April 17th, 2013
06:15 PM ET
1 year 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. bro

    obvious, (low mentality), the red neck states voted nay

    April 17, 2013 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  2. Term limits!

    We need term limits so there is more focus on who employs the senators.....US of course.

    April 17, 2013 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  3. Tom

    Why isn't the NRA on the list of known terrorist organizations and their sympathizers? They seem to do everything in their power to make sure that sociopaths have absolutely no obstacles whatsoever in obtaining military hardware. More Americans die every year due to the idiotic gun culture which they heartily promote, yet they're considered as "patriots" as opposed to "accomplices".

    April 17, 2013 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  4. ellamvaram

    These politicians do not come to Congress and Senate to serve the peope, they come to nestle their nests; for selfish reasons. Then why do we as Citizens votes such persons into office instead of throwing them out at the next possible chance to do . I hope we will!

    April 17, 2013 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  5. Andrew

    It's time for the 90% to show the republicans and the NRA how strong we are in "2014."

    April 17, 2013 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  6. Lynn Grant

    So much for representing the people who hired them. More worried about their "job" than doing what is right and favored by the majority. No guts. I rarely go for one issue candidates but will be voting against Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran for because of this vote.

    April 17, 2013 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  7. DH

    This is a sad day. Republicans were able to be blackmailed by the NRA to put guns over Adam Lanza's, rapist, terrorist and first graders....... You cowards will not be forgotten.

    April 17, 2013 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  8. Former Republican, now an Independent

    Modern day neo-con republicans will not turn their backs on their major campaign contributors like the NRA. In these days of the RNC pulling in obscene amounts of corporate and special interest money, these republicans must bow and kiss the ring of their money masters, or face certain ostracizing by the people who own their souls.

    April 17, 2013 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  9. Alan

    PLEASE CNN begin publishing those Senators who voted against these amendments immediately and do not stop until each of their present terms are up for re-election. If the American People ever needed you, we need you now. regardless of what their reasons were, please publish their reasons, and a single sheet list of their names and hopefully that list will then go viral and regardless of how their vote was threatened by the NRA as being 'scored', that when it comes time for their re-election, the official 'score' card is submitted by the American Public on them. PLEASE OH GOD IN HEAVEN FOR THE SAKE OF ALL THE CHILDREN WHO HAVE DIED AND ARE YET TO BE BORNE..and thank you

    April 17, 2013 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  10. surefooted1

    Just because Senators voted against it doesn't mean that they voted against the will of the people. Many of the Senators that voted against it explicitly said that they didn't like the exact language in the bill. But you already knew that.

    Good try in trying to get the people riled up. You sound like a mouth piece for Harry Reid.

    April 17, 2013 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  11. CD

    I would like to for the pollsters to post the numbers. How many people were surveyed and where to come up with their 86%. of all the polls taken you woudl think they could post these numbers.
    Did you survey 1000 people or 10.000 people? I for one would like to see these numbers. Where is the backup?
    According to google when asked how many adults are their in America it posted 1.806.946.019 BILLION Americans of voteing age. Is this 86% of these Adults? or is it less than a half percent of all Americans.
    SHOW YOUR PROOF!!!

    April 17, 2013 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  12. criskat

    The survey questions must have been loaded to receive the desired response, because I know of nobody who supported the new gun control legislation. I know plenty of people who want existing laws enforced. Most people I talk to agree this would have done nothing to prevent another Newton tragedy.

    April 17, 2013 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  13. Tad

    I always see public opinion polls on CNN that always show the public supports this or that and I have yet to agree with the results and NONE of my friends understand or agree either. I personally don't think background checks on gun sales is a bad thing, nor do I think restricting sales of assault rifles is a bad idea either...with our population explosion, there is not a lot of places to shoot one anyway...BUT I don't thing any of the changes being discussed will do anything to stop the killing. The Government is constantly affecting the GOOD citizens with the laws they discuss and pass...the crappy part of our population will never change and they are the same people that will lie on the witness stand, so why wouldn't they shoot you on the street? We as a country need to enforce the laws we have, like illegally entering the country...and stop punishing the good citizens.

    April 17, 2013 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  14. pete johnson

    More liberal bias....
    Stop crazy people and criminals from getting guns. The laws are already there. We don't need more.

    April 17, 2013 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  15. Boater

    And yet we keep re-electing the GOP....

    April 17, 2013 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  16. Liz

    wait til they see all the voters who come after the ones who voted NO!!!

    April 17, 2013 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  17. DarrellSF

    Just goes to show your the Senate and the House are no longer beholden to the will of The People!

    When the next massacre happens, The People will remember, and you'll lose your seat anyway!

    You should have listened to US and not the NRA and Gun Manufacturers.

    April 17, 2013 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  18. Sam Borgese

    Bravery has left congress and has been replaced with cowering professional politicians. A sad day not for gun control. A sad day for representative government.

    April 17, 2013 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  19. Liz

    now they REALLY should be worried about re-election!!!

    April 17, 2013 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  20. Caiha

    Beh who cares what the people want, what matters is what the WASPs want.

    April 17, 2013 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  21. Richard

    Americans love affair with violence and guns continues in Newton, in Boston, and even in the US Senate. Our national shame.

    April 17, 2013 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  22. TheTruth

    It isn't simply creating some kind of bill – it's how the bill is written that makes all the difference. Background checks for Internet sales are already the law – why duplicate what's already on the books? Research the subject, find what does and doesn't work, check existing laws and write a law that serves its purpose.

    April 17, 2013 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  23. Maqbool Qurashi

    Public does not fund campaigns of so called their 'representatives'. They had been voting against their voters wishes since many decades ago. Why are we surprised?

    April 17, 2013 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  24. Rick McDaniel

    Public opinion is far from being right.

    April 17, 2013 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  25. GI Joe

    I'm sure AlQuaida members visiting here loved to watch that. They do come here on H1-B visas you know – train our folks in the evening and on week-ends. Walk in the woods in North and South Carolina – you'll see then. You may not be seen again, but they are there.

    April 17, 2013 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
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