WASHINGTON -- President Obama declared it a “shameful day for Washington” on Wednesday after the Senate defeated an effort to expand background checks for people trying to purchase guns.
Standing in the White House's Rose Garden with survivors of gun violence, Obama vowed to keep fighting to pass a measure to prevent sales to people with criminal backgrounds or serious mental illness no matter where they go to purchase a firearm.
“A few minutes ago, a minority in the United States Senate decided it wasn’t worth it,” Obama said, visibly angry over the vote. “They blocked common-sense gun reforms even while these families looked on from the Senate gallery.… A few minutes ago, 90% of Democrats in the Senate just voted for that idea. But it’s not going to happen because 90% of Republicans just voted against that idea.”
Obama promised to keep trying, saying he sees this as “just round one.”
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“The memories of these children demand it and so do the American people,” he said.
The vote defeated the essential element of the gun control bill Obama and Democrats have been pushing for this spring. The president’s side got a jolt of help last week when families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting came to town to lobby.
But by a vote of 54 to 46, just six votes short of the 60 votes needed to pass, the background check measure Wednesday afternoon fell by the wayside.
Senate Republicans protested the suggestion that they blocked the vote. A bipartisan amendment offered by Sen. Chuck E. Grassley (R-Iowa) also had a bipartisan majority, one aide pointed out, but Democratic leaders did not rally behind it.
The Grassley measure would provide funds to help states submit more mental health and criminal records to the federal database, so they could be included in background checks, but wouldn’t expand requirements for instances in which background checks are a prerequisite for firearms sales.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he voted against the Democratic measure because he though it could “easily evolve into a national gun registry.”
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He said he supported the Grassley amendment because it would strengthen gun rights “while improving our existing system to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those a court has decided are dangerously mentally ill.”
But Obama countered that the gun lobby and its allies “willfully lied about the bill.” He said he talked to senators about their opposition and that none were able to “offer any good reason” to oppose the policy.
“There were no coherent arguments to why we wouldn’t do this,” Obama said. “It came down to politics.”
He acknowledged the members of his own party were also responsible for the bill’s demise.
“All and all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” Obama said. “But this effort is not over.”
WHO THEY WERE: Newtown shooting victims
Obama shared the Rose Garden lectern with Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son, Daniel, was one of 20 children killed at Sandy Hook in December. Barden was there with his wife and their two other children at his side, and the parents of other victims of the shooting.
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) stood silently to the president’s right, nodding as first Barden and then Obama spoke.
“We will not be defeated,” Barden declared before a bank of television cameras. “We are not defeated, and we will not be defeated. We are here now; we will always be here because we have no other choice. We are not going away. And every day, as more people are killed in this country because of gun violence, our determination grows stronger.”
When the remarks were done, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden embraced the survivors and then walked them back into the Oval Office.
Nicole Hockley, mother of 6-year-old victim Dylan Hockley, leaned on Obama for support as they left.
Melanie Mason in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.