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. james

    I am a voting democrat from Boston and in no way shape or form should the constitution be changed for any reason!

    April 18, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  2. Mark

    I'm a gun-owner but even I can't with a straight face that any of these measures would have damaged or in any way infringed on a person's right to own a gun (unless of course they would have failed a background check). To those who argue that any of these measures wouldn't completely prevent future tragedies...that is of course true. BUT they MIGHT stop one which is enough.

    I'm sad to have to say this but its true.......my party yesterday just prostituted itself and at the same time lost the 2014 term and 2016 presidential election. And for what exactly?

    April 18, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  3. L

    Really, our President is using CNN polls to get his "90% of Americans" wanted this bill. Wow that is completely unrealistic.

    April 18, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  4. Borderless

    Sickening. Our country's obsession with guns is sickening and embarrassing.

    April 18, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  5. KM

    Not sure why there is a ban on assault weapon & military grade weapons. Why does a civilian (with little to none background check) need with guns designed to kill a lot of people in a short amount of time? This is why we need to put better limits on senators/congress' terms. They get too caught up in trying to get re-elected than doing what is best for the majority. They yield to the dangerous mindsets of people only thinking someone is trying to take away their amendment rights. Heck the DMV has better understanding of rights/privileges than the NRA.

    April 18, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  6. Not a Lobby - A People

    If you think gun control lost because of "a lobby," you don't have a good understanding of our culture. Gun control efforts lost because we, the people, stood up for our rights to keep and bare arms. We advised our political leaders to focus their efforts to keep criminals behind bars and to provide mechanisms to identify and commit the dangerously mentally ill. However, the president wanted to place more onerous regulations upon law-abiding citizens. He chose to stigmatize law-abiding gun owners rather than the dangerously insane. The proposed regulations would have been easily bypassed by evil people and would have been aggravating for law-abiding people. Every mass murdering spree shooter has displayed danger signs that were ignored by government officials and the medical establishment. Those people should be the focus of any future effort.

    April 18, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  7. L

    Nick – you can not legislate gun control to keep guns out of criminals hands. Just think about it ... they are criminals, they don't get background checks every – even if it was a law. They steal the guns. Our politicians must think the American people are stupid to think otherwise. It was a fear based bill.

    April 18, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  8. Just saying

    Gun control would have not stop crimes and criminals will always find a way to get illegal firearms and that is what we need to crack down on and enforce laws already there not add more laws for law abiding citizens. I am glad that it was shot down.

    April 18, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  9. Jim

    Read the posts on here. The so called "public opinion" stats CNN keeps pushing dont eben hold true on their own cite! LOL just because you say something doesnt make it so whiners!

    April 18, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  10. Millerbarber

    This is not how you work out an issue Mr. Obama. You sit down with all the parties involved and come to a conclusion. Unions and Companies have been doing it for years. Unfortunately, you have no experience with a real work environment so you would not know that. Calling people liars and parading parents of dead children is not the way. Grow up and give us some leadership on healthcare, immigration and guns. Lead not market! CNN try not to be so bias. If I were doing this I would go after handguns not assult rifles. More people by over 100% are killed by handguns than assult rifles. you are fighting a market battle not a battle of true meaning.

    April 18, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  11. Boothill Dem

    I guess illegal gun trafficking will become a booming business now. Time to head out to the next gun show and buy every gun I can, and sell them to the gang bangers and anyone else who can't get one legally.. Congress has approved all straw purchases, and black markets will be springing up everywhere. I sure don't want to miss the curve on this one. America really is the land of opportunity, just not for the un-armed.

    April 18, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  12. Travis

    Where are these 90% who supported this? Even the law enforcement in Colorado who just passes similar BS legislation do not support it because it will only punish law abiding citizens and will not stop crime. Look at Chicago, NY, LA, Detroit.

    April 18, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  13. tonyl

    We have a mentally sick congress or either they are corrupt to the bone taking bribes from a terrorist organization like NRA. They just voted to support the mentally sick and criminals to keep killing our children using guns as weapons. There are over 11000 Americans killed by other Americans every single year by guns. Who in their right mind would not want to put a stop to this massacre except the US congress? It's not that this legislation would stop all the killings but instead its that we may save just a few lives of our fellow Americans and our children then it's worth it. Our congress has NO SHAME!!!!

    April 18, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  14. Adam

    So when you do an international poll that means the world right? That being said if your polling foreigners then its not really the opinion of the American people and therefor is invalid to say that the majority of Americans supported it because you polled internationals.

    April 18, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  15. allens

    once again the politicians showed who they love. no it was not the american voter, it was the nra and a small percentage of americans, you know the cold gray finger ones with tin foil hats

    April 18, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  16. scarf

    I'm taking solace in the fact that, by opposing anything that "might" allow for the establishment of a gun registry on the grounds that it violates an individual's right to privacy, the NRA is indirectly supporting a woman's right to choose, since the Supreme Court based its Roe v. Wade decision on a woman's right to privacy. Thank you, NRA members!

    April 18, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  17. The Central Scrutinizer

    Let me first say that I am a stringent 2nd amendment supporter and former NRA member but I am disappointed in this decision – I like many I know have no problem with expanding the background checks to cover internet sales and other loopholes – the language did not include private sales between friends and family – there was no back door registration language in the bill AND (as far as I know) there was a national reciprocity provision for concealed carry permit holders – something we've all wanted for many years. I did not regard this as onerous in any way and I am wondering exactly what in this bill the NRA was opposed to – I am a bit angry and plan on penning a letter to both Sandy and Wayne (whom I have both met before) to ask them what the problem was. I'm not a happy camper

    April 18, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  18. The Real Tom Paine

    I am sure that my old friend and teammate, Col. Peter Reed, will be thinking about this when he visits the grave of his daughter, Mary Karen Reed, shot and killed at the Virginia Tech Massacre. As a Air Force Aceademy graduate, he swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the US against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I'm sure he never thought the NRA would be one of them. But hey, the Constitution won, according to the gun huggers. Lives don't matter, but a document that was never intended to be interpreted only one way is always more important, especially when the interpretation is that of a loud, callous minority that thinks only of themselves.

    April 18, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  19. Guy

    I have heard all of the arguments for both sides. I even agree that it was using a sob story to further an agenda, which is pretty low politics. I hear what folks are saying that the states made their opinions known... but all of that is not as important as what really happened: this was a blow against democracy. If it is true that 85% of the people in America wanted this bill to pass and it still failed, that's not a victory and it should never be seen as one. What the bill was about becomes irrelevant in light of what it represents. This is now a victory for true Democrats (Not our Liberals, but the people who feel that representational democracy is outdated and want us to move to a true democracy). That's who won this fight. Not gun owners, the people who want us to have "one person, one vote". This has became a battle won, and a war lost for the Republicans.

    April 18, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  20. BMouser

    This is a victory for people. They cannot trample our rights!
    Besides none of the proposed would have changed anything if they had been implemented. All the guns were stolen from people to LEGALLY obtained them anyway (Denver, NewTown).

    April 18, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  21. MaryM

    The bill received 54 votes in favor and 46 opposed. In other words it won by normal simple majority rules. The senate has a 60 vote cloture rule, which by the way was originally passed in 1919 and modified to the current 60 in 1975, which keeps the bill from passing. There will be more votes on expanded background checks

    April 18, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  22. Isaiah Evans

    Our government has let us down again n basically slapped us all in the face. Politics will be the death of the U.S and the world one day and should i witness it im going to laugh in Congress face. President Obama was right going to the world saying this was "shameful" and had the support of gun victims behind him.

    April 18, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  23. it'sme

    I looked up there poll... they polled 1012 people across the nation... what I can't figure out is how you can call 900 or so people the majority out of millions of people... I like many others contacted my state congressmen and told them I was against new gun laws and they need to enforce the laws we already have.. look at mark kelly who tried to buy a rifle and was turned down because he lied about his intended use of the rifle on his background check.. he broke the law by doing that and now he should be prosecuted...

    April 18, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  24. Sean

    Thank you US Senate for doing what we hired you for: defending the Constitution; and stopping an out-of-balance Executive Office from forcing feeding the People what they do not want. The polls were clearly skewed and the liberal media is exceptionally biased–that is apparent even by reading the other comments to this article. A free People stripped of its firearms quickly become subjects to the Government.

    April 18, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  25. oneluvsurfer

    Trumped? Maybe some people just don't want to believe what the majority of the public opinion is. As far as i'm concerned when it comes to our constitution, i'm not willing to compromise any more.

    April 18, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
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