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Senate quashes gun control measures

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:21 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Gun-control advocates led by President Obama suffered a huge setback on Wednesday as the Senate defeated a delicately crafted compromise aimed at strengthening background checks for gun buyers — and then proceeded to reject a ban on assault weapons and limits on ammunition clips.

The votes were a bitter reminder that winning even the most gentle of gun-control measures has a near-impossible path to winning congressional approval.

“All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” a clearly irritated Obama said after the background check vote.

Gun-control backers thought this time might be different, that they could reverse the years of frustration getting gun-control legislation approved. The horror of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, in which a gunman killed 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, Conn., was never far from the minds of senators.

Victims of gun violence from Newtown, Tucson, Colorado and other sites of recent horrors watched the votes from the galleries. “Shame on you!” Patricia Maisch, a survivor of the January 2011 Tucson shopping center shootings, shouted as the Senate vote to reject the background check compromise was announced.

At the White House after the vote, Mark Barden, the father of a child killed at Sandy Hook, recalled how “we met with dozens of Democrats and Republicans, and shared with them pictures of our children, our spouses, our parents who lost their lives on December 14th. Expanded background checks wouldn't have saved our loved ones, but still we came to support a bipartisan proposal from two senators.”

The disappointment and anger were clear. Obama had a personal lobbying effort unlike any by a president since the Clinton administration. After the background check defeat, he went to the Rose Garden, flanked by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Vice President Joe Biden, and put the blame for the defeat squarely on the gun lobby. Giffords was severely wounded in the Tucson incident.

“All that happened today was the preservation of the loophole that lets dangerous criminals buy guns without a background check,” Obama said.

“Instead of supporting this compromise, the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill. They claimed that it would create some sort of ‘big brother' gun registry, even though the bill did the opposite.”

In vote after vote in the afternoon, gun-control backers came up short of the 60 needed for passage.

The background check compromise sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, got 54 votes. The assault weapons ban got 40, even after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., pleaded with colleagues to “show some guts.” The effort to put curbs on ammunition clips got 46 votes.

The votes largely reflected geography. Senators from more rural, more conservative states sided with gun rights advocates. Senators with more urban constituencies backed gun control.

Gun rights supporters tried to get some changes to the bill, and those too failed. A bid to expand concealed-carry laws got 57 votes. An alternative to the background check compromise got 52.

Many had thought the tortured memory of Newtown would finally help win at least the background check effort.

“If tragedy strikes again — if innocents are gunned down in a classroom or a theater or a restaurant — I could not live with myself as a father, as a husband, as a grandfather or as a friend knowing that I didn't do everything in my power to prevent it,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

But conscience meant different things to different senators.

Reid's Nevada colleague, Republican Sen. Dean Heller, was viewed as a potential swing vote for the background-check compromise. He voted no.

“The onerous paperwork and expansion of federal power mandated in this legislation are too great of a concern,” he explained in a statement. “I believe that this legislation could lead to the creation of a national gun registry and puts additional burdens on law-abiding citizens.”

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