White House denounces senators as cowards on gun control

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The White House accused U.S. senators of sacrificing national security for their political ambitions on Tuesday, a day after four gun control measures failed to advance after the nation's largest mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, last week.

"What we saw last night on the floor of the United States Senate was a shameful display of cowardice," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on MSNBC. 

Earnest said the bills put forth for votes on Monday evening should have drawn strong bipartisan support aimed at shoring up the country's defenses by keeping firearms away from people on terrorism watch lists.

He said U.S. law enforcement officials are concerned that there are individuals in the United States who could have ties to terrorism or are susceptible to online recruitment efforts of the militant group Islamic State.

"And right now there is not a law on the books that prevents those individuals from walking into a gun store and buying a gun," Earnest said. 

The Senate votes against the measures restricting gun sales came after 49 people were killed on June 12 in an Orlando gay nightclub. The votes were a bitter setback to advocates who have failed to get even modest gun curbs through Congress despite repeated mass shootings.

The Orlando gunman, Omar Mateen, pledged allegiance to Islamic State during his rampage.

The gun control measures lost in largely party-line votes that showed the political power in Congress of gun rights defenders and the National Rifle Association (NRA).

"Republicans have run around and spent the last week saying ‘radical Islamic extremism’ to anybody who will listen,” Earnest said. "But when it actually comes to preventing those extremists from being able to walk into a gun store and buy a gun, they're AWOL. They won't do anything about it because they're scared of the NRA. That's shameful."

A group of senators hoped to forge a compromise for later in the week aimed at keeping firearms away from people on terrorism watch lists, although that effort faced an uphill battle with critics in both parties skeptical about its chances.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott)

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