Senate rejects expanded gun background checks

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The Senate has rejected a bipartisan effort to expand federal background checks to more firearms buyers in a crucial showdown over gun control.

Wednesday's vote was a jarring blow to the drive to curb firearms sparked by December's massacre of children and staff at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. President Barack Obama made broadened background checks the centerpiece of his gun control proposals.

The president made a public statement at 5:30 pm along with the father of one of the young Sandy Hook victims, decrying the vote.

"The fact is most of these senators could not offer any good reason why we wouldn't want to make it harder for criminals and those with severe mental illnesses to buy a gun.  There were no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn't do this.  It came down to politics -- the worry that that vocal minority of gun owners would come after them in future elections.  They worried that the gun lobby would spend a lot of money and paint them as anti-Second Amendment," Obama said.

The roll call was also a victory for the National Rifle Association, which opposed the plan as an ineffective infringement on gun rights. The president also took issue with that concept.

"I've heard some say that blocking this step would be a victory.  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 percent of Americans, 80 percent of Republicans, the vast majority of your constituents wanted to get done?  It begs the question, who are we here to represent?" said Obama.

The proposal would have required background checks for all transactions at gun shows and online. Currently they must occur for sales handled by licensed gun dealers.

The system is designed to keep criminals and people with mental problems from getting guns.

"This bill protects honest, gun-loving, law-abiding citizens," said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), one of the bill's sponsors, as he held up his NRA card. "I carry my card with me.

Manchin partnered with Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, also a hunter, and had the help of shooting survivor and former US Rep. Gabby Giffords.

They brought in families and friends of the Newtown shooting victims, and a group of mothers read the names of gun violence victims at the Capitol.

Most Senate Republicans rejected the bill.

"What that bill does is target law-abiding citizens rather than violent criminals," said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) argued the real way to fight crime was to pursue criminals.

The only Senate fence-sitter to lend his support was Republican John McCain (R-AZ).

"Such background checks are not overly burdensome or unconstitutional," he said.

With the last of the gun control plans the president backed going down, Barack Obama's team pointed to the polls, which indicate 88 percent of Americans in a new Quinnipiac poll support background checks.

But not the US Senate and not today. Many analysts pegged Wednesday's vote as the strongest chance for stricter gun control to pass.