But Leahy insisted that he is approaching the coming gun debate with decades of political and real-world experience. "I'm one of the most effective legislators, and nobody's gotten more legislation through than I have," he said, later adding: "I'm a gun owner. I know a lot about it. I was a champion marksman in college. I have a pistol range behind my house."
With gun control and immigration reform promising to dominate Obama's domestic agenda in the coming months, Leahy's thinking and how he approaches the various pieces of legislation in his committee will be crucial to the outcomes on both issues. He also expects to preside over one or more Supreme Court nominations in the next four years.
Leahy, 72, has chaired Judiciary since 2007 and had the option last month of leaving to head Appropriations after the death of its chairman, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. But the Vermont senator — a former lawyer and state prosecutor — said that sticking with Judiciary "allows me to stay involved with where my passions are." In addition, Leahy will maintain his senior position on Appropriations. "There's nothing I want for Vermont that I'm not going to be able to have," he said.
Leahy said he plans a series of hearings on gun control that will include input from the National Rifle Association, law enforcement groups, educators and concerned parents.
"I'm not interested in anybody for or against gun ownership who will come in and just give me polemics," he said. "I want some real things."
Leahy said that he was not in a position to handicap the chances of any single proposal and that he could not gauge whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was correct in suggesting recently that there was little chance of Congress passing an assault weapons ban.