Harry Reid Is a Former NRA Supporter, Master of ‘Evolving’

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Photo: Allison Shelley/Getty Images2012 Getty Images

Most leaders in the Democratic party have shifted their stance on gay marriage in the last few years, but Harry Reid has the distinction of "evolving" on three of this year's biggest political issues:  gay marriage, immigration, and gun control. Reid voted for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," then pushed to have it repealed in 2010, and recently said he supports same-sex marriage. In 1993 he co-sponsored legislation to prevent the children of undocumented immigrants from becoming citizens, then years later he apologized, threw his support behind the DREAM Act, and made immigration reform a central part of his last campaign. In the past few years, Reid has experienced another drastic transformation, going from trying out a new Las Vegas shooting range with NRA head Wayne LaPierre in 2010 to pushing the latest gun control bill in the Senate.

The New York Times highlights these inconsistencies in light of the looming battle over gun safety legislation in Congress, but the paper goes fairly easy on Reid. The majority leaders' 180s are "less flip-flops than slow dances to the left" that mirror shifts among all Democrats and Reid's constituents. By putting forward a bill that includes expanded background checks and targets straw purchases, but essentially kills the assault weapons ban, Reid could be looking out for Senate Democrats up for reelection next year and trying to put forward a version of the president's proposed legislation that might actually pass.

However, it doesn't take too much reading between the lines to see the more cynical version. Reid tells the paper in an e-mail, “The families of Newtown and Aurora and the victims of gun violence everywhere deserve a vote on these issues,” but he doesn't elaborate on which specific gun control measures they'll get a vote on, or what he personally supports. Aides say Reid's change of heart was motivated by the recent tragedies in Newtown and Aurora, but note that he's also been bitter towards the NRA since the organization declined to support him in his 2010 campaign. “Harry Reid is the most calculating individual I have ever covered in politics,” says Jon Ralston, a journalist who's covered Nevada politics for decades. “If he is making the right move for his members, he is making the right move for himself.”