Newtown families: Senators who filibuster gun background check bill should be ‘ashamed’

Dozens of relatives of victims in the Dec. 14 shooting spree in Newtown, Conn., released a statement Thursday shaming senators who attempted to block, or filibuster, a vote on legislation that would expand criminal background checks for gun purchases.

Senators voted Thursday morning on whether to block the legislation crafted by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey from coming to a vote. While 31 senators, including two Democrats, did vote to block the bill, a bipartisan group of 68 senators from both parties voted to allow a debate and vote on the bill to proceed.

"The Senators who have vowed to filibuster this bill should be ashamed of their attempt to silence efforts to prevent the next American tragedy," reads the statement, signed by more than 33 relatives of the 20 children and 6 educators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. "We thank Senators Manchin and Toomey for coming together to honor the memory of the victims of Sandy Hook, and we urge their colleagues in Congress to join them."

Manchin and Toomey hammered out a deal this week that would expand criminal background checks to cover gun shows and online purchases. Their compromise does not go as far as many Democrats wanted, since it exempts gun transfers among relatives, friends and neighbors from background checks.

The daughter of Dawn Hochsprung, the slain principal of Sandy Hook Elementary, and a relative of Victoria Soto, a first-grade teacher who reportedly died while shielding her students, appeared in a brief news conference Thursday morning with Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut to urge the Senate to let a vote proceed. The plea apparently worked.

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah are among those who voted against debating the bill on Thursday. Cruz defended the tactic to radio host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday, saying there should be a 60-vote threshold before a debate on curbing gun rights. Democrats hold 55 seats in the Senate, but 60 senators must vote before a bill can be debated. According to the Dallas Morning News, Cruz spoke by phone with Erica Lafferty, Hochsprung's daughter, this week, to hear her concerns.

“He certainly feels for her loss,” Cruz's spokeswoman told the paper. “But the legislation being considered right now wouldn’t have prevented that tragedy.”

The National Rifle Association has also said that tighter background checks would not have prevented Newtown shooter Adam Lanza from accessing weapons, since they were reportedly purchased by his mother, who had no criminal record.