A visibly angry President Barack Obama denounced what he called a “shameful day for Washington” from the White House Rose Garden Wednesday evening, less than two hours after the Senate blocked the expansion of gun sale background checks, among other new gun safety measures.
After being introduced by the father of a 7-year-old victim of the Newtown massacre, President Obama slammed the senators who sided with the gun lobby over the wishes of their constituents.
“Ninety percent of Americans support” expanding background checks, Obama said. “And a few minutes ago, 90 percent of Democrats in the Senate voted for that idea. But it’s not going to happen, because 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate just voted against that idea.”
“A majority of senators voted yes to protecting more of our citizens with smarter background checks,” he continued. “But by this continuing distortion of Senate rules, a minority was able to block it from moving forward.”
The president went on to accuse the senators who voted “no” of cowardice, noting that although “most of these senators could not offer any good reason why we wouldn’t want to make it harder for criminals and those with severe mental illnesses to buy a gun,” they still blocked the bill because “they worried that that vocal minority of gun-owners would come after them in future elections,” and “that the gun lobby would spend a lot of money and paint them as anti-Second Amendment.”
The president stressed that, although the vote went largely along party lines, “Democrats had that fear, too.”
While he didn’t call him out by name, President Obama reserved an especially harsh rebuke for Senator Rand Paul, who earlier in the morning accused Obama of using families who have suffered from gun violence as “props.”
“I’ve heard folks say that having the families of victims lobby for this legislation was somehow misplaced. A prop, somebody called them. Emotional blackmail, some outlets said. Are they serious?” the president asked. “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?”
Despite his obvious frustration with Wednesday’s votes, President Obama signaled that the congressional battle over gun safety was just beginning.
“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,” Obama said. He went on to urge reform advocates to “let your representatives in Congress know that you are disappointed and that if they don’t act this time, you will remember come election time.”
“Sooner or later we are going to get this right,” the president concluded. “The memories of these children demand it, and so do the American people.”
A transcript of President Obama’s speech is available here.