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For gun control, now what? A look at the issue

Thursday - 4/18/2013, 8:04pm  ET

Neil Heslin, father of six-year-old Newtown victim Jesse Lewis, left, and former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., stands by President Barack Obama as he gestures while speaking during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington, on Wednesday, April 17, 2013, about measures to reduce gun violence. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

CONNIE CASS
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The impassioned push for new gun laws, born from the slaughter of schoolchildren, has collided with the marble-hard realities of Congress.

Just persuading the Senate to debate tougher laws was considered a high hurdle for gun control advocates. They did it with the aid of Newtown, Conn., families, who brought photos and stories of the slain to the Capitol. A series of Senate votes Wednesday marked the biggest moment in nearly two decades for those who want to limit guns in America, and for those who don't. Gun control failed.

Afterward, President Barack Obama said his administration would do what it can without Congress. And Obama said now that the issue has been revived, it won't go away.

But it's unclear what, if anything, comes next in gun politics. A look at the issue:

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THE TRAGEDIES

Twenty children -- all first-graders, just 6 or 7 years old -- felled by semi-automatic rifle fire within five minutes. Six women -- teachers, aides and the principal -- gunned down. The shooter also took his own life and, before heading to Sandy Hook Elementary School, killed his mother.

The carnage in Newtown shocked a nation and its leaders. Yet, a shooting takes multiple lives at a high school or college nearly every year. Almost two years before Newtown, a congresswoman was wounded in a deadly attack that led Obama to call for "a new discussion" of gun laws. He didn't press the issue then.

Gun rights supporters say appealing to emotion after such tragedies leads to misguided policies that make it harder for law-abiding Americans to protect themselves. The nation should focus on protecting its schools, the National Rifle Association says.

Among the mass shootings that have most influenced the gun debate:

-- July 2012 in Aurora, Colo.: A gunman sprays bullets into a packed theater on the opening night of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises." Twelve people are killed, 70 injured. James Holmes, 25, is awaiting trial, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty.

-- January 2011 in Tucson, Ariz.: Six people are fatally shot and 13 injured at a meet-and-greet event outside a supermarket for then-U.S Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. She has become an advocate for stricter gun laws as she recovers from a devastating head wound. Jared L. Loughner, 24, pleaded guilty and is serving life in prison.

-- November 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas: Thirteen soldiers and civilians are killed and more than two dozen wounded when a gunman walks into the Soldier Readiness Processing Center and opens fire. Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan is awaiting trial.

-- April 2007 at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg: In the deadliest U.S. school shooting, student Seung-Hui Cho kills 32 students and faculty in a dorm and a classroom building before committing suicide.

-- April 1999 in Littleton, Colo.: Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold kill 12 classmates and a teacher and wound 26 others before killing themselves in the school's library.

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OBAMA'S PLAN

Obama said the Newtown horror obligated the nation to finally act to reduce gun violence. He wanted Congress to:

--Extend federal background checks to almost all gun sales.

--Ban the sale on some semi-automatic rifles considered "assault weapons."

--Ban the sale of ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds.

--Provide money to help more schools add specially trained police officers, psychologists or counselors.

--Help more people get mental health care.

Obama also made some changes by executive order, including:

--Steps to encourage states to submit more data to the federal background check system.

--Directing government agencies to study causes and prevention of gun violence. A law banning the use of federal money to "advocate or promote gun control" had squelched federal research.

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WHERE IT STANDS NOW

The major components of Obama's plan -- background checks, the assault weapons ban, the limit on ammunition magazines -- were quashed by the Senate.

Some members of his own Democratic Party, which controls the Senate, opposed the measures. Republicans were nearly united against them.

At a news conference with the president, Mark Barden, who lost his 7-year-old son, Daniel, in the Newtown shooting, said the families would return home "disappointed but not defeated."

Obama urged supporters to pressure Congress to reconsider the issue and voters to remember it on Election Day. "I see this as just round one," he said.

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SHIFTING OPINIONS

Public support for tightening gun laws has dropped off as the Dec. 14 school shooting slips further into the past.

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