The U.S. Senate, in a surprise move, defeated legislation that would have given the gun industry protections from civil lawsuits. The action Tuesday came after gun control advocates amended the bill to extend an assault weapons ban and require background checks at gun shows.
The day began with victories for gun control supporters. The Senate voted to extend for another 10 years the 1994 ban on the sale of semi-automatic weapons, and to require those who buy weapons at gun shows to undergo the same criminal background checks that are required at licensed gun stores.
The votes were close in the narrowly-divided Senate. Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina broke away from their campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination to return to Washington to cast key votes.
Senator Kerry voiced his support for extending the assault weapons ban in a speech on the Senate floor. "There is no right to place military-style assault weapons into the hands of terrorists and, or, criminals who wish to cause American families harm. There is no right to have access to weapons of war in the streets of America," he said.
But that measure, and the one requiring background checks at gun shows, were both opposed by the politically influential National Rifle Association, even though the NRA supported the overall bill to which the two amendments were attached. That bill would have barred victims of gun crimes from filing law suits against gun manufacturers and dealers.
The NRA called on its Republican allies in the Senate to vote down the legislation after the gun control amendments were approved.
Senator Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican and bill's sponsor, took that message to the Senate floor ahead of the vote. "I would love to see this bill pass. But I believe it is so dramatically wounded, that it should not pass. I would urge my colleagues to vote against it," he said.
The 90 to eight vote against the bill makes it unlikely that the matter will come up again this year.
Although President Bush has signaled his support for extending the assault weapons ban, the White House opposed attaching the issue to legislation protecting the gun industry from civil lawsuits, fearing it would hurt chances of congressional passage.
The House of Representatives last year passed legislation immunizing the gun industry from lawsuits. But House Republican leaders made clear they opposed extending the ban on assault weapons and said they would not allow a vote on the issue.