Reid sets aside Senate gun legislation for now

A day after the White House suffered a major defeat, Sen. Reid announced a pause on the gun control push.

Story highlights

  • Sen. Cornyn denies a political motive in GOP opposition to tougher gun laws
  • Sen. Reid says the Senate will return to the gun legislation at some point
  • Now comes the blame game, an analyst says
  • The Senate defeated key provisions on Wednesday

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put proposed gun legislation on pause Thursday, setting it aside for now after the defeat a day earlier of major provisions sought by President Barack Obama and Democrats in the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre.

The move emphasized the solid victory for the National Rifle Association and its conservative Republican allies in what Obama called "round one" of the fight for tougher gun laws.

It also shifted the gun debate from details of particular proposals to political sniping by both sides in an attempt to generate public support on the divisive issue.

"The next stage is blame avoidance," noted Darrell West, the vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. "Each side will seek to blame the other for the failure to address this important problem."

Obama angry about gun bill failure
Obama angry about gun bill failure


    Obama angry about gun bill failure


Obama angry about gun bill failure 01:43
Pres. Obama on background check rejection
Pres. Obama on background check rejection


    Pres. Obama on background check rejection


Pres. Obama on background check rejection 04:03
Obama: Gun lobby 'willfully lied'
Obama: Gun lobby 'willfully lied'


    Obama: Gun lobby 'willfully lied'


Obama: Gun lobby 'willfully lied' 03:05

In announcing his temporary shelving of the gun legislation, Reid criticized Republicans for orchestrating Wednesday's defeat of expanded background checks on gun buyers, a top priority of Obama and Democrats that national polls show is supported by about 90% of Americans.

He said Obama agreed with him that "the best way to keep working towards passing a background check bill is to hit pause and freeze the background check bill where it is."

"This debate is not over," the Nevada Democrat declared on the Senate floor, adding that the Republican opposition to expanded background checks was "not sustainable" in the face of public support for the measure.

On Wednesday, Obama angrily accused Senate Republicans of doing the NRA's bidding in opposing a bipartisan compromise that would expand background checks for private transactions at gun shows and all Internet sales.

In unusually harsh language, he accused the NRA and its allies of spreading lies about the compromise drafted by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania as part of a campaign to defeat it.

A litany of supporters of tougher gun laws also condemned Republicans on Thursday, including a group of mayors led by New York's Michael Bloomberg and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously wounded in a 2011 shooting attack.

Conservative GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas responded Thursday by condemning Obama for taking "the low road" in the debate.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Cornyn tried to position Republicans as the ones seeking new gun laws by challenging Reid and Democrats to work with them instead of putting the measure aside.

He also sought to distance himself from the gun lobby, declaring he worked for the citizens of Texas rather than the NRA and insisting that "those of us who did not agree with the president's proposals are not being intimidated."

"It's absolutely false to say it comes down to politics," Cornyn said.

After the Senate voted down a series of amendments Wednesday, including watered-down measures to expand background checks and ban some semi-automatic firearms, it passed two amendments Thursday to the bill Reid later shelved.

One was a GOP plan to protect the privacy of gun owners while the other was a bipartisan proposal to strengthen mental health programs.

The decision by Reid indicated that he wants to see if calls for increased public pressure can influence more Republicans to defy the NRA, which scores legislators on their voting records and seeks to influence election campaigns involving candidates it supports or opposes.

Wednesday's votes showed the challenge Democrats face.

The compromise on expanded background checks forged by Manchin and Toomey, both with A-rated voting records from the NRA, failed on a 54-46 vote. It needed 60 votes to pass under an agreement reached by Senate leaders that applied to all the amendments.

Four Republicans broke from the NRA's position to support the background check plan, while four Democrats from pro-gun states offset them by opposing it. Reid also voted "no" in a procedural move giving him the ability to reintroduce his party's top priority for a gun package at a later date.

In other votes Wednesday, Republican proposals received stronger support. For example, a proposal by Cornyn that would have made state permits to carry concealed weapons acceptable throughout the country failed on a 57-43 vote.

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 Senate result 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."

In the House, some Democrats and Republicans are proposing a measure similar to the Manchin-Toomey compromise defeated by the Senate.

While its chances appear remote, based on the chamber's GOP majority, Obama and Democrats urged people to insist that their elected leaders pass the background check measure that has strong public support.

"You need to let your representatives in Congress know that you are disappointed, and if they don't act this time, you will remember come election time," Obama said.

Republican opponents of the new gun laws parroted the NRA position that expanding background checks would be a step toward a national gun registry and eventual federal confiscation of firearms, a claim that Obama and sponsors of the compromise called false.

Some opponents argued the language of the compromise would burden law-abiding gun owners seeking to sell their guns privately over the Internet.

Cornyn and others called for a more limited bill that would focus on keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and people adjudicated as mentally ill, rather than seeking to expand background checks beyond current limits.

Democrats responded that such an argument was contradictory, because the expanded background checks would prevent criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining firearms.

"It's inconceivable to me that someone could believe that you can keep guns away from criminals and the dangerously mentally ill without at a minimum having a background check," said Rep. Mike Thompson of California, who was leading the Democratic gun law effort in the House.

The debate over gun laws is not going away, according to West, the Brookings analyst.

"I expect this issue to remain on the public agenda," he said, "because shootings happen all the time and large numbers still favor tougher background checks."

      Gun control debate

    • Keeping weapons from mentally ill proves elusive

      Gun rights and gun control advocates largely agree there should be restrictions on mentally ill people obtaining firearms. The case of Myron Fletcher illustrates how difficult it is to put that into practice.
    • Has the moment passed? Why gun control push fizzled

      Six months after a gunman burst into a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school and slaughtered 20 children and killed six others, promises of stricter national gun control laws remain largely unfulfilled.
    • An undated photo of murder suspect Elliot Rodger is seen at a press conference by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff in Goleta, California May 24, 2014. Rodger, 22, went on a rampage in Isla Vista near the University of California at Santa Barbara campus, stabbed three people to death at his apartment before shooting to death three more in a terrorizing crime spree through the neighborhood. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

      Opinion: The real gun problem is mental health, not the NRA

      Next time there's a mass shooting, don't jump to blame the National Rifle Association and lax gun laws. Look first at the shooter and the mental health services he did or didn't get, and the commitment laws in the state where the shooting took place.
    • Melvin Speight uses a camera scope run down a barrel to check the rifleing inside. Speight has been with Colt for 7 years.

      At Colt's factory, no apologies for arming America

      The sign at the door of the Colt factory displays a gun with a slash through it: "No loaded or unauthorized firearms beyond this point." Understandable for workers at a plant, but also a bit ironic, considering one of the largest arsenals in America lies just beyond.
    • clip inside man spurlock gun ownership_00004707.jpg

      Five things to know about guns

      Morgan Spurlock's "Inside Man" gives CNN viewers an inside and in-depth look at the issue of firearms -- as viewed from behind the counter of a gun store. Here are five things to know about the debate.
    •  	US President Barack Obama is accompanied by former lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords (L), vice president Joe Biden (R) and family members of Newtown school shooting victims as he speaks on gun control at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 17, 2013. Obama on Wednesday slammed what he called a 'minority' in the US Senate for blocking legislation that would have expanded background checks on those seeking to buy guns. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

      Senate rejects expanded background checks

      The Senate 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.
    • Jessica Ghawi

      The lives shattered by bullets

      As Congress grapples with major gun control legislation proposals, brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers and children write about the people they loved and lost to gun violence and how it changed their lives.
    • How background checks work

      Many Americans and lawmakers are in favor of continuing or expanding background checks on gun purchases, but few understand how the checks work.
    • Connecticut lawmakers pass gun law

      Still stinging from the shooting deaths at Sandy Hook, Connecticut lawmakers approved what advocacy groups call the strongest and most comprehensive gun legislation in the nation.
    • Sandy Hook shooter had gun safe

      It took fewer than five minutes for Adam Lanza to squeeze off 154 rounds, upending life in Newtown, Connecticut, and triggering a renewed national debate over gun control.
    • Faces of the gun debate

      A former drug addict turned anti-violence crusader, and a man who lost his father in a temple shooting. These are just two of many in the conversation.