In the end, nothing could persuade enough US senators to approve the most significant gun legislation in two decades:
Not the carnage from Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were massacred by a gunman in December last year, igniting a national debate on gun control.
Not the impassioned pleas of Newtown survivors’ families, whose calls for expanded background checks for gun buyers so moved a pro-gun senator from West Virginia that he became their advocate.
And not the support of US President Barack Obama, who was inspired by Newtown to make gun control the first major initiative of his second term.
The US Senate’s key vote on Wednesday was not exactly a rejection of expanded background checks, gun-control advocates were careful to point out.
Most senators — 54 — approved the measure, which polls indicated was backed by more than 80 percent of Americans. However, because Republicans threatened to use a filibuster to block any gun proposal that did not get 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, the plan to expand background checks to sales made online and at gun shows fell short.
And just like that, the most aggressive push for gun control in a generation did, too.
How galling was the defeat for the new gun-control movement?
Another Senate vote on Wednesday told the story: Four months after Newtown jolted the US, the 54 senators who voted to expand background checks were three less than the 57 who voted for a Republican-backed plan to expand Americans’ rights to carry concealed weapons.
That tally also was short of the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate. However, taken together, the votes made a statement about Americans’ devotion to guns — there are an estimated 270 million guns in circulation across the nation — and the success of the powerful gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
So where do gun-control advocates go from here?
On Wednesday, amid their disappointment, frustration and anger, it was clear that the new groups who have driven the gun-control agenda since Newtown already were taking aim at elections next year and in 2016.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose personal fortune has helped to fund a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns, called Wednesday’s vote a “damning indictment of the stranglehold that special interests have on Washington.”
He said that his group would work to defeat opponents of gun control in next year’s midterm elections, saying that “our ever-expanding coalition of supporters will work to make sure that voters don’t forget.”
In an opinion piece in the New York Times, former US representative Gabrielle Giffords — who was critically wounded in a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011 and founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group that focuses on gun violence — vowed not to give up.
“On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave in to fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental issues to get hold of deadly firearms,” Giffords wrote.
“I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done,” she continued. “I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated ... I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say, ‘You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.’”