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Tears and rage as victims watch US gun bill die

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Three startling words rang out in the US Senate after lawmakers on Wednesday rejected an amendment aimed at expanding background checks for gun sales: "Shame on you!"

Patricia Maisch, a survivor of the 2011 Tucson shooting that killed six people and severely wounded a US lawmaker, was ejected from the chamber, but not before putting into words the emotions felt by many in the Capitol after senators defeated the most ambitious gun safety measure in nearly 20 years.

"They have no souls, they have no compassion for the experiences that people have lived through (with) gun violence, who have had a child or a loved one murdered by a gun," Maisch told reporters.

Minutes later, it was the turn of Democratic senators to bemoan the vote, console the relatives of victims of gun violence in places like Newtown, Aurora and Columbine, and pledge to carry on the fight for stricter US gun laws.

"Sorry, we gave it our best shot," Senator Chuck Schumer told Jillian Soto, the sister of Vicki Soto, a Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher who was gunned down along with 20 children and five staff in the shooting rampage in December.

Majority Leader Harry Reid huddled with victims' relatives and pledged that "this is just the beginning" of the fight to reduce gun violence. But the vote was clearly a political punch to the gut.

"Today was a heartbreaker -- probably the saddest day of my years in public life," Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told reporters as a teary-eyed Soto stood at his side.

Few in Washington have invested as much energy in pushing for stronger gun laws as Blumenthal, who had hoped the tragedy in his state would inspire new legislation aimed at preventing more mass shootings.

"I haven't the words yet. I don't know what the explanation is" for why 45 of his colleagues -- including four Democrats -- opposed the legislation, which would have expanded background checks to gun shows and online purchases.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch supporter of tighter gun laws, called the vote "a damning indictment of the stranglehold that special interests have on Washington."

The senators' inability to come together "handed criminals a huge victory, by preserving their ability to buy guns illegally at gun shows and online."

Outside the Senate, some lawmakers explained their "no" votes.

"I voted Montanans' interests," said Senate Democrat Max Baucus, referring to his state's support of gun rights.

Others appeared eager to twist the knife, with Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah telling reporters: "it's not an auspicious beginning" for President Barack Obama's second-term legislative agenda.

Obama decried the "shameful" vote, saying a minority in the Senate was being held hostage by the powerful gun lobby.

Chris Murphy, the junior senator from Connecticut, minced no words after the vote, predicting there would be "outrage" across the country.

"I've been dreading having to look (Newtown families) in the eye and explain this," he said.

But Murphy expressed awe over their dedication to pursue a cause that has been a heavy political lift for decades.

"They are just going to come back and back and back until they get yes for an answer."

One victim who said he won't give up the fight is Stephen Barton, 23, who attended the Batman movie premiere last July in Aurora, Colorado, in which a gunman burst in and opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding several more.

Barton -- who was shot in the face and neck -- said watching the Senate vote was a bit like grieving.

"You're disappointed, you're upset and then you just harden yourself," he told AFP.

Barton said he sat down with several senators who ultimately voted against the amendment.

"There's a common refrain, which is that this bill goes too far, it's too much of a burden," he said.

"For a senator to be saying that's too much of a burden? It's insulting, really, to compare that to the burden of walking by your loved one's empty bedroom."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130417/tears-and-rage-victims-watch-us-gun-bill-die