x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Obama furious at 'shameful' defeat of US gun-reform bill

US president lashes out after a bid to expand background checks for gun buyers - the last meaningful piece of his trimmed effort to retool gun laws after the Newtown school massacre - failed to pass.

WASHINGTON // Bristling with anger, Barack Obama branded the defeat of his gun-reform drive in the US senate as "shameful", accusing lawmakers of caving in to the powerful firearms lobby.

The US president lashed out after a bid to expand background checks for gun buyers - the last meaningful piece of his trimmed effort to retool gun laws after the Newtown school massacre - failed to pass.

Ringed by dazed and grief-stricken relatives of some of the 20 children gunned down in Connecticut in December, Mr Obama accused the firearms lobby of lying to thwart change, and vowed he would not give up the fight.

"Families that know unspeakable grief summoned the courage to petition their elected leaders not just to honour the memory of their children but to protect the lives of all of our children," he said in the White House Rose Garden.

"A minority in the United States Senate decided it wasn't worth it."

As he absorbed the first significant political defeat of his second term, the president said "the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill", adding: "All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington."

Mr Obama was clearly furious about the vote, months after vowing to use all his power to enact gun reform in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre.

He accused Republicans and some of his own Democrats of being scared of the well-financed gun lobby.

"They caved to the pressure and they started looking for an excuse, any excuse, to vote no," he said, vowing to fight on for change.

He hinted that he would campaign on the issue in the 2014 mid-term elections.

"I believe we're going to be able to get this done," he said in an email to supporters. "Sooner or later we're going to get this right. The memories of these children demand it."

Republicans argued that the bill infringed on the constitutional right to bear arms, but Mr Obama said it did no such thing and merely tried to prevent criminals and the mentally ill from getting their hands on firearms.

Some conservative Democrats, fearing a backlash as they run for re-election, also opposed the bill.

Chris Cox, the chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, the leading pro-gun pressure group, said the bill was "misguided" and would have criminalised arms transfers between law-abiding citizens and friends.

"Expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools," he said.

Mr Obama's calls for the reinstatement of a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazine clips also crashed in the Senate, a defeat that was expected.

The background checks bill did secure a majority vote in its favour - 54-46 - but 60 senators were needed for it to pass.

After the result was announced, Patricia Maisch, a gun violence survivor, shouted "Shame on you!" from the public gallery.

She was present at a 2011 shooting at a shopping mall in Tucson, Arizona, that left six people dead and and 13 wounded, including Gabrielle Giffords, at the time a congresswoman, who survived being shot in the head.