reinstating the assault weapons ban, halting momentum; helped pass a law that allows gun owners to carry firearms in national parks; voted against the District of Columbia’s gun ban; voted for legislation to allow pilots in commercial airline cockpits to be armed. And years earlier, the letter notes, Reid was instrumental in passing legislation halting lawsuits that were attempting to hold gun manufacturers and dealers responsible for weapons used in criminal acts.
The letter was not an endorsement for Reid’s reelection in 2010, the organization said, just routine communication with its members.
Endorsements are not usually done by the group until after all the candidates are in the race.
But you can bet who might get the NRA’s nod.