WASHINGTON - The Senate on Wednesday rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to tighten restrictions on the sale of firearms.
The measure, put forward by Manchin and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., went down by a vote of 54-46.
"Although I am disappointed in the outcome of today's vote for a common-sense measure to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill while protecting our Second Amendment rights, this is not the end of the debate," said Manchin. "I thank Sen. Pat Toomey, along with Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), for their support on working toward a balanced approach to fix our culture of mass violence.
"Moving forward, I am hopeful that my colleagues and I can work together as we remember all the families who have suffered from senseless acts of violence across America. If we muster just one ounce of the courage these families have shown, then we, as a legislative body, can truly make a difference."
Senate Republicans backed by rural-state Democrats scuttled the most far-reaching gun control legislation in two decades Wednesday, rejecting tighter background checks for buyers and a ban on assault weapons as they spurned pleas from families of victims of last winter's school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
"This effort isn't over," President Barack Obama vowed at the White House moments after the defeat of one of his top domestic priorities in the Senate, which is controlled by his own party. Surrounded by Newtown relatives, he claimed opponents of the legislation in both parties "caved to the pressure" of special interests.
A ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines also fell in a series of showdown votes four months after a gunman killed 20 elementary school children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary.
A bid to loosen restrictions on concealed weapons carried across state lines was rejected, as well.
That last vote marked a rare defeat for the National Rifle Association on a day it generally triumphed over Obama, gun control advocates and many of the individuals whose lives have been affected by mass shootings in Connecticut and elsewhere.
Gun control advocates, including Obama, had voiced high hopes for significant action after the Newtown shootings. But the lineup of possible legislation gradually dwindled to a focus on background checks, and in the end even that could not win Senate passage. Chances in the Republican-led House had seemed even slimmer.
By agreement of Senate leaders, a 60-vote majority was required for approval of any of the provisions brought to a vote.
The vote on the background check was 54-46, well short of the 60 votes needed to advance. Forty-one Republicans and five Democrats voted to reject the plan. All West Virginia and Ohio senators voted along party lines.
The proposed ban on assault weapons commanded 40 votes; the bid to block sales of high capacity ammunition clips drew 46.
On those amendments, Manchin broke ranks with the Democrats to vote against them.
The NRA-backed proposal on concealed carry permits got 57. Manchin voted in favor of it.
In the hours before the key vote on background checks, Manchin, bluntly accused the National Rifle Association of making false claims about the expansion of background checks that he and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., were backing.
"Where I come from in 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, accusing the organization of telling its supporters that friends, neighbors and some family members would need federal permission to transfer ownership of firearms to one another.
The NRA did not respond immediately to the charge, but issued a statement after the vote that restated the claim.
The proposal "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 a statement from Chris Cox, a lobbyist for the group.
Said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, "Expanded background checks would not have prevented Newtown. Criminals do not submit to background checks."
On the main vote, Democrat Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Max Baucus of Montana joined Pryor and Heitkamp in voting against the proposal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a supporter of the plan, switched his vote to the prevailing "no" side to permit him to call for a revote in the future.
Among Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona and Toomey sided with Democrats.