Gregory Korte and Catalina Camia, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - The Senate rejected a compromise proposal to expand background checks on gun purchases, dealing a blow to the core of legislative efforts to curb massacres such as the one at a Connecticut school in December.
The 54-46 vote came on an amendment by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa. Sixty votes were necessary to get around a filibuster - a tall order because it meant drawing on Republican support to make up for losing majority-party Democrats.
Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Max Baucus of Montana and Mark Begich of Alaska -- who are up for re-election in 2014 in red states -- and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota were among the early "no" votes.
The Senate will now take votes on other amendments, including one to ban assault weapons and limit the size of magazine clips, as well as a package of legislation addressing mental health issues.
Also being considered: A substitute plan unveiled Wednesday by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that would tighten the background check database but not expand the types of sales subject to it.
Hours before the scheduled vote, Manchin gave a final impassioned plea to the Senate. He held up his NRA membership card and called out the gun lobby for "lies" about what the bill does. Specifically, he said, the gun lobby had inaccurately claimed the amendment would criminalize the transfer of guns to friends and family members.
"Where I come from, West Virginia, I don't know how to put the words any plainer than this: That is a lie. That is simply a lie," he said. "It's not a universal background check."
The expanded background checks would have extended to purchases made at gun shows and on the Internet. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday morning that the bill would not create a national registry of guns or gun owners and derided such claims as "nothing but shameful scare tactics."
Earlier in the day, a pro-gun rights group withdrew its support for the background checks proposal. The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms said it could no longer support the amendment because it did not have adequate provisions to make sure people could have their gun rights restored if, for example, a conviction was expunged.
Sen. Claire McCaskill released the following statement Wednesday regarding the vote:
"I believed the massacre of 20 small children would be a tipping point in the debate over how to reasonably address gun safety in this countrywhen our collective horror and subsequent outrage would move Congress to enact commonsense protections that would make all of our families safer. Today the U.S. Senate voted down a host of safety measures, like simple background checks, that are overwhelmingly supported by the American public and that are unquestionably Constitutional. The idea that anyone could reflect upon recent events and engage in such a spirited defense of the status quo is disappointing."