On the other side, the NRA, known for rewarding friends and punishing enemies, promises it will be closely watching Reid, too.
"He's going to be torn and a lot of people are going to be torn, particularly Democrats, but I think as the debate goes on he'll do more good than bad from our perspective," said David Keene, NRA president. "All this stuff has been debated before and once you get into a debate and a discussion and say will this do anything to protect children, to prevent another Newtown, I think the answer is going to come out 'no.'"
Baucus, Begich, Pryor and others have been cautious in their comments on Obama's gun proposals.
Baucus called for "a thoughtful debate." Begich told his home state Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that passage of any element of the package was "a long haul. ... There are some of us who just fundamentally believe in a Second Amendment right." Pryor has told Arkansas media that efforts on gun safety should start with enforcing existing laws.
Another Democrat closely watching the issue is Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, known for a 2010 campaign ad where he fired a rifle shot though a copy of Democratic-written climate change legislation. Manchin recently told a West Virginia radio station that he's working on legislation to require background checks on most gun purchases. Details weren't clear but that's the area where advocates are most hopeful of finding a solution that could get through the Senate and possibly even the Republican-controlled House.
The NRA opposes legislation mandating universal background checks and disputes gun control groups' claims that 40 percent of purchases happen without such checks. NRA officials question whether background checks could be done effectively in a way that makes a difference and doesn't disrupt legitimate sales.
The NRA's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, is to testify Wednesday before Leahy's committee.
Democrats, especially those from gun-rights states, will be weighing whether to side with the NRA or follow the president, or how best to split the difference.
"We're a Second-Amendment state. I support the rights of sportsmen and target shooters and collectors to own firearms. It's an important part of our culture and tradition," Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said in an interview. "But I just hear there's such grave concern given the experiences we've had with Aurora, Columbine ... people all over Colorado want to prevent these massacres."
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