WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Thursday his party has tried everything to get gun control legislation through Congress and still keeps losing to the National Rifle Association.
Reid said Democrats themselves may be to blame — or maybe voters are gullible, even after multiple mass shootings.
The comments from the Nevada Democrat in an interview with The Associated Press reflect frustrations in his caucus, where some lawmakers are deeply perturbed over congressional inaction on guns. Several attempts by Democrats to force votes on the issue this month failed to garner even a Senate majority in favor of background checks or keeping suspected terrorists from buying guns.
"We've tried everything, so maybe we are to blame. Or maybe the American people are gullible to these NRA folks," said Reid, himself a one-time NRA ally who appeared with the group's leader, Wayne LaPierre, to open a new gun range while running for re-election in 2010.
Now Reid is a year away from retiring from the Senate after five terms.
"Why wouldn't it be realistic to do something about gun control?" he asked. "Why should somebody that's crazy or a criminal be able to buy a gun? Why should somebody that's on a terrorist watch list be able to buy a gun?"
Reid later issued a statement disputing the characterization of his comments.
"Republicans and the NRA, not Democrats, are to blame for the failure to pass common sense gun reforms. The idea that Democrats are to blame is absurd and I do not believe it for a second," Reid said in the statement. "Democrats have voted overwhelmingly for common-sense gun reforms.
"Two weeks ago, Republicans voted in lock step to allow FBI terror suspects to continue to buy guns," he continued. "It's a shame, but the next time a reporter tries to put words in my mouth I guess I'll have to remember not to be polite."
Republicans have opposed gun measures in Congress and voice no concerns about political vulnerability on the issue, even after the shooting in San Bernardino, California, this month. Efforts by congressional gun control advocates following the slaughter of kids and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut three years ago also went nowhere.
The NRA has proven effective in the past at turning out voters to punish lawmakers who cross them on votes. Democrats and liberals have not organized as effectively on the other side.
The preferred GOP approach to dealing with mass shootings is to focus on mental health legislation, which House GOP leaders say they want to see advance.
Also during the interview, Reid declared businessman Donald Trump a "slam dunk" to win the Nevada caucuses. "I hope he wins" the GOP nomination, Reid said of Trump.
Many establishment Republicans fear that outcome would prove disastrous for GOP nominees in congressional races and the party's hopes of hanging onto control of the Senate. Even heading into retirement, Reid has been working hard to boost the Democrats' prospects for retaking Senate control.