A staunch supporter of gun rights for years, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may be changing his position on the contentious issue in the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.The nation's top Democrat in Congress has faced scrutiny in recent weeks for his close ties with the National Rifle Association. On December 30, the Washington Post reported that Reid slipped a provision into the 2010 national health care law that restricts the government from collecting data on gun ownership.
A Democratic source close to the passage of the landmark legislation said the last-minute provision was aimed at avoiding any opposition from the NRA that could have scuttled the entire bill.
"This is what was viewed as a relatively benign way to make sure the NRA didn't get involved with this," the Democratic source told CNN.
However an adviser to Reid, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Reid's feelings on gun control have changed since President Barack Obama signed health care reform into law.
"He's in a different place than he was in 2010," the adviser told CNN.
As Senate majority leader, Reid has great influence to speed or slow the consideration of legislation on Capitol Hill.
In the aftermath of the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, Reid told reporters that "with the schedule we have, we're not going to get into a debate on gun control."
But in the days after the shooting in Newtown, Reid's posture changed. "We need to accept the reality that we are not doing enough to protect our citizens," Reid said on the Senate floor.
Reid aggressively courted the support of gun enthusiasts in a close battle for re-election in 2010. One week after the president signed the health care bill, Reid invited the NRA's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, to the opening of a new gun range in Nevada.
At the event, LaPierre praised Reid's work on gun rights.
"I also want to thank you for your support every day at the federal level for the Second Amendment and for the rights of gun owners," LaPierre told the crowd.
During the fierce debate over the health care law, a few health care advocates who spotted the gun provision, entitled "Protection of Second Amendment Gun Rights," immediately suspected the NRA's involvement.
"It's obviously a testament to the power of the NRA lobby," Ethan Rome, the executive director of Health Care for America Now, said.
Democratic sources say the NRA was not viewed as the only threat to the health care law. Lawmakers were also concerned about conspiracy theories circulating on conservative blogs that falsely accused the Obama administration of seeking to use the health care law to strip gun owners of their firearms.
One firearms advocacy group, Gun Owners of America, insists the law remains a concern.
"It says that all of our medical records are available to be pawed through by bureaucrats somewhere in Washington, looking for a reason to disenfranchise gun owners," the group's president, Larry Pratt, said on a Web radio show last November.