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Obama's Pressure Fails To Get Gun Measure Passed


Now, President Obama had promised to put the full weight of his office behind getting Congress to pass new gun control legislation. That weight was apparently not enough. When the legislation failed yesterday, Obama went into the White House Rose Garden and made a blistering speech, calling it a shameful day for Washington.

NPR's Ari Shapiro was there.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The first people to walk out of the Oval Office were families of the kids shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Then Gabby Giffords, the former congresswoman who was nearly killed by a gunshot to the head in Tucson. Vice President Joe Biden followed her. He led the White House effort on guns. The president was the last into the Rose Garden.

Mark Barden lost his seven-year-old son in the Newtown shootings.

MARK BARDEN: What happened in Newtown can happen anywhere in any instant. Any dad in America could be in my shoes.

SHAPIRO: Barden spent the week meeting with senators, pressuring them to vote yes. And he watched from the Senate gallery yesterday as not enough of them did.

BARDEN: We'll return home now, disappointed but not defeated. We return home with a determination that change will happen. Maybe not today, but it will happen. It will happen soon.

SHAPIRO: Biden looked on the verge of tears. Other family members were crying openly. For President Obama, gun control was a top second-term priority.

The Senate had already whittled his long list of proposals down to little more than expanded background checks.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We're talking about convicted felons, people convicted of domestic violence, people with a severe mental illness. Ninety percent of Americans support that idea. Most Americans think that's already the law.

SHAPIRO: Obama referred to the filibuster as a distortion of the Senate rules, letting a minority win the day. That minority included four Democrats. And some are saying Obama did not put enough pressure on them to vote yes. But he said 90 percent of Democrats voted for the bill, while 90 percent of Republicans voted against it. He blamed groups like the NRA that fought the measure.

OBAMA: The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill. They claimed that it would create some sort of Big Brother gun registry, even though the bill did the opposite. This legislation, in fact, outlawed any registry, plain and simple, right there in the text. But that didn't matter.

SHAPIRO: He said the lies worked because they upset an intense minority of gun owners, which intimidated a lot of senators. This was not a run-of-the-mill Obama statement. He seemed furious at Washington and at Congress. Without mentioning names, the president attacked people like Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who accused the White House of using Newtown families as props.

OBAMA: Do we really think that thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don't have a right to weigh in on this issue? Do we think their emotions, their loss is not relevant to this debate?

SHAPIRO: This is not the first time President Obama has raged against the Washington establishment that he's a part of. He fumes at Republicans for blocking tax hikes that most Americans support and grits his teeth when the Senate holds up nominees who ultimately get a unanimous vote. Last night he sounded like a man who's had enough.

OBAMA: And if this Congress refuses to listen to the American people and pass common sense gun legislation, then the real impact is going to have to come from the voters.

SHAPIRO: He promised that the fight is not over. But polls consistently show that gun rights advocates feel far more passionately than the people who want more gun laws. Obama said they're better organized, better financed and more focused.

OBAMA: So to change Washington, you, the American people, are going to have to sustain some passion about this. And when necessary, you've got to send the right people to Washington.

SHAPIRO: Guns have not been a winning issue for Democrats in past elections. But judging from President Obama's speech, they'll try to turn it into one in 2014. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.