WASHINGTON -- Gun control advocates led by President Barack Obama suffered a huge setback Wednesday as the Senate defeated a delicately crafted compromise aimed at strengthening background checks for gun buyers and then proceeded to reject a ban on assault weapons and limits on ammunition clips.
The votes were a bitter reminder that winning even the most gentle of gun control measures faces a near-impossible path to winning congressional approval.
All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington, a clearly irritated Obama said after the background check vote.
The Senate will resume voting on gun measures Thursday at noon. But the amendments it will consider are seen as minor, and once those votes are done, lawmakers are scheduled to move on to other business. It's unclear when the gun legislation will come up again.
Gun control backers thought this time might be different, that they could reverse the years of frustration getting meaningful gun control legislation approved. The horror of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, where a gunman killed 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, Conn., was never far from the minds of senators.
Victims of gun violence from Newtown, Tucson, Colorado and other sites of recent horrors watched the votes from the galleries. Shame on you! Patricia Maisch, a survivor of the January 2011 Tucson shopping center shootings, shouted as the Senate vote to reject the background check compromise was announced.
At the White House after the vote, Mark Barden, the father of a child killed at Sandy Hook, recalled how we met with dozens of Democrats and Republicans, and shared with them pictures of our children, our spouses, our parents who lost their lives on December 14th. Expanded background checks wouldnt have saved our loved ones, but still we came to support a bipartisan proposal from two senators.
The disappointment and anger were clear. Obama had a personal lobbying effort unlike any seen by a president since the Clinton administration. After the background check defeat, he went to the Rose Garden, flanked by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Vice President Joe Biden, and put the blame for the defeat squarely on the gun lobby. Giffords was severely wounded in the Tucson incident.
All that happened today was the preservation of the loophole that lets dangerous criminals buy guns without a background check, Obama said.
Instead of supporting this compromise, he said, the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill. They claimed that it would create some sort of big brother gun registry, even though the bill did the opposite.
The strategy worked, Obama lamented. Unfortunately, this pattern of spreading untruths about this legislation served a purpose, because those lies upset an intense minority of gun owners, and that in turn intimidated a lot of senators.
To change Washington, he said, You, the American people, are going to have to sustain some passion about this. And when necessary, youve got to send the right people to Washington.
In vote after vote Wednesday afternoon, gun control backers came up short of the 60 needed for passage.
The background check compromise got 54 votes. The assault weapons ban got 40, even after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., pleaded with colleagues to show some guts. The effort to put curbs on ammunition clips got 46 votes.