01/19/2011 02:47 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Reid Opens The Door To Longer Background Checks For Gun Purchasers

WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday appeared to open the door to pushing legislation that would revamp the waiting period and background checks administered to prospective gun purchasers.

The Nevada Democrat, in a sit-down interview with Las Vegas journalist Jon Ralston, said that the recent shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 19 others had made clear the need to prevent firearms from landing in the hands of the mentally disturbed.

"There should be a waiting period for the purchase of a handgun to stop someone who has mental problems from buying a gun. We can check instantly, it is so easy to do," Reid said, according to a transcript of the show.

"I think that it is really important that we find out and keep people like this guy from going and buying a gun, he had just bought it a few days before," Reid added, when asked if something needed to be done federally. "I have learned a couple things from this thing dealing with Giffords ... Number one, we have to do something about our mental health all over this country ... We cannot, we cannot let people who are sick not be treated because bad things can happen. And secondly, I do not want to take anyone's gun away from them, but I think there are things that we can do. I think the waiting period is important."

As the Senate Democratic leader and a longtime proponent of Second Amendment rights (Reid nearly earned the endorsement of the National Rifle Association during the most recent reelection campaign), the senator's calls for more restrictions on firearm purchases echo a bit farther than those of his colleagues -- notably, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a longtime gun control proponent.

That said, in a follow up statement to The Huffington Post, Reid spokesman Jon Summers cautioned that now is not the time to consider legislative responses to the Giffords shooting.

"There is still an investigation taking place and we should allow it to run its course," Summers said. "That said, there will be time to debate the variety of proposals that are out there and whatever action we take should be in the best interests of both protecting the public as well as the principles laid out in the Constitution."

Reid has pushed for similar restrictions before. As a state legislator in 1969, he helped pass legislation establishing a firm waiting period for the purchase of a handgun. Such restrictions don't exist currently exist on the federal level. The Brady Act imposed a five-day waiting period before a handgun could be sold. That policy ended in November 1998 when computerized systems became operational.

Whether the political will exists to restore the old law or to tinker with other elements of gun control legislation isn't entirely clear. On the Hill, Democrats are skeptical. Rep John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who supports a bill to outlaw high-capacity magazines, told The Huffington Post that he "can't imagine" how such legislation could pass, let alone "get to the floor."

And yet, on Wednesday morning, former Vice President Dick Cheney -- no shrinking violet with respect to Second Amendment rights -- said that "maybe it's appropriate to reestablish" limits to magazine sizes.