WASHINGTON — Arkansas’ U.S. senators Wednesday helped reject President Barack Obama’s call for passage of comprehensive gun safety legislation in response to the massacre at Sandy Hook.
Proposals to expand background checks on gun sales, reinstate an assault weapons ban and limit the capacity of ammunition magazines were defeated in a series of roll-call votes needing 60-vote majorities to pass.
Obama called the defeat a "pretty shameful day for Washington."
Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., voted against those provisions, and instead backed an alternative measure to strengthen law enforcement against those who lie on background check applications as well as to provide more resources for school safety.
The alternative, which was offered by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and supported by the National Rifle Association, also failed to clear the 60-vote hurdle by a vote of 52-48.
Some parents of children slain in Newtown, Conn., watched the roll call votes from the gallery above the Senate floor. Four months ago, Adam Lanza entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School and gunned down 20 children and six adults in a five-minute span before taking his own life.
The background check measure that Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., had offered as a compromise was defeated, 54-46.
Pryor, one of four Democrats to oppose it, is expected to face a difficult re-election campaign in 2014 in a state where passions run strongly for Second Amendment gun rights. He announced his intention to vote against the measure hours before the vote on a conference call with Arkansas reporters.
"I will not support Manchin-Toomey. I think it is too broad and unworkable. I do think there is a better approach," Pryor said.
During Thursday’s votes, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., delivered a scathing attack on her colleagues who rejected the background check compromise.
"I have substantial dismay at the lack of courage in this house," Feinstein said. "I am really chagrined."
Feinstein’s proposal to ban assault weapons — as had been done in 1994 — was defeated 40-60. Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s proposal to ban the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines failed, 46-54.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee announced after the vote that it plans to target Pryor and three other Democrats in a full-page ad campaign to run in their respective states. They plan to spend about $100,000 in total.
"We’ll be holding accountable Democrats who voted against their constituents by running ads in their states, featuring some of the 23,000 gun owners who have joined our campaign for commonsense gun reform," said Stephanie Taylor, PCCC co-founder.
Democracy for America also threatened to campaign against him.
"Democrats who were too cowardly to get on the right side of a 90-10 issue like universal background checks better believe that the progressives will remember their spinelessness on gun violence prevention come reelection time," said Neil Sroka, communications director for the group.
Meanwhile, the NRA praised the defeat of the background check measure.
"This amendment would have criminalized certain private transfers of firearms between honest citizens, requiring lifelong friends, neighbors and some family members to get federal government permission to exercise a fundamental right or face prosecution," said Chris Cox, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.
The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, which had ininitially backed the Manchin-Toomey proposal, withdrew its support Wednesday saying the group’s support had been contingent on the Senate including language to allow those prohibited from purchasing a gun to have their gun rights restored.