54-46: Senators torpedo gun background checks

Updated
US President Barack Obama, accompanied by former lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords (L),  speaks on gun control and the vote at the US Senate on April 17, 2013, in...
US President Barack Obama, accompanied by former lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords (L), speaks on gun control and the vote at the US Senate on April 17, 2013, in...
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

UPDATE, 6:00 p.m.

A compromise background check bill failed in the Senate on Wednesday, 54-46, despite a massive public relations and political campaign by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and families of Newtown gun victims. It needed 60 votes to pass.

Speaking in the Rose Garden after the vote, with injured former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and bereaved Newtown families by his side, a visibly angry President Obama said that the legislators who voted against the bill “caved” to political pressure from the minority of Americans who oppose gun reform. “This is a shameful day for Washington,” he said.

The “gun lobby and its allies willfully lied” about the background check bill, Obama said. “There were no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn’t do this,” he said. “It came down to politics.” As Obama said, roughly nine in 10 Americans support expanding background checks on gun buyers. It had the support of Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and former NRA friend Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, both of whom own guns and have A ratings from the NRA and who had crafted the compromise bill.

GOPers who voted in favor of the amendment were Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona. Democrats who voted against the legislation included Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska.

The Democrats who voted against the bill live in “gun-friendly” states. Arkansas Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor said Wednesday he would oppose Manchin-Toomey because it’s “too broad, unworkable and unreasonable for hunters and gun owners in our state.”  Begich, Pryor and Baucus all face re-election next year.

Moments after the bill was defeated, a voice in the Senate chamber shouted “Shame on you!” The voice was that of Patricia Maisch, the Tucson shooting survivor who wrested a gun clip from Jared Loughner.

Outside the chamber later, she explained, “They need to be ashamed of themselves. I think the ones who voted no…they have no soul. They have no compassion for the experiences that people have lived through, gun violence, who have had a child or a loved one murdered.”

The compromise bill wasn’t even strict as it could be–it’s not universal background checks, which President Obama has pushed for and is favored by 90% of Americans. Failure of the initiative, which is being seen as the most meaningful gun legislation in 20 years—will be seen as a setback for the families of those shot in the Newtown massacre, but a victory for the National Rifle Association. Obama said that Americans who support “commonsense” background checks must let their representatives know that they support this legislation, and that the battle for gun reform is not over. Now it is up to the public to make their views clear, he said.

After the failure of the Manchin-Toomey compromise, it was unlikely that the Senate would go ahead and vote on proposed changes to the existing gun control bill, including a ban on military-style assault weapons, which is being spear-headed by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Majority Leader Harry Reid is likely to pull the bill without a vote since it is almost guaranteed to fail.

Less than two dozen senators support it. Reid said Wednesday that he’d back the ban, in what is a major shift for the Nevada Democrat. Last month, Reid dropped the ban from the Senate’s gun package because it didn’t have enough support. He had previously voted against renewing the 1994 assault weapons ban when it expired in 2004.  Reid said in an impassioned speech on the Senate floor that he’d “have trouble living with myself” if he voted against the ban and tragedy struck again.

Even if the bill had passed the Senate on Wednesday, the Republican-controlled House would have been a formidable obstacle.

“I feel personally responsible the same way I hope every parent out there feels responsible for our kids,” Obama told the Today show before the vote. “The key thing for me is every once in a while we are confronted with an issue that should transcend politics.” It should–but it didn’t.

54-46: Senators torpedo gun background checks

Updated