Senate Rejects Gun Background Checks in Setback for Obama

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By Aaron Hepker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate on Wednesday rejected a bipartisan plan to expand background checks for gun buyers, dealing a sharp blow to President Barack Obama's campaign to curb gun violence after the Newtown school massacre.

Despite emotional pleas from families of victims of the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings and broad public support nationwide, the plan to extend background checks to online and gun-show sales failed on a 54-46 vote, six votes short of the 60-vote hurdle needed to clear the Senate.

The amendment negotiated by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania was seen as Obama's best hope to pass meaningful gun-control legislation after the December massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown.

Other measures backed by the Democratic president - including a proposal to ban rapid-firing "assault" weapons like the one used in Connecticut and a limit on ammunition magazines - also are expected to fail as the Senate conducts nine consecutive votes on gun-control legislation.

The votes are the culmination of weeks of intense negotiations and lobbying over Obama's proposed gun restrictions, and the defeat of the background checks amendment could doom the biggest package of gun legislation Congress has considered in two decades.

Opponents of the Manchin-Toomey plan and the restrictions on assault weapons said the proposals were an example of government overreach that would infringe on the constitutional right to bear arms.

The Democratic-led Senate also will consider several Republican-sponsored amendments backed by the National Rifle Association gun lobby that would expand gun rights, adding an element of uncertainty to the eventual content of the bill.

The Senate legislation also includes tighter restrictions on gun trafficking and more funding for school security.

The Manchin-Toomey background checks amendment allowed exemptions for private sales or gifts between families and friends and prohibited the creation of a national registry of guns. Polls show more than 80 percent of Americans support expanded background checks.

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