By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, signaled on Tuesday that despite earlier indications to the contrary, he may allow a vote on a possible ban on assault weapons.
Reid, a longtime gun-rights advocate from Nevada, recently indicated he would not permit a vote because the Republican-led House of Representatives was unlikely to go along with such a prohibition.
But after a weekly meeting with fellow Senate Democrats, Reid told reporters he expects "to have a free amendment process" on gun legislation.
That process could result in other Democrats proposing a possible resurrection of a 10-year ban on semi-automatic assault weapons that expired in 2004.
A series of shootings in the last two months, including one at an elementary school in Connecticut in which 20 children and six staff were killed, has triggered a renewed debate on gun control.
President Barack Obama proposed a package of measures last week to combat gun violence that includes a ban on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity ammunition clips, expanded mental health treatments and improved school security.
Powerful gun-rights groups oppose a ban on assault weapons and could seek to unseat any lawmaker who backs it, as they have tried to do in the past.
Reid said he expects the Senate Judiciary Committee, which opens hearings next week on proposals by Obama and others, to produce a bill. It is unclear if the measure will include a ban on assault weapons.
"It may not be everything everyone wants. But I hope it has stuff that is really important," Reid told reporters.
In a speech in Reno, Nevada, on Tuesday night, Wayne LaPierre, executive director of the National Rifle Association gun lobby, accused Obama of trying to take away fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed to Americans under the U.S. Constitution.
"They are God-given freedoms. They belong to us in the United States of America as our birthright. No government gave them to us and no government can ever take them away," he told a hunting and conservation convention.
"That means we believe in our right to defend ourselves and our families with semi-automatic firearms technology. We believe that if neither the criminal nor the political class and their bodyguards and their security people are limited by magazine capacity, we should not be limited in our capacity either."
LaPierre also repeated opposition to expanded background checks for purchases of firearms proposed by Obama.
(Reporting By Thomas Ferraro and David Brunnstrom; editing by Fred Barbash and Christopher Wilson)