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
"An intense minority of gun owners intimidated senators," Obama
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
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 back.
While Obama said the gun lobby "willfully lied" in order to fire
up constituents, gun rights organization including, but not limited
to, the National Rifle Association objected to details of the bill,
especially rules about on how firearms could be transferred between