By Greg Richter and Paul Scicchitano
An angry President Barack Obama denounced Senate Republicans on Wednesday for failing to pass stricter background checks on gun purchases, calling it a “pretty shameful day” for Washington.
Speaking in the Rose Garden as the families of some of the victims of the Newtown, Conn., shootings looked on, Obama vowed to press on in the fight for tougher gun laws.
“Families that know unspeakable grief summoned the courage to petition their elected leaders,” he said, standing alongside former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who left Congress after suffering a life-threatening gunshot wound to the head. “A few minutes ago a minority in the United States Senate decided it wasn’t worth it. They blocked common-sense gun reforms even when these families looked on from the gallery.”
Earlier, Senate Republicans, backed by rural-state Democrats, blocked legislation to tighten restrictions on the sale of firearms.
In recent weeks, the families of some of the victims of the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School pressed lawmakers with stories of personal loss, as Second Amendment advocates countered that none of the proposed changes would have stopped the grisly tragedy.
Attempts to ban assault-style rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines also faced certain defeat in a series of showdown votes.
The background check measure commanded a majority of senators, 54-46, but that was well short of the 60 votes needed to advance. A total of 41 Republicans and five Democrats pulled together to scuttle the plan.
“The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill,” Obama said, referring to fears by some that the law would allow for creation of a federal gun registry.
The president alluded to polls that peaked at 90 percent of Americans supporting expanded background checks for convicted criminals and the severely mentally ill. He said “90 percent” of Democrats supported the bill, but “90 percent” of Republicans opposed it.
“There were no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn’t do this,” Obama said. “It came down to politics.”
The National Rifle Association issued a statement shortly after Wednesday’s vote calling the Manchin-Toomey-Schumer proposal “misguided” and saying that the measure would have criminalized “certain private transfers” of guns between honest citizens.
“As we have noted previously, expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools,” said the statement issued by Chris W. Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist.
“The NRA will continue to work with Republicans and Democrats who are committed to protecting our children in schools, prosecuting violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law, and fixing our broken mental health system,” according to the statement. “We are grateful for the hard work and leadership of those senators who chose to pursue meaningful solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems.”
Obama said that most Americans think that the tougher background checks are already required by law.
While Wednesday’s bill would not have prevented the Sandy Hook tragedy, and would not prevent all future gun deaths, he said it should have been passed to save lives.
“This legislation met that test. And too many senators failed theirs,” Obama said.
The president vowed to work without Congress if necessary to do more in his effort to cut gun violence. He said the White House will address barriers to states participating in the existing background check system, give law enforcement more information about lost and stolen guns, and help put emergency plans for schools in place.
“What happened in Newtown can happen anywhere,” Mark Barden, the father of murdered 7-year-old Daniel, said before the president’s remarks. “Any dad in America can be in my shoes.”
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid also blasted Republicans for the vote.
“I want everyone to understand this is just the beginning. This is not the end,” he told reporters after the vote. “Ninety percent of Democrats here on the floor stood with 90 percent of the American people for expanding background checks. I appreciate very much a handful of Republicans that crossed the aisle to stand with us on this common-sense issue.”
He promised to keep up the fight for background checks. “The fight has just begun. It’s not going away,” said Reid.
“We will win this fight,” added Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. “We will not rest until we win.”
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