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DAVID GREENE, HOST:
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We are following two major stories this morning. One is the fire and explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant. We'll have more on that in a moment.
INSKEEP: We begin with a victory for gun rights groups and a stinging defeat for gun control. Senate Republicans joined a small group of Democrats to reject every major gun control proposal President Obama has been pushing since the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.
GREENE: Some proposals had the votes of a majority of the 100 senators but all fell short of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate.
As NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.
AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: It was a day where actually everybody's proposal failed, even the ones backed by gun rights supporters. But they could still say they won, because ultimately nothing changed. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had been staunchly against the bipartisan plan to expand background checks. And he says he would say this to the families in Newtown who were hoping to see major gun control legislation pass.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: I'm glad we had the gun debate. I voted to proceed. I wanted to be able to tell the families, yes, I want this debate. Here's my view of the problem and how to solve it. I think we owe that to every American, particularly the families.
CHANG: But after that debate Newtown families watched in the Senate gallery as amendment after amendment came up short of the 60 votes needed. Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama says he mourns the victims of gun violence, but that grief should not compel lawmakers to trample on the Second Amendment.
SENATOR RICHARD SHELBY REPUBLICAN, ALABAMA: The harsh but unavoidable fact is that no amount of government intervention can prevent irrational people from doing terrible things. Therefore we should not react to these tragedies in an irrational manner here in the Senate that would erode a fundamental right of every citizen in the United States.
CHANG: One irrational reaction, at least to lawmakers like Shelby, would have been voting for the proposal to expand background checks to online sales and gun shows. Few people had expected the assault weapons ban or the limit on ammunition magazines to succeed. So the background checks proposal was the only hope Senate leaders had to deliver one small piece of what the president wanted.
Some Democrats who had pushed for gun control seemed genuinely bewildered by how hard the fight had become, like Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY: I really do believe that, you know, there is a new strain of gun control Darwinism in the Senate, in which, you know, members truly believe that the way to get guns away from criminals is to put guns in the hands of everyone and just hope that the shoot-out turns out OK.
CHANG: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the fight is not over. He had actually voted against the background checks provision, so he'd be permitted under Senate rules to bring up the amendment again. But it's not clear what difference more time would make.
Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.