April 17th, 2013
06:15 PM ET
12 months ago

Public opinion gets trumped in gun control defeat

Washington (CNN) – Four months after the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, the gun-control proposal with arguably the best chance of passing through Congress went down to defeat. And in this case, a powerful gun lobby, coupled with 2014 campaign politics, trumped public opinion.

A bipartisan yet controversial proposal that would have extended current background checks for gun buyers to include gun shows and internet sales Wednesday fell six votes shy of the 60 needed in the Senate to advance through the chamber. The amendment by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania went down in defeat even though just about every national poll conducted the past couple of months indicated that the vast majority of Americans supported tougher background checks.

The most recent surveys included a CNN/ORC International poll released last week that indicated 86% of the public supported some form of background checks that are not currently required by law for gun sales, and an ABC News/Washington Post survey released Tuesday which indicated that 86% of Americans said they favored background checks for gun sales on the internet and at gun shows.

The two new polls were also in-line with past surveys by indicating no partisan divide on the question, with the vast majority of Democrats, independents, and even Republicans supporting increased background checks. The ABC/Washington Post survey also indicated that 86% of gun owning households supported the proposal.

The bill was backed by President Barack Obama, who's made gun control a signature issue since December's horrific shootings by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 20 young students and 6 adults dead. The president's been a vocal advocate for passing gun control legislation, and he's touted public opinion as he pushed Congress to act.

"The American people are trying to figure out: How can something have 90% support and yet not happen?" said the president in comments made at the Rose Garden in the White House, an hour after the vote in the Senate.

"All in all this was a pretty shameful day in Washington," added Obama, who was flanked by victims of gun violence.

"This is clearly a disappointed, frustrated president who's asking a question about how Washington can ever get anything done if they can't do something that nine of out of ten Americans want," said CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

But while the shocking events in Newtown influenced public opinion, in the end that wasn't enough. The White House originally pushed for passage of a new assault weapons ban as well as the limiting of high capacity ammunition magazines. But hopes of passing those proposals soon faded and they were stripped from the main Democratic bill introduced into the Senate, leaving tougher background checks as the last major component of gun legislation.

In the end, it wasn't just Republicans but also some Democrats from conservative states where gun rights are sacred, that sank the background checks compromise. Senators Mark Begich of Alaska, Max Baucus of Montana, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who all face re-election next year in red states, voted against the Manchin-Toomey proposal. So did Heidi Heitkamp. The freshman senator's not up for re-election for five and a half years but she's from North Dakota, another state with strong sentiment for gun owners rights.

The senators may have feared that voting in favor of increased background checks would hurt their re-election chances, especially with the extremely influential National Rifle Association, the leading advocate on gun rights, fiercely opposed to the Manchin-Toomey amendment. And the NRA's opposition seemed to serve as a counterweight to public opinion.

(Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also voted no at the last minute for procedural reasons, allowing him to bring the amendment back up at a later date.)

Besides Toomey, John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois were the only GOP senators to support the measure. For other Republican senators who considered supporting the proposal but ultimately voted no, re-election politics and the realization that even if the amendment had passed the Senate, it was likely to die in the GOP dominated House of Representatives, may have been factors in their decision making process.

"It came down to politics, the worry that that vocal minority of gun owners would come after them in future elections," said the president. "They worried that the gun lobby would spend a lot of money and paint them as anti-second amendment. And obviously a lot of Republicans had that fear but Democrats had that fear too. And they caved to that pressure."

CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash analyzed the vote this way: "There is a feeling that some of these middle of the roaders on the Republican and Democratic side decided that on this gun issue there was too much risk and not enough reward to defy the NRA lobby and many of the constituents in their states."

But the NRA, in a statement, called the Manchin-Toomeny amendment "misguided" and added that "as we have noted previously, expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools."

While polling indicated widespread support for increased background checks, recent surveys also pointed to two other factors that explain why the proposal failed to survive.

The ABC/Washington Post poll highlighted an engagement gap between those who own and those who don't own guns. About one in five gun owners questioned in the survey said they have at some point contacted a public official to express their views on gun control. That number dropped by half for those in non-gun households. Nineteen percent of gun owners say they've contributed to an organization engaged in the gun control issue, with just 4% of non-gun owners saying the same thing.

The CNN/ORC poll pointed to public concerns that increased background checks would lead to a federal registry of gun owners and their firearms, which according to the survey is opposed by 55% of Americans. And two-thirds of those questioned said that if the government did keep a list of gun owners, it would eventually use that list to take guns away from people who own them.

To allay such concerns, the Manchin-Toomey proposal included language to bar the creation of such a federal registry. But it appears that wasn't enough to save the measure.


Filed under: CNN/ORC International poll • Gun control • Gun rights • Polls • Senate
soundoff (1,553 Responses)
  1. usscott

    The vote did NOT trump public opinion. CNN's own poll questioned 1219 registered voters. Tell me how in anyone's mind 1219 voters = 330 MILLION people. Statistically it is zero. The president and every other lawmaker who wanted this has absolutely been using these families as props. The FBI and the Justice Department, both the POTUS and VPOTUS said themselves that this will not stop criminals from performing heinous acts of violence. So, why was it even being pursued? Politics and nothing more. It was never about "safety" or "reducing crime" it is and has always been about "controlling" the general population – period.

    April 18, 2013 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  2. ladeeda

    It was defeated with a minority vote in the Senate, when 90% of Americans, 80% of Republicans, and 70% of NRA members supported it.

    It is shameful.

    The only rights that were protected from infringement by defeating a background check, were those of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill.

    It shows that the GOP do not represent the American people and that a majority "yes" vote, like this bill had, can rarely get anything passed anymore as the GOP filibuster almost all legislation to stall progress – even their own at times – even the veteran's jobs bill – even the first extension of unemployment benefits at the height of the recession.

    It is all about defeating anything Obama proposes, distorting the facts and slowing the recovery, and we all pay the price for the route they have chosen to try to regain power.

    April 18, 2013 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  3. Nick-o

    We the people....'er I mean....We the NRA. C'mon senators, thanks so much for representing the will of the people of the United States.

    April 18, 2013 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  4. Rob

    Obama lied/mislead everyone. 90% do support 'background checks'...which ALREADY EXIST for ALL retail store, gun show, and internet purchases. 90% did NOT support the flawed Manchin bill. If you read Manchin's bill in detail the wording gives full permission for Eric Holder to create a Federal Registry despite the no registry penalty in the bill which is nullified by the use of the word "notwithstanding." Current polls show that over 50% of Americans were OPPOSED to the unconstitutional Manchin bill.

    April 18, 2013 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  5. sadtexasmom

    Why?! Why must horrible things happen for us to see wrong in a situation?!! I own a gun, many of them! I have small children in my home. I am a mom, a Christian, a rancher! Guns are a part of my life and I will attain to whatever regulations the government sets out for me to continue to have them. I am a good person, most of the people I know are gun owners and we are arguing over what?! I’ve bitten my tongue afraid I would say something wrong but I don’t know who to yell at or where to go. NONE of the tragedies have been my outlaws. They have been by people that got their gun form someone who legally owned it! Gangsters aren’t going to elementary schools to kill innocent children! People have to own up to the fact that they can store their guns better. They have to educate their children and be aware of the responsibility of owning a gun is not just using it, its also securing that someone can’t get to your gun when you are not watching! Why are we making it this hard!!! We are wonderful people so when did we get so fearful of laws and obeying laws! The NRA isn’t the only one with a voice! Who gave the NRA the right to speak on my behalf just because I own a gun!!! I want those that own guns like me to be more responsible! Sometimes we get so comfortable with using our guns that we forget that there are people using them against people, innocent people, and no matter how many “we” the good people own, our guns WON’T stop them!!!! We are wonderful people so when did we stop making good choices?! Is this a racial issue? Are we really fighting gun rights or is this hidden by racial tensions toward our president?! Let’s be honest with ourselves. I wanna scream until I lose my voice……YOU CAN READ ALL ABOUT THE HORRIBLE THINGS IN THE WORLD, YOU CAN TALK CRAP ON BLOGS, YOU GOT THE WORDS TO CHANGE A NATION BUT WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?! People that own guns…people like me, good people, look at the faces of tragedy claimed by guns owned by good people like us and realize that we HAVE to take more ownership of the seriousness of our weapons and do whatever we need to to ensure that all across the country people are educated and regulated to securely use, store, and maintain their guns. Please! Let’s get some airplay of our version of our events! LETS JOIN TOGETHER. I’m tired of hearing about Senators and politicians aimed at re-election……I’m not afraid…I’m don’t care about your agenda, I’m afraid of the kid who grabbed his Dad’s gun that will walk into the next elementary school to kill Mrs. 1st grade teacher (grandmother of four), and Suzie (daughter of Jeff and Sandy)……HELP THEM BEFORE WE CAN’T!!! PLEASE!!!!!! The only thing in this world that is permanent is death. I just hope I’m not the only one.

    April 18, 2013 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  6. maximusvad

    Election Day 2014

    April 18, 2013 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  7. ronald

    Obama said NRA lied, he has been doing that going on five years. Can't stop drugs from are kids so what make you think you can stop people from getting guns to kill others?

    April 18, 2013 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  8. JohnRJohnson

    Congress disgusts me.

    April 18, 2013 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  9. boohoolibs

    Waaaa, ObaMAO didn't get his way, waaaaaaaaa. We need more feel good legislation like we need another hole in our heads.

    April 18, 2013 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  10. george george

    Truly unbelievable. Disgraceful. What further proof do we need that our dysfunctional system needs to undergo constitutional changes. The founding fathers would be disgusted by our inability to act or change.

    April 18, 2013 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  11. Astonished

    I have never posted before and this will not be published, but I cannot remain silent. Yesterday the US Senate successfully protected our God-given right to murder six-year-olds. Any Senatorial blathering "explaining" No votes is insulting garbage. I have never been more disgusted in my life.

    April 18, 2013 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  12. Nick Naranja

    Can somebody explain how keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and nutjobs is a bad thing.

    April 18, 2013 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  13. Jeb

    Our government is for sale to the highest bidder.

    April 18, 2013 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  14. Watchdog

    These are the cowards who voted against the gun control and are soft on crime. They stood with the killer and against the victims of Newtown:

    Alexander (R-TN), Nay
    Ayotte (R-NH), Nay
    Barrasso (R-WY), Nay
    Baucus (D-MT), Nay
    Begich (D-AK), Nay
    Blunt (R-MO), Nay
    Boozman (R-AR), Nay
    Burr (R-NC), Nay
    Chambliss (R-GA), Nay
    Coats (R-IN), Nay
    Coburn (R-OK), Nay
    Cochran (R-MS), Nay
    Corker (R-TN), Nay
    Cornyn (R-TX), Nay
    Crapo (R-ID), Nay
    Cruz (R-TX), Nay
    Enzi (R-WY), Nay
    Fischer (R-NE), Nay
    Flake (R-AZ), Nay
    Graham (R-SC), Nay
    Grassley (R-IA), Nay
    Hatch (R-UT), Nay
    Heitkamp (D-ND), Nay
    Heller (R-NV), Nay
    Hoeven (R-ND), Nay
    Inhofe (R-OK), Nay
    Isakson (R-GA), Nay
    Johanns (R-NE), Nay
    Johnson (R-WI), Nay
    Lee (R-UT), Nay
    McConnell (R-KY), Nay
    Moran (R-KS), Nay
    Murkowski (R-AK), Nay
    Paul (R-KY), Nay
    Portman (R-OH), Nay
    Pryor (D-AR), Nay
    Reid (D-NV), Nay
    Risch (R-ID), Nay
    Roberts (R-KS), Nay
    Rubio (R-FL), Nay
    Scott (R-SC), Nay
    Sessions (R-AL), Nay
    Shelby (R-AL), Nay
    Thune (R-SD), Nay
    Vitter (R-LA), Nay
    Wicker (R-MS), Nay

    April 18, 2013 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  15. srichey321

    More proof that we are a nation run by thieves and criminals that have congress in their pocket.

    April 18, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  16. us_1776

    The GOP now owns every single school shooting from this point forward.

    .

    April 18, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  17. Van

    What was trumped was the President's agenda and the media's attempt to create "public opinion".

    April 18, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  18. pat pat

    No one will take my right to defend myself and my family away from me. I was born in a communist country, and came to this great nation for all of its freedoms. The only ones aloud to have guns in my country is the military. With this comes unimaginable abuse at the hands of these criminals.

    April 18, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  19. The Truth Hurts

    If "Public Opinion" was so adamantly for stricter gun control, this would have flown thorugh the Senate. "Public Opinion" is not nearly so favorable to GC as the media, Lefties, and White House would have you believe, apparently.

    April 18, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  20. Sherman

    The public did not want this bill. The public would much prefer you wrote no new bills as we have a hard enough time keeping up with the ones you have already written.

    April 18, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  21. James

    Actually the Senate went along with the Public Opinion–Obama and his backers are completely wrong on their views–

    April 18, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  22. markymark212

    Isn't that special I guess the gun manufacturers profits are more important than the lives being taken on our streets by nuts who shouldn't have a gun in the first place. The victims families should be able to sue the government for allowing the guns to fall into criminals hands. I support peoples right to own guns and I have been around guns my whole life but I think we need proper background checks for all firearm sales.

    April 18, 2013 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  23. Scare The Pilgrims

    Of Course I Don't Read these articles . I come straight to the comments section here to see which way "People with Home PC's willing to openly express their true opinions " are blowing. And yep,, Gun Control , like a fart in the wind .. again. :)

    April 18, 2013 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  24. srichey321

    We are a nation run by thieves. More proof that congress is just an extension of whichever interest group has the most influence.

    April 18, 2013 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  25. ronald

    Obama said the NRA lied but he has been doing that going on five years. He can't keep drugs from are kids what makes him think he can stop guns from people that kill other people?

    April 18, 2013 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63