WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama's push for tighter gun controls faced likely failure after the measure with the best chance of getting through Congress was blocked in the Senate. An angry Obama, surrounded by shooting victims and families of victims, said the powerful gun-control lobby "wilfully lied" to the American people.
"All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington," the president said Wednesday evening. "Who are we here to represent?"
After giving little attention to gun control in his first term, Obama made it a top priority as his second term began in January, following mass shootings at a Connecticut school and a movie theatre in Colorado, among others. He travelled the country urging people to contact their lawmakers, many of whom are under pressure by the National Rifle Association to follow its lobbying goals.
The measure that failed Wednesday was the result of a rare bipartisan effort by a handful of senators who put together a proposal to tighten background checks for gun buyers -- a gun-related issue on which polls say a majority of Americans agree.
The Senate vote of 54-46 was well short of the 60 votes needed to advance the measure. An attempt to ban assault-style rifles failed as well, along with a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines. The votes came just four months after a gunman in Connecticut killed 20 schoolchildren and six staff members with a legally purchased high-powered rifle. At the time, Obama called the attack the worst day of his presidency.
Supporters of gun controls knew they had to act quickly before too much time passed after the shooting.
Aware of Americans' passions for the constitutional right to bear firearms, key supporters of stricter gun controls made an effort to show they, too, were gun owners and had no intention -- despite the NRA's warnings -- of taking away guns that were purchased lawfully. The Obama administration even circulated a photo of the president firing a gun while skeet shooting at Camp David.
Families of victims of the Connecticut shootings joined Obama on several occasions and lobbied lawmakers on their own in Washington.
"Our hearts are broken," Mark Barden, who lost his 7-year-old son, Daniel, in the Connecticut shooting, said after Wednesday's vote. "Our spirit is not."
Some senators said afterward they had not wanted to meet with the mothers and fathers of the dead, or said it was difficult to look at photographs the parents carried of their young children.
Forty-one Republicans and five Democrats sided together Wednesday to kill the background-checks proposal. It would have required background checks for all transactions at gun shows and online. Currently, the checks, designed to prevent criminals and the seriously mentally ill from purchasing firearms, are mandated only for sales handled by licensed gun dealers.
The NRA told lawmakers it intended to keep track of how the votes were cast and consider them in making decisions about whom to support in the mid-term elections for Congress next year.
Even before the vote began it was apparent the bill was in trouble, with a growing number of senators saying they would vote against the measure.
Wednesday's votes, however, were unlikely to be the last word on a sensitive issue Democratic leaders had shied away from for nearly two decades.
"This effort isn't over," Obama vowed. Democratic aides said in advance the issue would be brought back before the Senate, giving gun-control supporters more time to win over converts.
-- The Associated Press