WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork) -- Gun control was on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday after an attempt by conservatives to block the bills failed.
But as CBS 2's Danielle Nottingham reported, the real debate was just beginning.
Gun control activists placed crosses for shooting victims on the National Mall earlier in the day and pressed Congress for action.
In the Senate, the first vote went their way. Sixteen Republicans joined 52 Democrats to block a conservative effort that would have stopped the debate on new gun legislation before it even began.
"I salute those members from both sides of the aisle that motion to proceed but especially from the other side," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
Eye on Politics: Sen. Richard Blumenthal
After the vote, President Barack Obama called families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, who've spent the week meeting with lawmakers, and congratulated them on this first step.
"It's a very big deal because the brave families of Newtown really turned the tide in this debate," Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told WCBS 880's Steve Scott for Thursday's Eye on Politics segment. "They came to Washington to tell their stories and advocate for change at a time when we were given virtually no chance of prevailing on this vote to break the blockade, the filibuster, that would have prevented us from even moving forward to votes on measures that are necessary to stop gun violence."
Senators were to begin the debate with the expanded background check compromise that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) announced Wednesday, but several Republicans said they won't support it.
"The government should not punish or harass law-abiding citizens in the exercise of their Second Amendment rights," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Opponents argued that the restrictions would violate the Constitution's right to bear arms and would be ignored by criminals.
"Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools,'' the NRA said in a statement.
On the National Mall, volunteers placed 3,300 markers, one for each victim of gun violence since the Newtown, Conn., tragedy. Religious leaders took turns reading the victims' names, CBS 2's Nottingham reported.
Pastor Samuel Saylor of Hartford, Conn., said the issue hit close to home. His own son was shot and killed last October. He said he wants lawmakers to see the toll gun violence is taking.
"When you see America, this is the vision we want you to have -- that children live; that they are not huddled in corners, losing their lives to assassins' bullets," Saylor said.
The Senate is expected to take a vote on the background check measure next week.
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