US Senate drops plan to ban assault weapons
Proposal followed the massacre at Connecticut school in which 26 people died
Senate majority leader Harry Reid speaks to the press after the weekly Senate Democrats policy luncheon yesterday in Washington, DC. Photograph: Getty
It was the latest blow to the White House's gun control plans which are fading as Republicans and even some Democrats baulk at taking on the powerful gun lobby.
Less than half of the Senate backs the assault weapons ban, Mr Reid said, which would condemn it to failure when gun control legislation comes to the floor of the chamber next month.
Prohibition on the sale of assault weapons was always the most controversial element of Mr Obama's attempt to stem gun violence since December's massacre at a Connecticut school where 26 people died.
Backed by a lobbying campaign from the National Rifle Association, many lawmakers argue that bringing back a ban that ran out in 2004 infringes Americans' constitutional right to bear arms.
“Right now,” Mr Reid told reporters, the bill by Senator Dianne Feinstein to renew the ban “has less than 40 votes” in the 100-member chamber.
Other gun control efforts like universal background checks on people buying guns are also struggling in Congress, despite public anger at the Connecticut shooting and other massacres.
Along with immigration reform, gun control is a top domestic policy priority for Mr Obama at the start of his second term, and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough refused to concede defeat on the assault weapons ban.
“We're going to work on this. We're going to find the votes, and it deserves a vote. Let's see if we can get it done,” Mr McDonough told CNN.
Senators are likely to vote on the ban in April as an amendment to other gun control legislation, but its chances of success are now virtually nil. Sixty votes would be needed to clear an anticipated Republican procedural roadblock.
Democrats control the chamber, 55-45, meaning that a number of Mr Reid's fellow Democrats have made it clear that they intend to oppose renewing the ban.
Other Democrats who support outlawing assault weapons sales appeared resigned.
Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York said she would be disappointed if Congress refused to renew the prohibition.
“But there are many things that can be done to reduce gun violence - including restricting high-capacity magazines, strengthening background checks, stopping traffickers and improving school safety,”Mr McCarthy said.