April 17th, 2013
06:15 PM ET
2 years 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. Cindy

    Where are the facts to support that 90% of American people wanted this?

    April 18, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  2. Steven

    I'm not certain that the vote went against the true public opinion of America like POTUS said. Especially 90% of Americans.

    April 18, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  3. Brian

    Pure hyperbole and speculation. Where did those public opinion numbers come from?

    April 18, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  4. Preston

    "The American people are trying to figure out: How can something have 90% support and yet not happen?" said the president .............Well Mr. President that’s because we live in a Constitutional Republic, not a Democracy like you would want everyone to believe. You see Mr. President in a Republic the voices of a bed wetting Majority don’t out weight the rights of a Minority.

    April 18, 2013 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  5. ryan

    This is what happens when lawmakers are more concerned about getting re-elected than doing the right thing. This is what happens when corporate dollars are allowed to trump the will of the people. Actually, it wasn't even corporate dollars, it was the THREAT of NRA dollars being used to finance their opponents during the next election that caused these men to vote against the will of their constituents. They fear the NRA's memory and money more than they fear the electorate. As a result, the NRA gets what they want, the people do not, and the NRA doesn't even have to follow through on their threats. The only body who will be able to put a stop to this kind of nonsense is the Supreme Court, because threats are not really supposed to work on them. But their rulings have all been in favor of oligarchy lately.

    April 18, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  6. msd250

    No, what CNN WANTS to portray as "public opinion" got trumped yesterday.. A little inconvenience called the 2nd amendment.

    April 18, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  7. Chuck

    the real public opinion was 96% favored no new gun control laws.. sounds like the senate did what they were supposed to. Listen to the American people. Not a bogus pole that asked if there should be background checks period. A pole designed to get a specific response

    April 18, 2013 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  8. MyGunsTrumpsYourLife

    Republican reps are by BIG Business and FOR big Business. Always has been and always will be. Death to the people. More so if you are poor and minority.

    April 18, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  9. DJ65

    The problem with polls is that they can easily be manipulated. For example, our local ABC channel (The one referred to in this article) often did "man on the street" interviews – then one day we found out that the restaurant they always did the "polls" was closing, and it just happened to be in a very liberal neighborhood – great if you want results skewed in that fashion, not so much if you want a cross section of public opinion. Wording of questions also matter. So, I'd take this articles claims with a grain of salt.

    April 18, 2013 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  10. Gordon Shumway

    Where are the polls from. Ive seen polls that suggest the opposite and even police officers think more gun control is silly. Nice article though. Sheepishly

    April 18, 2013 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  11. anchorite

    Harry Reid D-NV, voted against it. Well, no surprise there. Corrupt Democrat from a state that makes a lot of money off machine gun rentals (and gambling, prostitution, and booze). Just visit any hotel lobby in Vegas and you'll see numerous brochures for it. The mob built that state, and apparently they still run it, but it's the corporate mob now, gun manufacturers snipping off democracy before it buds.

    April 18, 2013 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  12. Veritas

    When Speaker Tip O'Neal got totally trashed by Reagan on tax cuts...he didn't throw a press conference to pout and call people names...he called Reagan, congratulated him on beating him, and vowed to fight another day.

    Ah...the old days...when Liberals had character.

    April 18, 2013 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  13. dickburgundy

    I think it's wonderful to see our community organizer in chief fed up with those mean men in congress who won't give him his way even though he trotted out every pitiful grieving family member he could find. I can only hope for continued defeat for this whining snivelling piece of excrement president. And to all the parents of SandyHook as well as Gabby, go away! We don't need to legislate your grief away! Get off the stage and go home and give up your own damn guns.

    April 18, 2013 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  14. J.E.D.

    I'm at a loss as to this obvious" new" meaning of Democracy. If polls indicate that 86% of Americans want more background checks – then is it not the job of their Elected representatives to make sure the "will of the people" is met?
    I"m Canadian – so maybe this is an American thing – and i'm not being facetious or sarcastic, i just don't get it. Why would any sane minded person( gun owner/not a gun owner) not want rigorous background checks to keep guns out of the hands of a potential crazy person? I agree that everyone should have their rights to privacy – but should those 'rights' interfere with other people's right to be safe? In Canada – with it's smaller population – we obviously have much less of a gun issue -however- we do have HUGE issues with unregistered & illegal guns making their way into Canada from the USA. I"ve always enjoyed travelling to the USA – always felt comfortable – it's a home away from home for many Canadians. Love the country and the people – kindest and most genorous people in the world. Those gun rights peoplet though have to chill out!! – the paranoia seems to be contagious! Go Bruins!

    April 18, 2013 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  15. K

    Didn't pass in spite of public opinion, shocking? Check the real Gallup numbers on how the public feels about abortion...although publicly touted that our society is roughly 50/50 pro-life/pro-choice, you will find that only 25% of all people support current laws, while 75% oppose abortion altogether or at the very least want more restrictions than what we currently have. Only 25% support current legislation yet where's the headline about that?

    April 18, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  16. Libertarian from Long Island

    Public Opinion? PLEASE. Every Senator has his seat because of public opinion. Barack asked for gun vote in his SOTU address and he got it. He lost and is now calling people liars and other names. When I was a kid, we had a name for people like Barack... sore loser.

    April 18, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  17. AZDesert

    Hmmm... I asked all my friends about gun control, and 100% of them said no new gun laws. My 100% is higher than their supposed 90%.

    April 18, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  18. John

    Clearly, 9 out of 10 Americans' opinions are no match for the opinions of 9 out of 10 gun sellers. Indeed, this is a shameful day in American politics.

    April 18, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  19. R.C.Jack

    the only constituents of those who voted it down were concerned about are the rich who are lining their campaign pockets.

    April 18, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  20. navyvet

    The problem with polls is that they can easily be manipulated. For example, our local ABC channel (The one referred to in this article) often did "man on the street" interviews – then one day we found out that the restaurant they always did the "polls" was closing, and it just happened to be in a very liberal neighborhood – great if you want results skewed in that fashion, not so much if you want a cross section of public opinion. Wording of questions also matter. So, I'd take this articles claims with a grain of salt.

    April 18, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  21. Bryce

    Who got to be part of these polls? I was never asked my opinion. Guess I'm not part of the American citizen group.

    April 18, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  22. Mike

    Public opinion was upheld as the Senate voted for the 91% who did not want excessive gun control that would do nothing against the criminal only restrict the law abiding gun owner from protecting them self. Let's start putting out the facts of this story and stop the few who would take advantage of the horrible acts to forward oppression on our country. Check your history this is how the people are subversively oppressed by those who would overthrow democracy for socialism.

    April 18, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  23. wideglide_07

    The senate voted, and the liberal gun grabbers don't like the way it went so now we are talking about how we can change the rules to end run the process. I love how when the libs shove an unpopular piece of legislation down Americas throat they are just doing what's best for thecountry but when things don't go their way they scream the system i broke. I am so sick of watching obozo sneer and smirk like a petulant child when he does not get his way and then again fall back to pitting one group against another as enemies. This is the most divisive president this country has ever had. He has done nothing to unite the country as a whole, he only knows hoe to divide and foment anger!

    April 18, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  24. itsmeagainjah

    GOP = Grand Old Party – aka good ole boys, that sums it up, old men, white hoods....this aint the same world it was 25 yrs ago,........ classic how they jus dont get it....good thing they all dying off.......

    April 18, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  25. magnus

    The NRA hijacked the Constitution as Al-Qaeda hijacked the Quran.

    April 18, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
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