WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans and a handful of rural Democrats ignored the emotional lobbying of Newtown, Conn., families; polls showing 90 percent of Americans support background checks; and colleagues' efforts to forge a bipartisan agreement on gun control.
Instead they slammed the door Wednesday on several measures aimed at curbing gun violence, including one crafted by Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey and West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin.
The Senate defeated the proposal in a 54-46 vote, short of the 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle.
One gun control advocate, Patricia Maisch, shouted "Shame on you!" from the Senate balcony as the vote total was announced. In 2011, Ms. Maisch helped wrestle a magazine of bullets away from the gunman who shot then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, R-Ariz., and 18 others in Tucson.
She said later that the outcome of the vote was heartbreaking and that her outburst was spontaneous.
One by one Wednesday, votes on several other proposals also failed. They included measures to ban assault rifles and outlaw high-capacity magazines.
Vice President Joe Biden, who had lobbied by phone all week for the bills, made a rare appearance in the Capitol on Wednesday to preside over the votes in his role as president of the Senate.
Watching from a balcony were dozens of relatives of shooting victims, including 26 children and educators killed in December in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
"If you want to remember those 20 babies -- the beautiful children -- and the six brave teachers, and you want to honor the most courageous family members I have ever met in my life ... you should vote for this," Mr. Manchin said on the Senate floor in his final plea for votes Wednesday.
Opponents including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the amendment adds burdens for law-abiding gun owners without really addressing the problem of gun violence.
"It doesn't target violent criminals. Instead, what it does is it targets law-abiding citizens," Mr. Cruz said in a floor speech.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the measure was misguided and that it would not have prevented the Newtown shooting.
Erica Lafferty, daughter of Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, who died in the Newtown shooting, said she knows that, but said background checks might save others.
"No law is going to bring my mom back, I get that. But it might prevent another 27-year-old kid from going through what I did," said Ms. Lafferty, after watching the vote with Carlee Soto, sister of teacher Victoria Soto, who also died in the shooting.
Ms. Lafferty said she doesn't regret making the trip to Washington, where she and other Newtown families have been lobbying for gun control.
"It's good to be here and I'm glad [the legislation] got as far as it did. We're absolutely confident," gun control legislation will pass before long, she said.
Mark Barden, whose 6-year-old son Daniel died at Sandy Hook, said he felt disappointed but not defeated. He and several other relatives of Sandy Hook victims have been lobbying senators for two weeks.
"We came with a sense of hope, optimistic that real conversation could begin that would ultimately save the lives of so many Americans," he said during a news conference Wednesday evening at the White House.
"We return home now with the determination that change will happen -- maybe not today, but it will happen," Mr. Barden said. "We are not going away. And every day, as more people are killed in this country because of gun violence, our determination grows stronger."
Meanwhile, in the Capitol, relatives of victims of other mass shootings also pledged to work to advance gun control measures.
"We just have to keep moving on and moving forward. We're going to do it eventually," said Roxanna Green, mother of Christina-Taylor Green, a 9-year-old girl killed in the 2011 Tucson shooting that seriously wounded Ms. Giffords.
The Toomey-Manchin proposal would have required background checks for all commercial gun purchases, including those made online and at gun shows. It would have exempted private transfers of guns that had not been advertised for sale as sales to people who live in remote areas, far from gun stores where background checks are conducted.
The proposal also would have eased restrictions on gun purchases by military members and would have made it easier to carry firearms across state lines.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the outcome of the votes shows the "stranglehold" the National Rifle Association has on Congress. The NRA has been lobbying hard and threatening to target gun control supporters in their next re-election campaigns.
In a statement Wednesday, NRA lobbyist Chris W. Cox called the background checks proposal misguided. Instead, he said, Congress should focus on prosecuting violent criminals and fixing the health care system.
President Barack Obama and other proponents said the NRA's lobbying efforts had been dishonest because the organization told its members that the Toomey-Manchin proposal would lead to a federal gun registry. Actually, the proposal would have explicitly outlawed registries, the president said.
"The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about this bill," he said.
Mr. Manchin made a similar charge during a floor speech earlier Wednesday: "I don't know how to put the words any plainer than this: That is a lie. That is simply a lie."
In a statement issued after the vote, Mr. Toomey said he did what he thought was the right thing for the country.
"I sought out a compromise position that I thought could move the ball forward on an important matter of public safety," he said. "It's not the outcome I hoped for, but the Senate has spoken on the subject, and it's time to move on."
Tracie Mauriello: email@example.com, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.