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. livingston

    I hope that those senators realize that the next 'no' vote will be made by the voters when they run for re-election. Brush up your resumes boy's – you'll be needing them soon.

    April 18, 2013 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  2. joan

    This is disgusting, but not unexpected. It's business as usual... look out for your own skin, instead of doing something that the people want. Background checks is so commonsensical that it isn't even funny. I'm beginning to think that the only way to get a respresentative government is to have a viable 3rd party... these 2 sure don't cut it!

    April 18, 2013 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  3. Russ

    Forget about national gun control. The best that can be hoped for is a state by state solution.

    April 18, 2013 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  4. Jack Myswag

    Maybe the NRA should get bombed? It would save lives of six year olds. "Just asking the question" !!!!

    April 18, 2013 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  5. Dan Jones

    The headline and also most of these comments are illogical and erroneous. The truth is that the majority of the public did NOT support Obama's agenda on gun control and the representatives of those people did their job of representing their people. This isn't a case as some so ignorantly try to pretend of some gun lobby over ruling the people. It is the people winning over Obama.

    April 18, 2013 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  6. Jeff

    Vote out all of the Congressmen! Few of them do what the public wants and few deserve to be in their positions.

    April 18, 2013 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  7. Robb

    I laugh at how many people think the feds can enact laws to limit rights! They cant! Has anyone heard of the sedition act! They were trying to limit free speech for those who spoke negatively against the govt, it got shot down by the SCOTUS! Now because you have a "feeling or emotion" you want the govt to limit another right? THEY CANT!!! States are the only ones that can limit a right...there is a big difference here! If your state wants to limit mags, have a more comprehensive background checks, and so on they can! The one thing that cant be done by states is to DENY owning firearms...end of discussion!

    April 18, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  8. Seth

    Come next election, let the lobbyist vote for the in-their-pocket politicians and the people vote for the man who will represent the people (regardless of party afiliation), not some special interest group. These guys need to be put out of office ASAP. They represent all that is BAD in government. The voters can fix this problem. Let's do it!

    April 18, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  9. edog355

    Fact is that most people – including many in the Senate – are reluctant to punish people who use their 2nd Amendment freedoms responsibly for the handful of those who don't.

    April 18, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  10. Junior

    This shows how people only care about themselves. The politicians chose to save their own job rather than invite more moderates into the party. They're still blind in that they can't see past their individual election. Until they realize they can't win a national election this thinking won't change. This is going to go on for months now and all we're going to hear is the Dems saying the GOP doesn't care about 90% of the public. And remember, the POTUS has a bigger pulpit than any of the representatives. He'll always get national news where the House and Senate will only get local news.

    WAKE UP GOP. Broaden the party!!!!

    April 18, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  11. William

    The last paragraph of the article is where the concern really is located. Based on how our govt handles laws involving immigration, how in the world can we believe they will comply with a sentence in a firearm background check law. They have a 50-50 chance of doing what they desire to do vs doing what the law requires. Remember the pre-Affordable Care Act comments – saving money and keeping same doctor? In addition, the Gallup Poll has a different set of numbers.

    April 18, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  12. Greg

    Funny, this would not have had any impact on reducing crime. Polls showed that we were against ACA (ObamaCare) yet it passed an now even the people who supported it are calling it a mess. Cant pick your outrage. Besides, polls showed that most were against having to get a background check for loaning a gun or turning your house guest into a felon for watching your house. Why dont they give the mental health and trafficing bills a vote to stand on their own, you know the things that actually work.

    April 18, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  13. dennis

    And once again the Bought and Paid for politicians turn their backs on America. Democrats and Republicans both are in need of an awakening. To the rest of America, look at these low-lifes and come voting day VOTE them OUT!!! They leach off our taxes and do not help all Americans, they only help the 1% who line their pockets and re-election funds. Throw Them OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 18, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  14. KW

    This is a great day for America! I'm proud to have Senators that will stand up for our rights.

    April 18, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  15. Terry B

    I can't belive this didn't pass...Our Senators had better remember that don't don't serve the special interest groups who swayed the vote......The Senator in Indiana who voted agains will not see a single vote from my school district as I will petition and lobby for his removal

    April 18, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  16. Joi Gibson

    This really is a shame. I realize senators have a responsibility to their home constituents, but they also have a responsibility to the nation as a whole – they are after all U.S. senators as well – their votes also affect the entire nation. The NRA lied about the national registry crap. Maybe if the senators who voted against it the measure did a better job of explaining exactly what the bill entailed, instead of letting the NRA make up lies about the bill, these senators could have enlightened their home constituents, but noooooooo. Let's just have every no-good so-and-so be able to buy guns without worry. Just remember, all our rights come with responsibilities and limits. Even the conservative guru Antonin Scalia said as much in his decision in the Heller case. I guess that is just an inconvenient fact for some.

    April 18, 2013 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  17. Terry

    Well done senate!! Standing up for our rights.. I can't see how 86% of Americans support this when I don't know a single person that does.. Apparently I just know redneck gun lovers.. NO WAIT that's not it.. I know true Americans that love their country and the freedoms it provides.. There are already background checks on the internet and to buy from gun shows if they are a FFL dealer.. GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT!! If your bother sells you a gun you're going to tell me that I need to have a background check for that?? That is what they want to take away.. Complete BS

    April 18, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  18. Chuck

    When is CNN going to start being a news organization again and not a mouth piece for the Obama administration? Obama's demonizing of the NRA is typical. But he forgets to mention the NRA made up of voluntary members of American citizens. Not like Bloomberg who wants to impose his beliefs and values on everyone. Amazing also the NRA membership is on a steady increase. Seems some people still believe we should have the freedom to live our lives as we see fit. IF the politicians want to reduce gun violence do something about the drugs coming across the border. Most gun crime is gang and drug related. Stop the drugs and you stop the major source of revenue for the gangs. Reduces the turf wars which when you boil it down is about controlling the drug selling in an area. We spend millions on military training in the desert and flying around in circles around bases. Start sending the troops to the border areas to train and assist the border patrol and DEA. but then that invades the bureaucrats domains

    April 18, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  19. Name. G

    Democracy (choke) at work. They all should be made to wear a placard around their necks proclaiming " US for sale". The average voter does not stand a chance.

    April 18, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  20. James PDX

    "CRIMINALS DONT ABIDE BY LAWS. They will get what every (sic) they want somewhere."

    I keep hearing the above tired rhetoric. This logic dictates that we should have no controls over anything whatsoever since crimnals will find a way to do what they want anyway. This is 2nd grade logic at best. Don't make drunk driving illegal because drunk drivers will drive drunk anyway. Don't require a license to drive since people without them will drive anyway if they want to. Don't require prescriptions for medication because addicts will find a way to get those drugs anyway. Don't make child pornography illegal because pedophiles will find a way to get it anyway. Etc... Rampant stupidity like this amazes me.

    April 18, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  21. MDN

    I guess your Poll numbers did not come from Texas.

    April 18, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  22. steve

    I don't believe for one second 90% of Americans wanted this bill. That is all a lie. Maybe they might be polling Obama supporters or the CNN liberal viewers. But there is no way they are actually interviewing law abiding gun owners. Any bill of this sort would not stop criminals but would be one more step in the right way for liberals to achieve their ultimate goal, disarming us Americans and making us subjects again. It was disgusting the way Obama twisted the facts on gun statistics and used the families of those Newton victims as a policital ploy. Even with the full power of the liberal media, all of us his lies, bullying and plain Chicago politics, he couldn't get it done. Thank God his own Democratically controlled Senate had enough sense to stop it.

    April 18, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  23. The REAL Truth...

    This vote just goes to show that Congress is now "of the few, by the few, for the few!".

    April 18, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  24. Terry

    Apparently public opinion didn't stop Obama from passing Obamacare so why should this be any different?? Funny when the shoes on the other foot huh?

    April 18, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  25. Joe Leonardi

    Why on earth would someone oppose backround checks on buying guns. If 86% of Americans are in support of backround checks then why did this not happen. It sounds like our "representatives" are not representing us at all.

    April 18, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
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