Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement Wednesday that he  hopes to move forward on gun control legislation “early this year” and that “all options should be on the table moving forward.” But Reid sounded more skeptical over the weekend, telling a Nevada television station that Obama’s most ambitious request – a new federal ban on assault weapons – likely couldn’t be passed by the House and Senate in the current political environment.

Senate Democratic aides said that unlike debates in recent years on health-care reform and fiscal policy, Reid is likely to step back on the gun issue, allowing longtime gun control advocates, including Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), to steer legislation to consideration by the full Senate.

Reid maintains a better-than-average score with the National Rifle Association than most Democrats and the group stayed neutral in his 2010 reelection campaign, which some considered key to his victory. With the 2014 elections approaching, aides said Reid also is concerned that the contentious issue of gun control could be a significant factor in at least 10 of the 23 Democratic Senate seats up for grabs, including the reelections of Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and the Democratic candidate that ultimately runs in place of retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.-Va.).

Aides said the Senate is more likely to pass individual elements of Obama's plan and other gun-related legislation rather than attempt to pass a comprehensive bill, gambling that individual up or down votes on elements of the plan would be easier to pass than one large bill.

Schumer perhaps summed it up best in a statement Wednesday, noting that the push for universal background checks "is at the sweet spot" of effective efforts to curb gun crime. "We'’re glad the President put such emphasis on it, and we look forward to working with him on this and other proposals to make our nation safer from the scourge of gun violence," Schumer said.