WASHINGTON - WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Wednesday rejected a bipartisan compromise on gun-sale background checks, dealing a major setback to the first significant federal gun-control legislation in two decades as relatives of Newtown school shooting victims watched.
The compromise, an amendment to a bill that was the Senate's response to that shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead on Dec. 14, won a majority, but failed to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.
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"All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington. But this effort is not over," President Barack Obama said as he attacked the National Rifle Association for spreading "lies" about the measure and Republicans for voting against it.
"We can still bring about meaningful changes that reduce gun violence so long as the American people don't give up on it," Obama said, standing in the Rose Garden with shooting victims who included former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) and families of Newtown victims.
The gun legislation will be put on hold Thursday or Friday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), available to be brought up again later after its backers work to win more votes, said Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.). "We'll see what happens when the senators who voted 'no' go back to their home states," Murphy said, citing polls showing 90 percent of Americans favor background checks.
The overall legislation contains background checks for all gun sales, a ban on gun trafficking and school safety funding, and the compromise was considered key to the bill's success. It expanded background checks to gun shows and online sales, but not to private transactions, and was carefully crafted by pro-gun-rights Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to lure wavering senators.
Its defeat by a 54-46 vote was also a blow to Obama, who put gun control on the agenda after the Newtown shootings, and for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose Mayors Against Illegal Guns had sought to match the NRA in influencing lawmakers with ads.
Bloomberg called the vote "a damning indictment of the stranglehold that special interests have on Washington." Yet he said in next year's election "our ever-expanding coalition of supporters will work to make sure that voters don't forget" who voted no.
NRA spokesman Chris W. Cox praised senators who opposed the compromise, and said expanding background checks "will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools."
Cox said the NRA would continue to work with lawmakers to make schools safe, prosecute violent criminals and fix mental health systems.
The background check compromise was one of nine amendments -- including an assault weapon ban and a nationwide recognition of concealed gun permits -- that won a majority but not the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster.
A handful of rural-state Democrats joined all but four Republicans in ensuring that high bar could not be met.
The votes came after a sometimes emotional debate in which the bill's backers focused on shooting victims and its opponents stressed Second Amendment rights.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said the gun legislation that was being amended "harasses" lawful gun owners. "We should fix the existing system," he said, but his amendment also failed.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) came to the capitol after being absent for weeks while suffering from a serious illness, winning applause as he votedfor the compromise amendment.
But when Vice President Joe Biden, presiding over the Senate, announced it had failed by a 54-46 vote, one family member in the gallery shouted at the senators: "Shame on you."
Carlee Soto, sister of teacher Victoria Soto who died trying to protect pupils from the gunman who killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, watched it go down in defeat.
"We knew it was going to happen, but it was still disappointing," Soto said.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) attacked the NRA for arguing the background check bill he sponsored would create a national gun registry. Schumer said it explicitly bars it.
"Today fear, mistruth, group political force won out over what is right. And America will be a less safe place because of it," Schumer said. "But I say to the families, I say to the American people, so many of whom just can't understand what's happening here in this Capitol, don't give up faith. We will win this fight."