In a major defeat for supporters of tougher gun laws, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday defeated a compromise plan to expand background checks on firearms sales as well as a proposal to ban some semi-automatic weapons modeled after military assault weapons.
The plan was blocked on a 54-46 vote, six votes short of the 60-vote hurdle needed to clear the chamber.
The votes were on a series of amendments to a broad package of gun laws pushed by President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre in December.
However, fierce opposition by the powerful National Rifle Association led a backlash by conservative Republicans and a few Democrats from pro-gun states that doomed key proposals in the gun package, even after they had been watered down to try to satisfy opponents.
After the votes, Obama angrily criticized the NRA and senators who voted against the expanded background checks for rejecting a compromise he said was supported by a strong majority of Americans.
"Instead of supporting this compromise, the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill," Obama told White House reporters.
Noting polls that showed 90% support for such a measure, Obama called it a "pretty shameful day for Washington" and wondered of Congress: "Who are we here to represent?"
He was flanked by relatives of gun violence victims as well as former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a gun owner who was disabled in a shooting attack and supported Obama's proposals.
A statement by Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, said the Senate had "ignored the will of the American people," adding that those senators who voted against the expanded background checks chose to "obey the leaders of the powerful corporate gun lobby, instead of their constituents."
To Erica Lafferty, the daughter of the principal of the Newtown, Connecticut, school who was killed along with 20 first-graders and five other educators in the December attack, the vote amounted to inaction in the face of a national tragedy.
"The next time there's a mass shooting and they're asked what they did to prevent it, they're going to have to say nothing," she said.
On the other side, the NRA's Chris Cox called the expanded background check proposal "misguided," saying it would not reduce violent crime "or keep our kids safe in their schools."
The broader gun package still under consideration by the Senate includes tougher laws on gun trafficking and straw purchases, and steps to devise ways to improve safety in schools.
As originally proposed, with a provision to expand background checks, it would have been the most significant gun legislation before Congress in almost two decades.