Reid changes mind on background checks, ‘vote my conscience’

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. March 14, 2013.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. March 14, 2013.
Cliff Owen/AP

Talk about a change of heart: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that he’ll back a ban on military-style assault weapons as an amendment to a gun control bill that’s being debated in the upper chamber of Congress.

The announcement is a big shift  for the Nevada Democrat. Last month, Reid said he’d drop the ban from the Senate’s gun package because it didn’t have enough support. He had previously voted against renewing the 1994 assault weapons ban when it expired in 2004.

The amendment, spearheaded by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the wake of December’s mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., has the backing of 22 senators. It’s almost universally expected to fail, making Reid’s support symbolic.

Still, Reid, in an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, said he supports the ban because its saves the lives of police officers and innocent civilians. Previously, Reid, who hails from a pro-gun state, had a close relationship with gun lobby groups, including the National Rifle Association.

“I will vote for the assault weapons ban because maintaining law and order and saving lives is more important than preventing imagined tyranny.”

He added, “Today I chose to vote my conscience, not only as Harry Reid, a United States Senator, but also  as a husband, a father, a grandfather and I hope a friend to lots and lots of people.”

Reid said if he voted against the ban and tragedy strikes again, “I would have trouble living with myself…knowing that I didn’t do everything in my power to prevent that incident.”

The Senate will vote on nine proposed changes to the existing gun control bill. Included in the changes is Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania’s bipartisan amendment to strengthen requirements on background checks.

Manchin, a Democrat from a red state, told NBC “We will not get the votes today.” Shortly after, however, his office released a statement that he remains optimistic his amendment would pass.

Reid added during his speech that he doesn’t understand why some think such military-style weapons and high capacity magazine are needed.

“I don’t know anyone who needs 30 rounds in a weapon to go hunting,” the lawmaker said, pointing out there are laws that limit the number of shells in guns that hunters use. “…Don’t people deserve as much protection as birds?”