NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Senate Republicans, backed by some Democrats, blocked legislation Wednesday to tighten restrictions on the sale of firearms, prompting Mayor Michael Bloomberg to rip lawmakers for failing to pass the bipartisan effort that focused on the expansion of background checks.
“Today’s vote is a damning indictment of the stranglehold that special interests have on Washington,” Bloomberg said. “More than 40 U.S. senators would rather turn their backs on the 90 percent of Americans who support comprehensive background checks than buck the increasingly extremist wing of the gun lobby.”
“The only silver lining is that we now know who refuses to stand with the 90 percent of Americans – and in 2014, our ever-expanding coalition of supporters will work to make sure that voters don’t forget,” Bloomberg added.
As CBS 2’s Dave Carlin reported, the vote also resulted in strong words from President Barack Obama, who stood side-by-side with shooting victim and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, saying, “all in all this was a pretty shameful day for Washington.”
Obama said the gun lobby “willfully lied about the bill” and spread “untruths” that ultimately intimidated many senators and led to the measure’s downfall.
“It came down to politics,” Obama added.
The background check measure commanded a majority of senators, 54-46, but that was well short of the 60 votes needed to advance. Forty-one Republicans and five Democrats sided together to scuttle the plan.
Obama said the measure would have simply expanded background checks to include online and gun show purchases, adding that contrary to claims it would create a “big brother gun registry,” the amendment actually “outlawed it.”
“If action by Congress could have saved one person, one child, a few hundred, a few thousand…if it could have prevent those people from losing their lives to gun violence in the future while preserving our Second Amendment rights, we had an obligation to try,” Obama said. “This legislation met that test and too many senators failed theirs.”
Relatives of victims of Newtown, Conn., and other mass shootings have been lobbying lawmakers to restrict guns, and several planned to be in the visitors’ gallery during Wednesday’s vote, a spokeswoman said. Many have also appeared at news conferences, including at the White House.
“What happened in Newtown can happen anywhere. In any instant, any dad in America could be in my shoes,” Mark Barden, the father of murdered Sandy Hook first grader Daniel Barden, said in remarks before introducing President Obama. “No one should feel our pain or the pain felt by the tens of thousands of people who’ve lost loved ones to senseless gun violence.”
“The hardest part was to try to look these families in the eye and explain to them how 90 percent of the American people can be on their side and the United States Senate failed to reach 60 votes,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said.
The measure was co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.).
Obama applauded to the senators, who he described as gun owners and defenders of the Second Amendment with “A” grades from the National Rifle Association, for their efforts for a measure the president said had the support of 90 percent of the American people.
The president said the vote preserved “the loophole that lets dangerous criminals buy guns without a background check,” adding “that didn’t make our kids safer.”
Bloomberg, the Co-Chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, blamed both sides for failing to pass the measure.
“Democrats – who are so quick to blame Republicans for our broken gun laws – could not stand united,” Bloomberg said. “And Republicans – who are so quick to blame Democrats for not being tough enough on crime – handed criminals a huge victory, by preserving their ability to buy guns illegally at gun shows and online and keeping the illegal trafficking market well-fed.”
Meanwhile, hours before the vote was held, two more senators — Republican Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — declared they opposed the background check measure. Their announcements, along with opposition from other Republicans and some moderate Democrats, left supporters without the votes needed for passage.
Rejection of the provision marks a jarring setback for gun control advocates, who had hoped December’s slayings of 20 children and six educators at a Newtown elementary school would sway Congress to curb firearms violence. It is also seen as a victory for the National Rifle Association, which has fought the background check expansion as a misguided crackdown on gun rights that criminals would ignore anyway.
In a statement issued following the vote, Chris Cox with the NRA said the proposal “would have criminalized certain private transfers of firearms between honest citizens, requiring lifelong friends, neighbors and some family members to get federal government permission to exercise a fundamental right or face prosecution.”
On the vote, Democratic Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Max Baucus of Montana joined Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Heitkamp in voting against the proposal. Pryor and Baucus are all seeking re-election next year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a supporter of the plan, switched his vote to the prevailing “no” side to permit him to call for a revote in the future. Begich,
Among Republicans, senators Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona and Toomey sided with Democrats.
Giffords, who was shot in the head while holding a Congress On Your Corner event two years ago, took to Twitter to blast the Senate for failing to pass the Manchin-Toomey amendment.
“As of this morning, we’re short. We need more votes. It’s close,” Manchin said in a brief interview Wednesday. Asked how he could get the needed votes with so many opponents, he said, “We’re just hoping the good Lord will enter their heart and maybe change a few.”
Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said “Expanded background checks would not have prevented Newtown. Criminals do not submit to background checks.”
Two local governors and Maryland’s governor pulled out a last-ditch effort to urge the Senate to pass the bipartisan gun control measure going up for a vote.
Following Wednesday’s vote, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy issued the following statement:
“On the issue of enhanced background checks, the American people are clear — 92 percent support them. The real question is how do the senators that voted against this most basic, common sense reform justify their vote against this measure?
“The members who voted against this proposal should be ashamed of themselves,” he wrote.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that gun control was a legitimate issue to debate but didn’t think victims and their families should be used “like props” to politicize a tragedy.
“I think that, in some cases, the president has used them as props and that disappoints me,” Paul said at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.
In a climactic day, the Senate planned to hold eight other votes Wednesday besides the one on background checks, all of them amendments to a broad gun control measure.
They included Democratic proposals to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, which are expected to lose; a Republican proposal requiring states to honor other states’ permits allowing concealed weapons, which faces a close vote; and a GOP substitute for the overall gun measure.
An Associated Press-GfK poll this month showed that 49 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws. That was down from 58 percent who said so in January.
The AP-GfK poll was conducted from April 11-15 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,004 randomly chosen adults and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.
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