The US Senate has rejected bipartisan legislation that would have expanded background checks for firearms sales. President Barack Obama has described the vote as a “shameful day for Washington.”
US Senators supported the measure with just 54-46 votes on Wednesday, falling short of the 60 votes required to pass the amendment.
The legislation was considered the best hope for gun control sought by President Obama in the wake of the mass shooting at Newtown Elementary School last year. It would have required background checks on sales at gun shows and on the internet.
Surrounded by family members of the Newtown massacre victims and former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was wounded in a gun attack, a grim-faced Obama condemned the result.
The proposal “represented moderation and common sense,” Obama told reporters at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden.
“Families that know unspeakable grief summoned the courage to petition their elected leaders not just to honor the memory of their children but to protect the lives of all our children,” Obama said, but “a minority in the United States Senate decided it wasn’t worth it.”
“This was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” he added.
The vote on background checks was the first of a series of amendments to a broader gun bill that were rejected Wednesday. Among them, a vote to ban assault weapons was rejected by 40 votes to 60, while a measure to limit the size of gun clips received just 46 votes in its favor.
Using unusually strong language for Washington, Obama denounced America’s gun lobby, saying it “willfully lied about the bill” by claiming it would create a “Big Brother” gun registry.
He went on to accuse Republicans and some Democrats of conceding to pressure in fear of political repercussions from the wealthy lobby.
“They caved in to pressure. And they started looking for an excuse, any excuse to vote no,” Obama said, adding that he would not give up on efforts to reduce gun crime.
“I see this as round one,” Obama said. “I believe we’re going to be able to get this done, sooner or later we’re going to get this right. The memories of these children demand it,” the president said.
The pro-gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), welcomed the defeat of the legislation Wednesday, describing it as “misguided.”
“Expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools,” the group’s top lobbyist, Chris Cox said.
The organization, which is supported by a number of Republican lawmakers, argues the bill infringes on America’s constitutional right to bear arms. It has campaigned to place armed guards in every school across the country.
Some 26 children and staff members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in December.
ccp/jm (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)