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Senate Democratic leader Reid hits "pause" on gun-control bill

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WVA) takes a call outside a party policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington April 9, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WVA) takes a call outside a party policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington April 9, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

By John Whitesides and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One day after suffering a crippling defeat on gun-control legislation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday set aside President Barack Obama's plan to curb gun violence but promised to keep searching for a compromise.

Reid said Democrats would keep negotiating on the proposals, even though the Senate rejected all the vital elements of the legislation prompted by the December massacre of 20 children and six adults at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.

The failure of the measures angered gun-control supporters and signaled the likely demise of the biggest package of gun legislation in Congress in two decades. Afterward, Obama called it a "pretty shameful day in Washington."

But Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said on Thursday it was "only a matter of time before we bring this anti-gun violence measure back to the floor for a vote." He offered no potential time frame for the process.

Despite emotional appeals from the families of Newtown victims, a bipartisan background checks proposal failed on Wednesday on a 54-46 vote, six short of the 60 votes it needed to clear Senate procedural hurdles.

The Senate also rejected a proposal to ban rapid-firing assault weapons and to place a limit on the size of ammunition clips.

Obama said politics was to blame for the failure of the plan to extend background checks to online and gun show sales, which polls show was backed by nearly 90 percent of Americans. He blamed pressure from the National Rifle Association gun rights lobby for convincing most Republicans and four Democrats - all from conservative, gun-friendly states - to oppose the plan.

But Republican opponents said the gun-control proposals were an example of government overreach that would infringe on their constitutional right to bear arms. Senator John Cornyn of Texas accused Obama of taking "the low road" by laying the blame on the NRA and politics.

"I, and many of my colleagues, are not worried, as some of the press like to portray it, about the gun lobby," Cornyn said. "I don't work for them. I don't listen to them. I work for 26 million Texans, and I'm proud to represent them."

'NOT BACK TO SQUARE ONE'

Reid said he had conferred with Obama and the president agreed "to hit a pause" on the bill but keep it pending on the Senate calendar.

"It will prevent us from having to return to square one procedurally," he said. "We're going to have time to work on what people want to do before we come back to this."

Other Democratic senators said they also were not ready to give up on the gun-control proposals.

"We're going to keep working on it," Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York said. "We have to get the votes we need, so it'll probably take a little more time."

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who negotiated the background checks amendment with Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, also said he would keep looking for changes to win more support.

Manchin said Senate leaders should not wait to move forward with a bill improving mental health treatment in schools and efforts to prevent those judged mentally unfit from purchasing guns.

Before abandoning the bill on Thursday, senators easily approved two non-controversial amendments. A Republican amendment from Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming to protect the privacy of gun ownership information passed by 67-30.

A Democratic amendment from Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa to support and encourage school violence prevention efforts, suicide prevention and mental health awareness passed with only two dissenting votes - Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

But those amendments were attached to the existing bill, which includes an even tougher background checks proposal than the one already defeated in the Senate, giving it no chance of approval.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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