A clearly angry President Obama called Wednesday "a pretty shameful day for Washington" after the US Senate failed to pass a key bipartisan bill to expand background gun checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.
He called the gun lobby "willful liars" and berated mostly Republican senators for "looking for any excuse" to vote "no" on a compromise bill hammered out by Sens. Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia that would have made it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to legally buy guns at gun shows or over the Internet.
But in his comments, Mr. Obama also hinted at a distinct "passion" gap between those who love guns and those who want to see more restrictions on gun ownership. Flanked by some Sandy Hook parents as well as former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a gun owner who barely survived an assassination attempt three years ago, Obama acknowledged that the 90 percent of Americans who, according to polls, support stronger background checks didn't carry as much weight as impassioned gun supporters who have burned up the phone lines to Washington in opposition to any new federal gun control measure.
"An intense minority of gun owners intimidated senators," Obama said.
The statement was an tacit admission that, even after several of the most traumatic mass shootings in American history in recent years, culminating in the massacre of 20 Sandy Hook first-graders and six staff in Newtown, Conn., last December, the dynamics of the gun control debate appear to have changed little.
After the Newtown shootings, that did not appear to be the case. Unlike other previous mass shootings, the Newtown massacre nudged public opinion toward increased gun control - including an assault weapons ban, limits on magazine size, and expanded background checks - giving the first opening in a generation for a major shift in how America, a nation with a clear gun violence problem, addresses gun ownership without infringing on the Second Amendment.
An AP-Gfk poll in January showed 58 percent of American in support of stronger gun laws. But as of this month, only 49 percent of Americans said the same thing.
The defeat was bitter for Obama, who had spent enormous political capital to shore up disparate antigun violence groups in order to put pressure on lawmakers. The failure of that strategy amounted to an "unmitigated disaster," as one senior Obama associate told the National Journal.
The defeat came after several emotional meetings with gun victims, including former Ms. Giffords and families of the Newtown victims. What became the centerpiece of the push to woo reluctant Republicans was a compromise amendment by Senators Toomey and Manchin, which expanded background checks for many gun sales.
The vote was 54 to 46, well short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster. Three Republicans voted in favor, five Democrats voted against - though one was Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada, who, under Senate rules, had to vote "no" if he wanted to keep open the possibility of bringing the bill …