A majority of U.S. senators voted to approve expanding background checks for gun buyers on Wednesday, but the measure fell six votes shy of the 60 it needed to pass.
Five Democrats from rural states joined 41 Republicans to kill the plan. The bill received 54 votes of support. Among Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania sided with Democrats in supporting the bill.
Before the vote, parents of several children killed in December’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., appealed to lawmakers to keep weapons out of the hands of people who wanted to hurt others. But several senators noted the proposed laws would not have stopped shooter Adam Lanza from getting the weapons he used in the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza stole the weapons from his mother, who obtained them legally.
“Expanded background checks would not have prevented Newtown,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. “Criminals do not submit to background checks.”
Supporters of the expanded background checks had hoped a bipartisan effort by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Toomey would draw enough votes to pass. The Manchin-Toomey proposal called for requiring background checks at gun shows and for online purchases but exempted personal transactions.
Manchin accused the National Rifle Association (NRA) of making false claims about the bill.
“Where I come from in West Virginia, I don’t know how to put the words any plainer than this: That is a lie. That is simply a lie,” he said, accusing the organization of telling its supporters that friends, neighbors, and some family members would need federal permission to transfer ownership of firearms to one another.
The NRA did not respond to Manchin’s accusations but opposed the measure from the start.
About an hour after the vote, an indignant President Barack Obama stood with Newtown parents and former U.S. Rep. Gabriel Giffords in the White House Rose Garden and chastised the lawmakers who blocked the bill.
“While this compromise didn’t contain everything I wanted, or everything these families wanted, it did represent a compromise,” he said. “But instead of supporting this compromise, the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill. … The fact is most of these senators couldn’t offer any reason why we wouldn’t want to make it harder for criminals and those with mental illnesses to buy guns. It came down to politics.”
The president pledged to keep pushing for tighter restrictions on guns, a theme echoed by Mark Barden, whose son Daniel died in Newtown. Barden and other families met with lawmakers earlier this week and watched from the Senate gallery as the vote was taken.
“We are disappointed but not defeated,” Barden said. “Change will happen. Maybe not today, but it will happen soon. We don’t have the luxury of turning back. We are not going away.”