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If there were ever a moment that symbolized the difference between the power of public opinion and the strength of a concerted minority, it came Wednesday when the U.S. Senate defeated a bipartisan measure to expand background checks on gun purchases.

By the time the vote took place, the outcome was expected. But the result was stunning nonetheless, as was made clear by the angry reaction of President Barack Obama, who had invested so much capital on getting gun legislation passed after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, only to see those efforts crushed on the first real test.

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