Weary Democrats ended a 25-hour 'sit-in' at the House of Representatives shortly after noon on Thursday as it became increasingly clear they had no chance of forcing a vote on gun control at least until after the July 4 Independence Day break.
But they vowed to return to the vexed and deeply emotional issue of gun control when Congress returns.
Republicans had adjourned the House shortly after 3 a.m. and the Democratic protest was playing out largely on social media, with only about two dozen defiant lawmakers making speeches and, sometimes, reading long passages from the Bible.
With posters bearing the pictures of dozens slaughtered in numerous massacres, the Democrats were hoping to re-ignite a national debate on gun control.
Outside the Capitol, the hundreds of protesters who originally gathered to back the sit-in had largely dispersed on a wet Thursday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, dismissed the protest as a "publicity stunt" and refused to change the House agenda. Instead, the Republican majority retook control of the chamber in the middle of the night, passed a bill funding measures to combat the Zika virus and then adjourned the House until after the July 4 Independence Day holiday.
Mr. Ryan also ordered House video cameras shut down early in the protest, but Democrats responded by live-streaming the sit-in on social media. C-Span, the channel that usually carries official gavel-to-gavel coverage of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, rebroadcast the unorthodox feed.
"Just because they cut and run in the dark of night, just because they have left doesn't mean we are taking 'no' for an answer," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.
More than 30,000 people are killed by gunfire annually in the United States – more than half of them suicides and most involving handguns. But in the wake of the latest mass murder in Orlando, outrage over so-called assault weapons – military-style rifles – has again prompted calls for them to be banned and for other gun-control measures.
Democrats in Congress have proposed banning anyone on the government's no-fly list from buying any kind of weapon.
Four gun-control proposals – two from Republicans and two from Democrats – all failed for lack of support in the Senate this week. But negotiations for a compromise bill were under way in the Senate. If new legislation emerges, it would be the first federal curb on guns since the 1994 assault-weapon ban, which lapsed a decade later.
"I am prepared to stay here until hell freezes over," said Maxine Waters, a California Democrat. But the sit-in, which attracted more than 160 of the 188 House Democrats and a dozen senators in its early hours, seemed to be nearing an end 18 hours later. The rhetoric was still resounding, but only a couple of dozen members remained.
Republicans are "slaves to the NRA," said Donald Payne, a New Jersey Democrat, referring to the National Rifle Association, widely regarded as the most powerful domestic lobby group in the United States.
Democrats claimed the protest had succeeded if only because it attracted nationwide attention.
"It sends a message to Americans and to our Republican colleagues that we have a duty to make a difference," said Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat.
Wrapped in blankets and defying rules against eating on the House floor, Democrats spent the night making speeches and heaping scorn on their Republican opponents.
The protest almost turned violent when Republicans re-entered the House in the middle of the night to force through several votes. Shouting matches erupted, and at least one pair of angry legislators on the verge of fisticuffs had to be separated.
John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and a civil-rights leader who played a significant role in the peaceful protests of the 1960s, compared that era to the nascent effort to build a national movement on gun control.
"Today we've come a distance. We've made some progress. We've crossed one bridge, but we have other bridges to cross," Mr. Lewis said. "And when we come back in July, we'll start all over again. The American people, they want us to act, they want us to do something."