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. Bryan, Georgia

    Why is it when we are in a time of sequestration due to government overspending we would even consider adding yet more bureaucracy to pay for. To do background checks you have to have a database to check against. This does not presently exist. This would have to be created and managed, adding cost. And once the database was created, it then provide a "house" for the government to start attaching more personal information into. Not to mention the cost added to business owners and government agencies to populate with data to do a background check against. And just like the problems with "no fly" databases. Somehow innocent people's names get on it for no known reason. Now a perfectly legitimate person wants to legally purchase a gun but can't because of false information. This whole thing was not thought out and a complete plan with all the costs reported to the public. It is an abstract wish list without any thought of how to actually execute. Good job Congress.

    April 18, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  2. Scott

    Thank you for supporting the Constitution!! CNN and the President LIE!!!! 90% is crap and we all knew it was. Check out the latest "real poll" which showed only 48% approve tougher restrictions. I love it that the Pres got angry when he didnt get his way. He wants a dictatorship and will not stop until that is what he has. Thank goodness for the Constitution of the United States of America!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 18, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  3. Tom1940

    Would it be fair to say that the "people for gun control" as reflected by recent polls is just a tad inflated? I only question this, because have any of you went to the local sporting goods store, firearms dealer, or big box retail outlets that handle guns, ammunition, reloading components, etc.? If so many folks are against firearms ownership and further firearms controls, including banning of guns, magazines, etc., then why are there none for sale anywhere? These "items" flew off the shelves of the aforementioned outlets so fast that it is like a Christmas Sale, where everything is discounted – deeply discounted, but the sale is before, not after Christmas! There is still none of these items to be had, except in rare cases, at very high prices. Online, there are no reloading components to be had – anywhere! And yet
    the polls say "90%" of the people want!!! (whatever) – (confiscation, registration, banning, etc. etc.). I believe the pollsters when they say 90% of the folks want what they want. I do. I also believe that polls designed to elicit "knee-jerk" responses from folks in the street get the results the pollsters want. Down deep and truly, I do not believe everyone is speaking the truth – on either side of the question of firearms control. Isn't it fair to say that people want to be safe. Have their kids safe at school (or anywhere). That our legislators should be safe from being gunned down in a "meet and greet" at a grocery store parking lot! Yeah! No question about it. No argument whatsoever from me on that!
    But, will the proposed legislation in Congress and by the President achieve that at the end of the day? No! It will not.
    Now is the time to regroup. Identify and go after the "real" heart of the matter – school security, getting nuts off the street before, not after their criminal acts, and prosecuting criminals for using firearms in commission of crimes (instead of pleading them down to lesser charges, for instance).

    April 18, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  4. aaron

    how about gun laws that go after the criminals rather than the law abiding citizen, if gun control worked Chicago would be the safest place on earth. By the way gun control advocate Diane Fienstien,5 armed gaurds and a concealed weapons permit to carry her own gun

    April 18, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  5. stuid idea

    Love the fact that 54 people votes yes, 46 voted no so of course, why would we pass a bill that the majority in the senate voted in favor of? We are no in the days of majority votes meaning nothing and a 60 vote super majority is required. And people wonder why nothing gets done in Washington.

    Guarantee if this was a republican president trying to get something passed and that happened, every conservative from every corner America would be screaming about how bad it is...instead they gleefully cheer.

    April 18, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  6. MDN

    I guess the 90% in favor of gun control was taken in San Fransico

    April 18, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  7. R Sanatorium

    It's all about the money! Don't bring sense or empathy into the equation.

    April 18, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  8. silly jew

    Silly individual jew writing boy....it doesn't count as public opinion when you only poll local members of the sandy hook community right after the shooting.

    April 18, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  9. Guest

    CNN and liberal media need to understand: Americans like their freedoms and rights. If you take the guns away, the crazies who want to hurt people will find another way. All this bill would do is cause more paperwork for people trying to earn a living. This was never a solution, just a political maneuver. I'm so sick of this $#!^. Start focusing on the issues that will make a difference in the most people's lives (infrastructure, job creation, balancing the budget, etc.). Waste of time.

    April 18, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  10. DanielleE.

    The decline of the U.S. This is absolutely disgusting.

    April 18, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  11. Mark

    What is public opinion regarding Obama care?

    April 18, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  12. Ancient Texan

    And the winner is....the Constitution of the United States and law abiding citizens. Both were the target of the anti-second admendment Socialist Progressives.

    April 18, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  13. JC

    1994, 2000, 2014.

    Representatives, prepare yourselves for election day.

    April 18, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  14. James

    I truly think that if we 100% outlawed guns or even made it more difficult to get, it would never stop someone from killing many people if they wanted. I think we would just have more bombings and less killing with guns.

    April 18, 2013 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  15. Ancient Texan

    And the winner is...the Constitution and law abiding U.S. citizens.

    April 18, 2013 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  16. Tom1940

    Would it be fair to say that the "people for gun control" as reflected by recent polls is just a tad inflated? I only question this, because have any of you went to the local sporting goods store, firearms dealer, or big box retail outlets that handle guns, ammunition, reloading components, etc.? If so many folks are against firearms ownership and are for further firearms controls, including banning of guns, magazines, etc., then why are there none for sale anywhere? These "items" flew off the shelves of the aforementioned outlets so fast that it is like a Christmas Sale, where everything is discounted – deeply discounted, but the sale is before, not after Christmas! There is still none of these items to be had, except in rare cases, at very high prices. Online, there are no reloading components to be had – anywhere! And yet
    the polls say "90%" of the people want!!! (whatever) – (confiscation, registration, banning, etc. etc.). I believe the pollsters when they say 90% of the folks want what they want. I do. I also believe that polls designed to elicit "knee-jerk" responses from folks in the street get the results the pollsters want. Down deep and truly, I do not believe everyone is speaking the truth – on either side of the question of firearms control. Isn't it fair to say that people want to be safe. Have their kids safe at school (or anywhere). That our legislators should be safe from being gunned down in a "meet and greet" at a grocery store parking lot! Yeah! No question about it. No argument whatsoever from me on that!
    But, will the proposed legislation in Congress and by the President achieve that at the end of the day? No! It will not.
    Now is the time to regroup. Identify and go after the "real" heart of the matter – school security, getting nuts off the street before, not after their criminal acts, and prosecuting criminals for using firearms in commission of crimes (instead of pleading them down to lesser charges, for instance).

    April 18, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  17. Keith

    When the polls for this are taken from areas where they know most of the people support Obama. Take a nationwide poll and you would come up with a different answer and find that the senators did what their constituents wanted and look how the vote turned out. It’s about time the majority won instead of the big money and special interest minority.

    April 18, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  18. Anonymous

    We live in a country where lobbyists control our government. Even though the majority of the country would support more strict background checks, our government fails to represent the people, and represents only gun lobbyists. I don't understand our government. They pass laws allowing them to wire tap, monitor, and spy on their own citizens without a warrant or consent for the protection of the people, yet they wouldn't want strict background checks to protect the people? The NRA says, "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun," or another reasonable way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is by preventing him from getting a gun.

    April 18, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  19. Amom

    Obama claiming to care about the voice of the people is a joke. What about the people's voice when he worked tirelessly to shove Obama care down our thoats?

    April 18, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  20. ghostriter

    You gun nuts are still funny. Questioning polls that don't agree with you while simultaneously quoting ones that do agree with you. The NRA themselves touted a poll of police officers.

    As the article states, this was a proposal that was reached thru bipartisan efforts. If the bill was watered down and "would do nothing to change things", then the main reason is that republicans simply fought against anything that would actually affect change.

    And what is glaringly missing from the conversation are the 3 republican bills that were defeated as well. The republicans bills did even less than the bi-partisan bill.

    Everyone agreed that something needed to be done. The fact that republicans fought against the bipartisan deal and produced bills that were even worse shows that they really didn't have any good ideas. The fact that their arguments against the bipartisan deal were just as weak as their arguments against gay marriage shows that they really weren't concerned with doing anything at all.

    We shall see how this all plays out.

    April 18, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  21. hannah

    This is disgusting! Congress deserves to have nut-jobs shooting up schools and theaters, etc, in retaliation for their mind-blowing stupidity and failure to act! Shame on you and the NRA (that's Neanderthal Rifle Association)!

    April 18, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  22. James

    I don't know why many people would be angry with the turn out of the vote, unless if is like me. I am happy with the turn out but angry at my representative because she voted against what I wanted. If people would not look at national votes but votes within their area and compare with how their representative voted. For example why would someone from California be angry that a rep. from Texas voted against it??

    April 18, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  23. Tina

    My heart breaks for victims and their loved ones. Leadership takes courage in the face of bullies.

    April 18, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  24. Anonymous

    We need term limits, that is the ONLY way anything will get done in Washington.

    April 18, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  25. Brian

    "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."

    Enough of the phony equivocation with statements like this. 9% of Senate Democrats voted "no" to the amendment as opposed to 91% of Senate Republicans.

    91 to 9 is not a tie. Also, if the 4 Democrats who voted "no" had voted "yes", the amendment still wouldn't have had the needed 60 votes.

    This broadly-supported common sense measure failed because the Republican party is more beholden to gun manufacturers than they are to their constituents. The failure is on them, and they'll be held accountable by voters next year.

    What an embarrassment...

    April 18, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
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