- Sen. Mary Landrieu is a conservative Democrat representing the red state of Louisiana
- "I really will follow what the people in my state want me to do" on gun control, she said
- This despite national polls that show 90% support background checks
In a small gun range 20 minutes outside New Orleans, a steady stream of gun enthusiasts fill the air with the scent of gunpowder and the sharp bang of shots.
Many of the customers -- a range of ex-military men, off-duty law enforcement officers and a sprinkling of women learning how to handle a firearm for self-protection -- said they have grown up around guns and are leery of interference by the federal government on gun rights.
"Just like drug use is illegal but people still get their hands on drugs -- so, the bad guys are still going to have guns," said Meredith Timberlake, who came from a family of Marines. "Well, I'm going to have a gun too."
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) is well aware of those concerns. The veteran Democrat will face her states' voters in a 2014 election, and despite her three terms in the Senate, Landrieu's seat is widely considered vulnerable.
She has already drawn a Republican challenger, who has worked to tie Landrieu to the policies of President Barack Obama and charged she does not represent the views of many in this deeply red Southern state.
Landrieu, in an interview with CNN during a small business event in Boston, emphasized her independence from Washington.
Despite the president's aggressive support for expanding background checks for gun purchasers, Landrieu said she has not decided whether she'll support a Senate bill on the matter.
When asked about recent polls finding 90% of Americans support universal background checks, Landrieu said: "I don't know what the number is in Louisiana."
"I'm not the president of the United States, I'm the senator from Louisiana," Landrieu said. "So I really will follow what the people in my state want me to do on that issue."
Landrieu said she wouldn't weigh in on background checks "until I see the bills and then I'll decide how I'm going to vote. But there's no question about my support for the Second Amendment."
Months after the massacre of elementary school students in Newtown, Connecticut, there is intense pressure for Congress to address gun violence.
A third-party group, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has rolled out an ad in Louisiana urging Landrieu to support new gun legislation.
The group has also directed spots at other lawmakers on the fence about reforms, including several other Democrats up for re-election in 2014.
And there are some signs that a bill like one announced by a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday on background checks may be more palatable to voters.
A Quinnipiac poll released in early April found 91% of voters across the country support universal background checks.
"I think we should be doing that anyway. I think that's part of our responsibility," said Keith Moody, a former Marine who works in law enforcement and supports expanding the background check system.
"I think responsible gun owners would agree that's a reasonable request that our government or local law enforcement put on us. When you start going past that is when I think people get nervous about it or have strong feelings one way or the other," Moody said.
As the Senate prepares to consider gun legislation as early as Thursday, Landrieu will have to cast a vote.
"If there is a lot of support and we can get background checks done and not infringe on the right of people to own guns or to pass them down to their children or grandchildren, we'll figure out a way to do that," Landrieu said. "I do know that people in Louisiana want the right to own a gun and feel that it's, you know, part of our culture and history, and we're not going to infringe upon that right."