Monday, April 8, 2013 | 2:10 p.m.
When President Barack Obama began pressing Congress to take up gun control measures, many wondered if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, with his historically pro-gun proclivities, would shy away from such a public debate.
Instead, after a few months of quiet deliberation, Reid has decided to go on the offensive, embracing Obama’s rhetoric on gun control — if not necessarily all the president’s specific positions — and charging Republicans with being too petrified to state their detailed position on guns publicly.
“Many Senate Republicans seem afraid to even engage in this debate. Shame on them,” Reid said Monday afternoon. “These 20 little babies that were murdered in Sandy Hook...the least Republicans owe them is a vote.”
A group of conservative Republicans senators recently sent a letter to Reid threatening to filibuster any attempts to bring up the gun control bill.
Reid announced previously that beginning this week, he would turn the Senate’s legislative attention to gun control and invite lawmakers of all political stripes to offer amendments to either strengthen or weaken the legislation.
Unadorned, the underlying legislation — which has not yet been finalized — is expected to enhance background checks for firearm purchases.
Leaving the door open to amendments, however, means senators will have to debate and vote a far broader range of topics, including regulation of high-capacity magazines and bans on assault weapons.
“Every one of these measures deserved a vote, a yes or a no,” Reid said. “No hiding, no running on this issue that has captivated America.”
If Reid gets his way, there will likely be little doubt left as to where any senator in Congress stands on any component part of gun control, as several senators have already committed themselves to filing amendments to address the wider spectrum of gun-related concerns.
In the past, certain lawmakers, mostly Democrats, sought refuge in the shadows provided by a non-specific record on guns come election time, while certain other lawmakers, mostly Republicans, trumpeted their pro-2nd Amendment records as a way of building conservative credibility and tapping into campaign kitties of groups like the National Rifle Association.
But Reid is betting that last December’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., among other recent high-casualty shootings, changed the political climate enough that threatening to block a gun bill can no longer be construed as defense of the Second Amendment, but must be seen as an act of cowardice.
“There’s simply no excuse for this obstructionism, except for the fear of considering anti-violence proposals in full view,” Reid said.
Reid spoke emphatically about the need for enhanced background checks, citing statistics showing nine out of ten Americans agreed with the changes that constitute the Senate’s underlying bill.
But he left plenty of wiggle room for Democrats who remain opposed to further regulating gun purchases through bans on high-capacity magazines and/or assault rifles.
Reid may very well count himself among such Democrats; in the past, he has opposed such blanket bans, and in recent months he has refused to declare definitively how he will vote on such proposals.
“Good! They’re free to vote against it,” Reid said, in response to Democrats who had expressed wariness about elements of the gun control smorgasbord of legislative initiatives the Senate will tackle beginning this week. “I’ve said every idea should be deliberated and every idea should get a vote...In short, let’s have a debate on violence in America.”