Newtown families 'disgusted' by Senate 'cowardice' on guns

Family members of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre are lashing out at Senate opponents of tougher gun laws, accusing them of "cowardice" just days after lawmakers blocked legislation designed to fight gun violence.

"I'm honestly disgusted that there were so many senators that are doing nothing about the fact that my mom was gunned down in her elementary school. It's grossly unfair to the family members of Newtown, as well as all other gun violence victims," Erica Lafferty, the daughter of Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was killed in the rampage, told CBS’s Bob Schieffer Sunday on "Face the Nation."  

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"My mom was not scared in the halls of Sandy Hook," Lafferty added. "They should not be scared to cast a vote to protect millions of innocent people." 

Carlee Soto, whose sister Victoria was a Sandy Hook teacher also killed while trying to shield her students, delivered a similar message to the upper chamber Sunday.

"My sister was not a coward, she protected her kids," Soto said. "Why aren't they protecting us?"

Their comments come four days after the Senate blocked a series of gun control bills, marking a resounding defeat for one of President Obama's top second-term priorities.

Central to that effort was a proposal, sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), to expand mandatory background checks to all firearm sales at gun shows and on the Internet. Under current federal law, only licensed gun dealers are required to conduct those screenings.

Although the measure explicitly prohibited the creation of a national gun registry, conservative opponents said it would do just that. Fueled by a lobbying blitz from the National Rifle Association (NRA), the Senate blocked the bill, which attracted the support of 55 senators – five shy of the number needed to defeat a Republican filibuster.

"As we have noted previously, expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools," Chris Cox, head of the NRA's lobbying arm, said in a statement after the vote.

Neil Heslin, whose six-year-old son Jesse was also among the victims of December's rampage in Newtown, accused the opponents of having misplaced priorities and lamented the political nature of the vote.

"They're not standing up for what they should be," he said. "I don't think they did justice for all the victims of Newtown."

Asked by Schieffer if he thinks it's appropriate to attach the "cowardice" label to those lawmakers who opposed the background check bill, Heslin said, "I do."

Appearing later on the show, two prominent Republicans – Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City, and Tom Ridge, former head of the Homeland Security Department – said they supported the background check bill and regretted its defeat.

"It is certainly within the right, as a matter of public policy, to circumscribe your ability to access certain kinds of firearms. And I certainly thought at least the background check would find bipartisan support," Ridge said. "I regret that it didn't."

Despite the setback, Obama and other gun control supporters are vowing not to give up their push for tougher laws. 

"We're not going away," Soto said. "We knew going into it that we weren't going to get the 60 votes, but we also knew that this is just the beginning … We're going to keep fighting."

Lafferty suggested the opponents of tougher restrictions simply lack the empathy to fight harder to keep guns out of the hands of violent people. She wondered if anything short of a tragedy could cause them to reconsider.

"I just hope that nothing like this has to happen to any of them," she told Schieffer. "But I think you have to be in our shoes to understand how bad it hurts."