In Depth

Senate shoots down gun control plan: five key issues

Does US senate's rejection of tighter gun laws mean memory of Sandy Hook massacre is fading?

THE push for tougher gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre has hit a major roadblock after the US senate defeated plans yesterday to expand background checks on firearms sales. The decision was criticised by President Obama who attacked the National Rifle Association and those senators who opposed the plan for ignoring the will of the American people. Here are five things you should know:

It wasn't only the background check plan that was defeated: The senate's rejection of the bipartisan proposal for background checks is seen as the biggest setback for the White House. But the senate also blocked or defeated separate measures to ban some types of semi-automatic rifle and limit the size of ammunition magazines.

The NRA has lost none of its power: The background check plan needed 60 votes to pass in the 100-member senate, but failed on a 54-46 vote in favour. It was a "stark reminder of the gun culture's hold on America - or at least its politics", says Reuters. As soon as the compromise plan was announced, the NRA mounted an "aggressive lobbying effort" arguing that it would not provide better protection for America's citizens or children. It also threatened politicians who voted in favour of the plan with "political retribution" and yesterday spent $500,000 on advertising to explain its arguments. Obama described the NRA's campaign as a series of "lies" and "scare tactics" about the potential impact of the legislation.

It wasn't just Republicans who caved in to pressure: Four Republicans voted in favour of the plan, while four Democrats, who will face re-election in the "conservative, gun-friendly states" of North Dakota, Alaska, Arkansas and Montana, opposed it.

Public support for tougher gun control is softening: Obama said polls taken since the Sandy Hook massacre have showed 90 per cent of the US public support the kind of controls outlined in the plan, CNN reports. He called the senate vote a "pretty shameful day for Washington" and asked of Congress: "Who are we here to represent?" But public support for tougher gun laws does appear to be weakening as the massacre "slips further into the past", says the San Francisco Chronicle. One month after the Newtown attack, 58 per cent of Americans said they supported stricter gun laws, an AP-GfK poll found. This month, support was at 49 per cent.

It isn't the end of the story: Commentators say the plan's defeat is a major blow for gun control and a "striking defeat" for Obama. The president tried to sound upbeat today, saying: "I see this as just Round One. Sooner or later, we are going to get this right. The memories of these children [the Sandy Hook victims] demand it." Others believe gun culture is such an ingrained part of American life, it is almost impervious to efforts to regulate it.

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