WASHINGTON - Just days after U.S. senators defeated a bid to expand background checks on potential gun buyers, Americans are asking how the Boston Marathon bombing suspects acquired a cache of firearms alongside their explosives.

Among the weapons officials have said were in the possession of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were not only several bombs, but handguns, an M-4 carbine rifle and more than 250 rounds of ammunition.

Much of that arsenal was on fiery display when the brothers engaged in a wild gun battle with police in suburban Watertown early Friday, shortly after images of them milling about the marathon's finish line were released to the public by the FBI.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died following that gun battle while a Boston transit police officer was gravely wounded. The Tsarnaev brothers are also the prime suspects in the execution-style shooting of a security officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a couple of hours before the gun battle.

"There was a lot of firepower employed," White House press secretary Jay Carney told the daily news briefing on Monday.

"But beyond that, which is information that's obvious to anyone who was paying attention, I'm not going to characterize ... what weapons may or may not have been recovered."

Carney added that President Barack Obama is determined to push through "common-sense measures and make them law to reduce gun violence in America" despite the defeat of his proposals last week.

Neither Tsarnaev brother had licences to carry firearms, police say.

But even if they'd wanted to acquire the weapons legally — unlikely, considering they were allegedly plotting a terrorist attack — they could have obtained them without submitting to a background check under current laws.

Tougher background checks likely would have caused problems for Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died following the shootout, given his past brushes with authorities.

Tsarnaev's father, Aznor, said from Russia last week that his eldest son was denied U.S. citizenship because he'd been charged with domestic assault after he was accused of hitting his American girlfriend three years ago.

The FBI also had Tsarnaev on their radar as someone Russia suspected had links to terrorists, something that might also have tripped him up if he'd legally attempted to purchase firearms from a licensed dealer.

Last week, the U.S. Senate voted against modest gun control proposals that would have expanded and strengthened background checks for firearms purchases. Under current law, Americans wishing to obtain guns need to have a background check for certain types of purchases — such as from a licensed dealer — but aren't subjected to them if they buy them elsewhere, including at gun shows or on the Internet.

Police aren't certain how or where the bombing suspects obtained such an array of expensive weaponry.

Tsarnaev's younger brother, Dzhokhar, 19, was charged in the bombings on Monday as he lay in a Boston hospital bed recovering from gunshot wounds, including a neck injury believed to be self-inflicted and the result of a failed suicide attempt.

The 19-year-old college student is charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction against persons and property in the U.S. resulting in death. He faces a death sentence.

The White House announced earlier Monday that the teen would not be deemed an enemy combatant — a classification some Republican lawmakers had pushed for. As a U.S. citizen, the younger Tsarnaev brother will be tried in a civilian court.

"We will prosecute this terrorist through our civilian system of justice," Carney said.

He added it was illegal to try an American citizen in a military commission, pointing out that several high-profile terrorism cases have been handled in civilian courts. That includes the trial of the so-called underwear bomber, who was convicted of trying to bring down a passenger jet in late 2009 by detonating explosives in his undergarments.

The debate about how to handle accused terrorists is now dovetailing with the ongoing national debate about gun control. Not surprisingly, both sides on the argument are pointing to the Boston Marathon bombings to bolster their case.

Gun control advocates are expressing alarm at how easily the suspects were apparently able to acquire powerful weaponry, possibly without even breaking any laws if they obtained them at gun shows.

"The bombs are a reach from the gun legislation, but they did have guns," Patricia Maich, a survivor of 2011's mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., said Monday.

"I don't know if they were illegal or legal. But we are not Pollyannas. We know that not every gun violence issue and incident will be stopped by a background check. But it certainly will stop some."

Those opposed to gun control, on the other hand, say the Boston bombings prove that gun laws don't work.

"Last week's events simply do not bring the national debate on gun control laws back into the picture. If anything, the Tsarnaev brothers have highlighted why gun control laws don't work," wrote Jason Pye on the right-wing United Liberty website.

"No matter how restrictive gun laws are, criminals will still obtain firearms. They don't care about the restrictions or background checks. These two guys were set on killing people in whatever manner they could, no law was going to prevent that."

A majority of the Senate supported the legislation to strengthen background checks, but it failed to get the 60 votes needed to move ahead. Polls suggest 90 per cent of Americans, including gun owners and Republicans, support tougher background checks.

Obama accused the powerful National Rifle Association of lying to the public about gun control while he lambasted the Senate last week for failing to pass new laws on background checks. The NRA contributes funding to many lawmakers, and warned it would hold them accountable if they voted for the president's gun control proposals.

The NRA even opposes legislation banning gun sales to people on the existing terrorist watchlist, however. The organization argues that the watchlist is arbitrary and has no due process behind it.

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  • In this photo provided by The Daily Free Press and Kenshin Okubo, people react to an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Daily Free Press, Kenshin Okubo) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion Monday, April 15, 2013 in Boston. Two bombs exploded near the finish line of the marathon on Monday, killing at least two people, injuring at least 22 others and sending authorities rushing to aid wounded spectators. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Boston police clear an area following an explosion near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Medical personnel work outside the medical tent in the aftermath of two blasts which exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • An unidentified Boston Marathon runner, center, is reunited with loved ones near Copley Square following an explosion in Boston Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

  • Medical workers aid an injured woman at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following two explosions there, Monday, April 15, 2013 in Boston. Two bombs exploded near the finish of the Boston Marathon on Monday, killing at least two people, injuring at least 23 others and sending authorities rushing to aid wounded spectators. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Boston Herald, Stuart Cahill) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • In this photo provided by The Daily Free Press and Kenshin Okubo, people react to an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Daily Free Press, Kenshin Okubo) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • In this photo provided by The Daily Free Press and Kenshin Okubo, people react to an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Daily Free Press, Kenshin Okubo) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • In this photo provided by The Daily Free Press and Kenshin Okubo, people assist an injured after an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Daily Free Press, Kenshin Okubo) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • Medical workers aid an injured woman at the scene of a bomb blast near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, killing at least two people and injuring at scores of others (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, killing at least two people and injuring dozens of others (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Runners who were diverted from the race course walk on the Commonwealth Mall two blocks from the site of an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, killing at least two people and injuring at least 23 others. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

  • Una mujer llora afectada por una explosión mientras caminan cerca de la línea de meta de la Maratón de Boston el lunes 15 de abril de 2013. Dos bombas estallaron el lunes causando la muerte de dos personas y heridas a otras 50, informó la Policía de Boston. (AP Foto/Josh Reynolds)

  • An armed FBI agent passes a Boston police officer following an explosion at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)

  • A firefighter tends to an injured man following an explosion near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

  • One of the blast sites on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon is investigated by a person in a protective suit in the wake of two blasts in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • Firefighters tend to a man following an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon finish line Monday killing at least two people injuring dozens. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

  • In this photo provided by The Daily Free Press and Kenshin Okubo, people react to an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Daily Free Press, Kenshin Okubo) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • Two people walk down the sidewalk as Boston police clear the area in Copley Square in the aftermath of two blasts which exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston Monday, April 15, 2013. The explosions Monday killed at least two people and injured dozens. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • This photo provided by Bruce Mendelsohn shows the scene after two explosions occurred during the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/ Bruce Mendelsohn) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • Medical workers respond following an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Boston Globe, David L Ryan) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • Boston police direct runners who were diverted from the race course following an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

  • Medical workers aid injured people at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Boston Globe, David L Ryan) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • Medical workers aid injured people at the 2013 Boston Marathon following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Boston Globe, David L Ryan) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • Blood from victims covers the sidewalk on Boylston Street, at the site of an explosion during the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. At the right foreground is a folding chair with the design of an American flag on the cover. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

  • Chris Darmody, right, holds his wife Sue in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Chris says he was waiting for Sue when an explosion detonated near his location at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The couple were later reunited after all runners were diverted from the course. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

  • Emergency responders comfort a woman on a stretcher who was injured in a bomb blast near the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday, April 15, 2013 in Boston. Two bombs exploded in the packed streets near the finish line of the marathon on Monday, killing at least two people and injuring more than 80, authorities said. (AP Photo/Jeremy Pavia)

  • Emergency responders aid a woman on a stretcher who was injured in a bomb blast near the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday, April 15, 2013 in Boston. Two bombs exploded in the packed streets near the finish line of the marathon on Monday, killing at least two people and injuring more than 80, authorities said. (AP Photo/Jeremy Pavia)

  • Emergency responders comfort a woman on a stretcher who was injured in a bomb blast near the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday, April 15, 2013 in Boston. Two bombs exploded in the packed streets near the finish line of the marathon on Monday, killing at least two people and injuring more than 80, authorities said. (AP Photo/Jeremy Pavia)

  • Rescue personnel aid injured people near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following explosions in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Boston Herald, Stuart Cahill)

  • Rescue personnel aid injured people near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon following explosions in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Boston Herald, Stuart Cahill)

  • Injured people and debris lie on the sidewalk near the Boston Marathon finish line following an explosion in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/MetroWest Daily News, Ken McGagh) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • As Boston Marathon runners walk by, SWAT team members stand guard near the finish line in Boston Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. ( (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

  • People react to an explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions shattered the euphoria of the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Boston Herald, Stuart Cahill) BOSTON GLOBE OUT; METRO BOSTON OUT; MAGS OUT;

  • Investigators shine flashlights at one of the blast sites on Boylston Street near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon in the wake of two blasts in Boston Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • In this image from video provided by Ryan Hoyme, the second explosion can be seen in the distance as smoke from the first explosion surrounds spectators exiting the stands during the Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Ryan Hoyme)

  • knocked down runner

    Bill Iffrig, 78, lies on the ground as police officers react to a second explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Iffrig, of Lake Stevens, Wash., was running his third Boston Marathon and near the finish line when he was knocked down by one of two bomb blasts. (AP Photo/The Boston Globe, John Tlumacki)

  • A Boston Marathon runner leaves the course crying near Copley Square following an explosion at the finish line in Boston on Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

  • People react as an explosion goes off near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013. Two explosions went off at the Boston Marathon finish line on Monday, sending authorities out on the course to carry off the injured while the stragglers were rerouted away from the smoking site of the blasts. (AP Photo/The Boston Globe, David L Ryan) MANDATORY CREDIT

  • Multiple People Injured After Explosions Near Finish Line at Boston Marathon

    BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: A runner embraces another woman on the marathon route near Kenmore Square after two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)

  • Multiple People Injured After Explosions Near Finish Line at Boston Marathon

    BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: A runner reacts near Kenmore Square after two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)

  • Multiple People Injured After Explosions Near Finish Line at Boston Marathon

    BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: A runner embraces another woman near Kenmore Square after two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)

  • Multiple People Injured After Explosions Near Finish Line at Boston Marathon

    BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: A woman is loaded into an ambulance after he was injured by one of two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon near Copley Square on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

  • Multiple People Injured After Explosions Near Finish Line at Boston Marathon

    BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: A woman is loaded into an ambulance after he was injured by one of two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon near Copley Square on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

  • Multiple People Injured After Explosions Near Finish Line at Boston Marathon

    BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: A woman, with blood on fingers, is loaded into an ambulance after being injured after two bombs exploded on the marathon route on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

  • Multiple People Injured After Explosions Near Finish Line at Boston Marathon

    BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: A woman looks at the blood on her hands as she is loaded into an ambulance after being injured after two bombs exploded on the marathon route on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

  • Multiple People Injured After Explosions Near Finish Line at Boston Marathon

    BOSTON, MA - APRIL 15: Two blood stained feet of a man hang outside an ambulance outside a medical tent located near the finish of the 117th Boston Marathon after two bombs exploded on the marathon route on April 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

  • Boston police ask people to leave the area in Copley Plaza in the aftermath of two blasts which exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston Monday, April 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • Paramédicos asisten a un hombre herido después de una explosión en Boston el Lunes 15 de Abril de 2013. Dos bombas estallaron cerca de la línea de meta del maratón de Boston, causaron dos muertos y 22 heridos, dijeron la policía y los organizadores de la competición. (AP Foto/The Boston Globe, David L. Ryan)

  • Uniformed Division Secret Service officers stand watch on the sidewalk in front of the White House looking north from Pennsylvania Avenue during heightened security following the explosions in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013 in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)