“This was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” said an angry President Obama after the Senate voted 54-46 against a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks for gun purchases. It needed 60 votes to pass.
He spoke in the Rose Garden with families of murdered Newtown children and injured former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at his side. Opponents of the bill “caved to pressure,” he said. With no rational arguments against the bill, their vote “came down to politics—the worry that a vocal minority of gun owners would come after them in future elections.”
“Families that know unspeakable grief summoned the courage to petition their elected leaders – not just to honor the memory of their children, but to protect the lives of all our children,” Obama said. “And a few minutes ago, a minority in the United States Senate decided it wasn’t worth it. They blocked common-sense gun reforms even while these families looked on from the Senate gallery.”
He noted 90% of Democrats voted for the compromise, put forth by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. However, Obama said, “It’s not going to happen because 90% of Republicans in the Senate just voted against that idea.”
The bipartisan compromise on background checks failed in the Senate, 54-46. 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 bill were Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska. Begich, Pryor and Baucus all face re-election next year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid voted “no” as a procedural mechanism to be able to reintroduce the amendment at a later time.
Obama slammed the National Rifle Association, declaring the organization “willfully lied” about the legislation’s effects. “They claimed that it would create some sort of big brother gun registry even though the bill did the opposite,” he said, adding “This legislation, in fact, out lawed any registry, plain and simple, right there in the text. But that didn’t matter. And unfortunately this pattern of spreading untruths about this legislation served a purpose…Those lies upset an intense minority of gun owners and that in turn intimidated a lot of senators.”
“I’ve heard some say that blocking this step would be a victory,” Obama said. “And my question is, a victory for who? A victory for what? All that happened today was the preservation of the loophole that lets dangerous criminals buy guns without a background check. That didn’t make our kids safer. Victory for not doing something that 90% of Americans, 80% of Republicans, the vast majority of your constituents wanted to get done? It begs the question, who are we here to represent?”
In the past four months, President Obama invested time, energy and political capital into pushing for new gun limits, lobbying the public and talking privately with legislators. In his Rose Garden remarks, he called on voters to carry on the fight.
“This effort is not over. I want to make it clear to the American people we can still bring about meaningful changes that reduce gun violence, so long as the American people don’t give up on it. Even without Congress, my administration will keep doing everything it can to protect more of our communities. We’re going to address the barriers that prevent states from participating in the existing background check system. We’re going to give law enforcement more information about lost and stolen guns so it can do its job. We’re going to help to put in place emergency plans to protect our children in their schools.
But we can do more if Congress gets its act together. And if this Congress refuses to listen to the American people and pass common-sense gun legislation, then the real impact is going to have to come from the voters.
To all the people who supported this legislation–law enforcement and responsible gun owners, Democrats and Republicans, urban moms, rural hunters, whoever you are–you need to let your representatives in Congress know that you are disappointed, and that if they don’t act this time, you will remember come election time.
To the wide majority of NRA households who supported this legislation, you need to let your leadership and lobbyists in Washington know they didn’t represent your views on this one.
The point is those who care deeply about preventing more and more gun violence will have to be as passionate, and as organized, and as vocal as those who blocked these common-sense steps to help keep our kids safe. Ultimately, you outnumber those who argued the other way. But they’re better organized. They’re better financed. They’ve been at it longer. And they make sure to stay focused on this one issue during election time. And that’s the reason why you can have something that 90 percent of Americans support and you can’t get it through the Senate or the House of Representatives.
So to change Washington, you, the American people, are going to have to sustain some passion about this. And when necessary, you’ve got to send the right people to Washington. And that requires strength, and it requires persistence.
Like Obama, former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived being shot in the head by a disturbed gunman in 2011, also expressed her disapproval. She stood behind President Obama at the press conference.
“Today the U.S. Senate ignored the will of the American people and failed to pass a bipartisan, commonsense, moderate solution for keeping deadly weapons out of the hands of dangerous people and making our communities safer,” the Democrat said in a statement, co-written by her husband, Mark Kelly.
Giffords and Kelly added, “The senators voting against the measure chose instead to obey the leaders of the powerful corporate gun lobby, instead of their constituents.”
The NRA, not surprisingly, was thrilled, applauding senators “who chose to pursue meaningful solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems.” The gun lobby group added in a statement that “expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools.”
Obama said, however, that “this effort is not over.” He said “If this Congress refuses to listen to the American people…then the real impact is going to have to come from voters.” He noted that while the gun lobby is better financed and better organized, “ultimately you outnumber them.”
Mark Barden, father of 7-year-old Sandy Hook victim, Daniel, introduced the president and echoed the president’s call for perserverence. “We’ll return home now, disappointed but not defeated.”
Meanwhile, there’s a liberal backlash against the Democrats who opposed the bill. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee says it plans to run print advertisements against Baucus, Heitkamp, Pryor and Begich. “We’ll be holding accountable Democrats who voted against their constituents by running ads in their states, featuring some of the 23,000 gun owners who have joined our campaign for common sense gun reform,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the group.
Former chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean’s organization, Democracy for America, released a statement declaring “Democrats who were too cowardly to get on the right side of a 90-10 issue like universal background checks better believe that the progressives will remember their spinelessness on gun violence prevention come re-election time.”