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Obama talks guns, Democratic leaders duck

By Dana Bash, Senior Congressional Correspondent
updated 8:43 PM EDT, Thu July 26, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gun control steps shouldn't be controversial, Obama says
  • Reid: "With the schedule we have, we're not going to get into the debate on gun control."
  • Pelosi: "There are important voices on all sides of this issue"
  • Rep. Grijalva: Protecting Second Amendment rights and public safety not a contradiction

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama broke his silence on the Colorado movie massacre Wednesday night and spoke out on the issue of gun control.

"I believe the majority of gun owners would agree ... that we should check someone's criminal record before they can check out a gun seller; that a mentally unbalanced individual should not be able to get his hands on a gun so easily," said the president.

"These steps shouldn't be controversial. They should be common sense," he added.

Shouldn't be controversial? Common sense?

The president knows full well that Democratic strategists -- including those who run his re-election effort -- see gun control as political dynamite. They have since Al Gore lost the presidency by failing to win conservative states, an outcome many Democrats blame in part on Gore's push for gun control.

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Still, Obama is the party's leader. So we wanted to know whether his Democratic colleagues in Congress agree.

"I don't know how anyone could disagree with what the president said yesterday," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Reid agrees and he controls the Senate agenda. So he can do something about it.

CNN's Ted Barrett asked the next logical question. Will Senate Democrats act?

"With the schedule we have, we're not going to get into the debate on gun control," Reid responded.

"But I'm very happy, I'm glad the president made the statement because it's something that needs to be done. But we're not going to address gun control." he said flatly.

So action won't happen this year. What about next year?

Barrett followed up: "If you hold onto the majority next year, would Democrats commit to making it part of your agenda?" he asked.

Reid smirked in a way that made clear he could see the political minefield ahead, and he wasn't going anywhere near it.

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"Nice try. Nice try, OK?" he glared.

In the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was prepped and ready for questions about the president's comments on gun control, telling reporters she viewed his remarks "a number of times."

"I thought his comments were very thoughtful -- provided leadership when he said we need to build a national consensus to reduce violence in our country," she said.

Unlike Reid, Pelosi does not control the House agenda, but she's never shy about using her microphone to make clear what Democrats want.

She's also a seasoned politician who wants the House majority and her speaker's gavel back. That means retaking conservative districts where guns are popular. She danced delicately.

"There are important voices on all sides of this issue. We really need, we all recognize the importance of the Second Amendment and the need to, and also the need to reduce violence in our communities," Pelosi said.

We then took the president's remarks to the halls of Congress and asked rank and file Democrats what they thought.

Hill Democrats look to 'silent majority' on gun control

Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley is from New York City, where being anti-gun isn't very dangerous politically.

"It's harder to get cold medicine in Colorado or anywhere else than it is to get 6,000 bullets apparently over the Internet and I think that's, you know, a common sense conversation that needs to take place," Crowley said.

But Arizona's Raul Grijalva is a Democrat from the kind of pro-gun congressional district his party is panicked about losing by pushing too hard on gun control. Still, he said he thought the presidents remarks were an "an important ice-breaker."

"It's been a muted conversation for too long. You know, not just the tragedy that happened in Colorado. It's a continuing cycle, and we don't talk about it, and I think there is rational discussion that needs to occur," Grijalva said.

Being from an Arizona border district full of voters who cherish their gun rights, Grijalva said he was sure he would be hearing about these remarks from some upset folks back home.

"I think it's a tough thing, because the (National Rifle Association) carries with it a threat, a threat that if you speak against any point of gun control, you automatically face a political threat," Grijalva said.

He is well-versed on the history of his party's retreat from the politics of gun control.

"Since 1994, after the Crime Act, that we lost the House in those years because of that, and there's been a reluctance to address it, and like I said, the perceived threat of the NRA," Grijalva said.

"I think the majority of the American people want us to have a rational discussion that protects their fundamental rights and the Second Amendment, but also protects the public safety. I don't that's a contradiction," he said.

CNN's Ted Barrett and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report

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