WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senate Republicans, backed by a small band of rural-state Democrats, turned away legislation Wednesday to tighten restrictions on the sale of firearms, rejecting repeated appeals from President Barack Obama and personal pleas by families of the victims of last winter’s mass elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.


Attempts to ban assault-style rifles and high capacity ammunition magazines also faced certain defeat in a series of showdown votes four months after a gunman killed 20 elementary school children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary.


The background check measure commanded a majority of senators, 54-46, but that was well short of the 60 votes needed to advance. Forty-one Republicans and five Democrats sided to scuttle the plan.


In the hours before the key vote, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., bluntly accused the National Rifle Association of making false claims about the expansion of background checks that he and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., were backing.


“Where I come from in West Virginia, I don’t know how to put the words any plainer than this: That is a lie. That is simply a lie,” he said, accusing the organization of telling its supporters that friends, neighbors and some family members would need federal permission to transfer ownership of firearms to one another.


The NRA did not respond immediately to the charge, but issued a statement after the vote that restated the claim. The proposal “would have criminalized certain private transfers of firearms between honest citizens, requiring lifelong friends, neighbors and some family members to get federal government permission to exercise a fundamental right or face prosecution,” said a statement from Chris Cox, a top lobbyist for the group.


Said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, “Expanded background checks would not have prevented Newtown. Criminals do not submit to background checks.”


Senate votes were set on a total of nine provisions, some advanced by lawmakers on each side of an issue in which Democrats from rural or Southern states generally lined up with the overwhelming majority of Republicans.