The US Senate has voted against new legislation to expand background checks for gun purchasers, dealing a blow to President Barack Obama's hopes of gun control reform after the school shootings at Sandy Hook in December.
An angry Obama, surrounded by shooting victims and families of victims, said the powerful gun control lobby "willfully lied" to the Americapeople.
"All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington," the president said. "Who are we here to represent?"
Several amendments to a gun control bill went to the Senate floor, including bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, but the key proposal was a bipartisan compromise calling for background checks to be mandatory for any firearms sales conducted online or at gun shows.
Fifty-four Senators voted in favour of the proposal to 46 against, but the amendment required 60 votes to pass. The poll was presided over by US-President Joe Biden, who has led the Obama administration's lobbying effort to secure new firearms legislation.
Among those present to watch the defeat were families of those killed in mass shootings at Sandy Hook; at Aurora, Colorado; at Tucson and at Virginia Tech. The result was greeted by a cry of "Shame on you!" from the public gallery.
The defeated amendment was crafted by Republican Senator Patrick Toomey, and Democrat Joe Manchin, who addressed a near-empty Senate chamber prior to the vote. Mr Manchin, a hunter and gun owner who was previously awarded an "A" rating by the National Rifle Association (NRA), criticised the gun lobby for having spread misinformation about the proposal. This week the NRA reportedly spent $500,000 (£328,000) on internet advertising in a bid to crush the bill. The ad, which ran on news websites, suggested the legislation would have no effect on crime.
Democrat Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, voiced support for an assault weapons ban, despite his own longstanding and close relationship with the NRA, saying Second Amendment activists had used "shameful scare tactics" to derail the bill. In an emotional appeal to the Senate before the vote, Mr Reid said: "The American people have a long, long memory. To vote against something that 90 per cent of the American people want, the American people aren't going to forget about that."
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a leading gun control advocate, described the defeat as a "damning indictment of the stranglehold that special interests have on Washington".
A version of the bill may yet be revived in the future, Senate leaders suggested, given public support for new gun control measures