The Senate failed to muster sufficient support Wednesday for a gun-buyer background check bill that’s supported by nearly 90 percent of Americans, voting the measure down in a procedural vote that likely dooms any major legislation to curb gun violence.
The measure — painstakingly crafted by the bipartisan duo of Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) — was seen as the key to getting the first measure in decades to address the sorts of mass slaughters that so recently horrified the country in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six teachers were gunned down, and in Auroro, Colo., where moviegoers where killed in a theater.
The amendment failed 54 to 46, falling short of the 60-vote threshold needed to break a filibuster of the measure, even as victims of the Sandy Hook shootings watched from the Senate gallery and activists at a vigil outside the Capitol read the names of people slain since then, hoping to prompt action.
Passage of the background check amendment had been seen as key because it represented a bipartisan agreement in a highly polarized debate, and would have preserved a major part of the overall bill that many advocates against gun violence saw as a minimum step toward stemming gun massacres.
Stronger measures up for a vote also appeared headed for failure, including a ban of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The only significant steps that all sides agreed on were stemming illegal trafficking of weapons and improving mental health efforts.
The background check measure would have expanded the current check system to cover sales of weapons on the Internet and at gun shows.
Democratic aides privately conceded that with the failure of background checks, the rest of the bill would likely go down. One described it as a “pyrhic victory,” noting that a majority of the Senate backed the bill that is so popular outside the halls of Congress. “It’s the farthest we’ve come,” said the aide, speaking on background to talk freely.
The aides saw little hope of it being resurrected, although leaders kept that option open.
Opponents argued that the expanded check system would have laid the groundwork for a national registry of gun owners, although the measure expressly forbid such a step with a 15-year jail sentence for anyone who tried to do that.
They also called it a useless step that would achieve little.
“Expanded background checks would not have prevented Newtown,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Neb.) said.
But Toomey said his amendment would have at least been a modest step in the right direction.
“The goal was to see if we can find a way to make it a little bit more difficult for people who have no legal right to have a gun for them to obtain it,” Toomey said. “That was the goal.”
The Seante failed to meet it.