Former aides of Reid’s say that despite the affection he proclaimed at the shooting range, he isn’t quite the gun lover he once appeared. Most of his shooting stories are about hunting, and most of those are from his childhood in Searchlight. He has no arsenal in his Nevada home, no antiques hanging from the walls of his office, the former aides say.

Instead, they say, Reid’s relationship with LaPierre and the NRA is evidence of the senator’s willingness to do whatever it takes to eke out political victories.

“He is ruthlessly pragmatic. That drives him far more than any ideology,” says one former aide. “His paramount interest is in keeping or expanding the [Democratic] majority and making sure that the people who are up [for reelection in 2014] come back.”