At the White House, an angry Obama struck a similar tone.
“This was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” he said. “This effort is not over ... If this Congress refuses to listen to the American people and pass common-sense gun legislation, then the real impact is going to have to come from the voters.”
For all the determination of the gun-control groups — and for all of the public support they enjoy — the Senate’s vote showed that challenging the nation’s attachment to guns or Americans’ devotion to guns is a politically tenuous exercise.
Affection for guns and hunting — and respect for the NRA, which spent US$18.6 million in last year’s campaign cycle, according to the Sunlight Foundation — was a theme throughout Wednesday’s debate.
Several senators — including West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, who co-sponsored the background checks plan and often became emotional in praising the Newtown families — made a point of saying that they supported gun rights and had been proud to be in line with the NRA’s pro-gun platform.
Four Republican senators — Ron Kirk, Susan Collins, John McCain and Pat Toomey, Manchin’s co-sponsor — backed the background checks plan.
However, four Democrats from gun-friendly states — Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Pryor of Arkansas — rejected the background checks plan. Baucus, Begich and Pryor are up for re-election next year.
Some gun-control advocates predicted that the issue could become a leading concern in the 2016 presidential campaign.
“Voters will wake up in the morning to find that Senate hasn’t passed background checks. They will have a long memory,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, a collection of 47 national organizations.
Horwitz said Republican senators in politically divided states, such as New Hampshire, Ohio and North Carolina, could see themselves at risk if they oppose more background checks.
“Mayor Bloomberg has the wherewithal to match NRA resources, which is a completely new phenomenon in the gun debate,” said Matt Bennett of Third Way, a centrist Democratic organization that has been active in the gun debate.
Last month, Bloomberg footed the bill for a US$12 million ad campaign, which ran in 13 states and was aimed at pressuring lawmakers to support expanded background checks.
GUN RIGHTS BOOST
Gun-rights advocates acknowledge they have competition that is perhaps unprecedented, but they note that Bloomberg’s millions did not lead to Senate passage of the background checks plan. They say that while Newtown inspired the gun-control movement, it also boosted the NRA and its supporters.
Sales of guns and ammunition soared, fueled in part by fears that Obama’s gun-control package would make both scarce. Stock prices of gun makers, such as Smith & Wesson Holding Corp and Sturm, Ruger & Co, dipped after Newtown, but now are near where they were before the shootings.
And although there has been a wave of new gun-control laws in states led by Democrats, several states led by Republicans have eased gun restrictions in the months since Newtown.
In a statement, the NRA praised the Senate’s action, saying that the measure would have “criminalized certain private transfers of firearms between honest citizens.”