What will Reid do on guns?

This is one of those times when it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to separate the personal from the political.

And for a political being as complicated, calculating and yet paradoxically erratic as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the personal impact may override anything else. Yes, even with the man I call Prince Harry, who would have certainly made Machiavelli blush at his mulifarious political schemes and who would have happily been Mick’s muse as he belted out “Sympathy for the Devil.”

Reid has children and grandchildren, like so many, and surely felt the shock and sympathy that President Obama, too, gave voice to in the aftermath of Friday’s Newtown murders. But it’s one thing to be devastated -- it’s quite another, whether you are a president courting swing state voters or a senator from the once wild West to act against your political instincts and let your personal feelings hold sway.

That’s what the question is now for Reid, who gave a speech today in which he committed to little more than President Obama did. But one sentence stuck out: “In the coming days and weeks, we will engage in a meaningful conversation and thoughtful debate about how to change laws and culture that allow violence to grow.”

“How to,” not “if we should.” These words surely were chosen carefully, although I would not go so far as to say it signals Reid’s willingness to suddenly become a gun control advocate.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, Reid is no ordinary Democrat on guns. But while some may see his behavior as being unmoored to principle or philosophy, others might see the inherent conflict between a senator who represents a gun-loving state and one who leads a party populated by gun control advocates. Two very different constituencies, two very different bases to please.

You can see from that previous post that Reid’s most recent dalliance with the NRA came during the 2010 U.S. Senate race, when he seemed to be panting after the endorsement in what at the outset seemed a life and death struggle for survival. The year before that contest, he surely hurt himself with other Democrats in the body when he allowed that vote on a measure to allow concealed weapons holders to have the same privileges in other states. The man who lives and breathes political quid pro quos surely saw that as one.

But Reid did not get the NRA endorsement against Sharron Angle, despite much speculation that he would. He won anyhow. Nota bene: If there’s one characteristic that fuses the political and personal for Reid, it’s his long memory.

He surely feels no fealty to the NRA, despite the group’s “B” grade for his career. And the Gun Owners of America, as you can see, tried to hurt him that race against Angle and they give him –  wait for it – an F-minus. These are not his peeps. And the ones that are, the ones in his Senate caucus, want this more than ever, as the spate of proposals already surfacing tells Reid, perhaps even admonishes him.

I do not suggest that Reid, as personal as this could be, will ignore the long-range political timeline, which nicely dovetails for him with the near-term imperatives. Reid is not up for re-election until 2016, and he may not run again (I’m in the “I think he will if his wife’s health is better” camp, for what it’s worth.)

Yes, Reid will worry about the impact on his caucus in 2014 if they overreach. But there is little personal political downside for him right now.

A source familiar with Reid’s thinking put it this way: “I believe deep down he is doing some thinking about what to do. For him this certainly isn’t about the NRA. You remember well, they didn’t endorse in the election, but they also didn’t endorse him, when many expected him to. So he doesn’t feel like he owes them anything. But he is also someone who grew up around guns and he has the Western attitude still about him as well. I think this is where the Landra factor always comes in; she pushes him to do things he might not and I have seen her influence before, and I imagine they have had some conversations about this as we all have over the weekend.”

Many who really know Reid talk about how close he is to his wife and how much he takes her counsel on important matters. Anyone who saw him during her recent travails – an awful car accident and breast cancer – knows just how dedicated he is to her. If Landra advises him in the wake of this, the personal can and just may in this case transcend the political.

It’s true that many politicians in the twilight of their careers think about their legacy, and I would not be surprised if the majority leader has that piece in the puzzle of his thinking, too. David Maraniss compared Obama’s Newtown remarks to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but it’s also true that what Congress does now –nothing, something, too much – will be long remembered.

Reid will be a critical part of that resolution. And I would not be surprised if he wondered about who killed the Newtown innocents and concluded, “After all, it was you and me.”