When it comes to the political shooting gallery of gun control, these days it seems just about everyone’s taking aim at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
He’s made himself an easy target.
Chided by the left for not beating pistols into plowshares, vilified by the right for having the audacity to change his position on the dubious wisdom of the proliferation of assault weapons, Reid is a walking bull’s-eye for critics on either end of the contentious national debate. With so much noise and smoke, it’s easy find where Reid fails to stand on the issue. Getting a clear sense of how he relates to gun ownership has been more difficult .
When Reid met recently with the staff of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the subject of federally mandated background checks was broached, he first responded not by citing chapter and verse on the evolution of the Second Amendment, but with a personal anecdote from his hardscrabble childhood in Searchlight.
“My first gun that was my own, my parents, when I was 12 years old, for my birthday, sent away to a Sears-Roebuck, ordered it out of a catalog, a 12-guage shotgun,” Reid said. “That is a big gun. Bolt-action. So I know quite a bit about guns.
“I have a lot of guns. I don’t have to worry about registering them because I don’t use them, but I’ve got rifles, I’ve got shotguns. I’ve got pistols, derringers. I’ve got lots of guns.
“My dad killed himself with a gun.”
Like so many Nevadans, Reid grew up with guns.
They were used mostly for hunting, occasionally for protection. And although his father Harry’s suicide had a substantial emotional impact on Reid, it didn’t shake the son’s belief in the importance of the right to keep and bear arms. In fact, there was a time he enjoyed a reluctant embrace from the National Rifle Association after coming out against a previous congressional attempt to ban assault-style weapons.
In the wake of the several slaughters of innocent people at the hands of unstable assailants armed with semi-automatic weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, national polls suggest the mood of the country has shifted on issues such as background checks, assault weapons and high-capacity bullet magazines.
“The NRA has been for me and has been against me,” Reid said. “Charlton Heston used to come here periodically and campaign against me. Let’s understand what we have here. A man by the name of Joe Manchin (of West Virginia), one of my most conservative Democratic senators, joined with one of the most conservative Republicans … (Pat) Toomey from Pennsylvania and came up with the bill. The bill wasn’t very outrageous. But it said if you’re crazy or if you’re a felon you can’t buy a gun. Right now only 40 percent of gun … people have a background check. They buy guns on the Internet and at these gun shows.”
Although Reid managed to keep most Senate Democrats in line and picked up four of 45 Republicans, the background checks issue foundered even with the parents of the victims of the slaughtered children of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., standing up. Reid called an intimidating NRA the culprit, but the truth is most Washington politicians are easily intimidated.
“…(W)e’re not trying to take people’s guns away from them,” Reid said. “It’s hooey about registration, it’s foolishness. Now let me tell you where I’m personally coming from. I voted for the background check with pleasure.”
Although Reid said he’s not giving up the fight, the powerful American gun lobby has claimed victory. The focus of the political discussion in Washington is shifting to other subjects.
And the gun-owning senator from Searchlight has managed to tick off both ends of the debate.
Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reach him at 383-0295 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.