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. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Let me see if I get this right. According to the NRA and those in congress who voted against this bill, if you feel and your love ones feel threatened or is being attacked or is hurt, armed yourself and take action. Well, these congressional leaders and the NRA should be atop the list.

    April 18, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  2. Conservative Dad

    What happened in the Senate was the result of the distrust in the current administration from other programs such as Obama Care. As we are all finding out now, there was so much left to do in this massive health care law that it continues to be written by people in agencies, not elected officials who can be held accountable. What the Senate did is not pass another law that can be controlled by non-elected officials. If Obama wants to blame someone for the failure to pass this gun control law, he needs to look in the mirror. He should ask himself if the voice of the people really matters as he claims and the majority in the US do not support or want Obama Care, then he start by repealing this travesty of a law if he actually believes what he says about the will of the people.

    April 18, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  3. tuscany590

    Public opinion was "ignored" just like it was on obamacare.

    April 18, 2013 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  4. Dianna

    More gun control is not the answer! And what polls?????????? I was never asked how I feel about it. I will never vote for anyone who wants more gun control or who wants to cut social security! I am on a mission to call every member of Congress and express my concern over them cutting back on seniors and the disabled and telling them all they should live on what I live on!

    April 18, 2013 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  5. barbara

    What a shame there are so many cowards in the Senate. What a shame they let an extremist organization that is run by and for the gun manufacturers tell them how to vote.

    April 18, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  6. 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 who LEGALLY obtained them anyway (Denver, NewTown). There are already background checks in place almost everywhere you go. Do you think criminals are going to go through a background check??

    April 18, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  7. Shameful

    Gun and Ammunition manufactures wet their pants with glee every time another massacre occurs because their bottom lines go thru the roof because the gun loving red necks run to buy more of their product. The NRA and the gun producers are getting wealthy as our society bleeds, the worse the tragedy the better the profits.

    April 18, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  8. AlaskaMan

    What Obama can't understand is that some Senators DID vote their constituents wishes. Sen. Begich voted the will of the majority of Alaskans. So Sen. Begich DID do his job.

    Second point. The majority of Americans did NOT want Obamacare yet, Obama was happy when that passed. Why the duality?

    April 18, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  9. Name anna

    I think its sad. What happened to for the people by the people? It just shows you that money like the NRA has only matters to these people. No organization should have that much power especially a organization that has so much blood on their hands.

    April 18, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  10. Dave

    There is NO amount of gerrymandering that can save the Republican party from general extinction. This is the proverbial last straw for lobbyists in DC. We are coming for your favorite pawns and they're not going to be in office much longer.

    April 18, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  11. droppo

    Senate trumps public opinion AND a majority of votes from senators that support the bill. If this doesnt prove the filibuster rules are ruining the Senate, nothing will.

    April 18, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  12. ghostriter

    scotb, you are the problem. You woke up that brisk november morning in 2008 ready to be against anything Obama suggested. With you people, everything is a liberal plot. Even when republicans are on board. Even when the idea is a republican idea. You guys fought against tax breaks when Obama suggested them. Tax breaks....the centerpiece of republican mantra since the 80's.

    You wanna talk extreme? Let's talk a record number of filibusters. McConnell put his own bill up and led a filibuster against it, because it looked like democrats would go for it. Let's talk about the endless hearings on Fast and Furious, Solyndra and Benghazi. 3 years later, no evidence has been found of any wrongdoing in this administration on Fast and Furious, republicans have yet to answer why Solyndra is an example of crony capitalism and yet Paul Ryan getting money from the same program for his supporters to start an energy company is perfectly fine and we sat thru the Benghazi hearings where Rand Paul insisted on getting answers to non-related questions such as arms going to Turkey.

    You really wanna talk extreme? Let's talk about the voting changes republicans tried to enact that were defeat by the upper courts. We aren't even talking ID changes like Texas wanting to allow gun owner registration cards, but not college ID's. We are talking in Ohio where they tried to limit the time in democratic counties and increase the time in republican counties. Or how about the laws effectively ending abortion clinics in Mississippi? Or the illegal immigration laws passed that were legislative racial profiling? Or the over 30 attempts to get rid of Obamacare?

    You nutcases are as extreme as they come. Which is why folks like Akin and Mourdock lost in November. Which is why you guys lost the white house to a guy with high unemployment (1st time in recent history). Which is why your approval ratings are in the tank. And why republicans are now trying to mend fences with all the individual groups they have spend the past 20 years (and more specifically the last 5) ticking off.

    April 18, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  13. cpnugent

    Public opinion also got trumped on Obamacare. Mr. Obama is disingenuous when he whines about "the will of the people" on gun control. Mr. Obama cares about "the will of the people" only when it suits him. The will of the people since the beginning has been to repeal Obamacare. Mr. Obama does not care what the people want, unless he wants it too.

    April 18, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  14. Lee Simek

    Im sure none of us know the real story or the accurate facts concerning this emotional issue. Im sure there were other details of the bill you know nothing about. STOP and think about what you are trying to do. Allow the federal government to control more of your constitutional liberty and freedom......any vote to regulate guns infringes on the rights of all Americans....once you give up your rights you wont get them back and then you will know what real tyranny really is.....the government wont protect you and you will have no voice. Dont go overboard by over thinking the issue. Its plain the 90% of the people concerning this issue is an outright lie. This should tell you immediately that you are the subject of manipulation and mistreatment. The next attempt will be to limit our religious freedom by claiming certain followings are terrorist in nature. All of this manipulation happened before WWII,,,,the NAZIS used all of these techniques to gain power,,,,the most applicable one was political corruption. Once they gained control they killed all those who represented the people.....those who did not represent their views.........WAKE UP

    April 18, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  15. think 1st.

    I wonder why Obama has not kept any of his promises that he has made to the American public when it came time to getting re-elected, and yet he was calling everyone else liars when it came time to vote on the gun issue. I also believe that some of those votes for the polls may or were probably from folks that don't even reside in America giving fake names and emails.
    There needs to be a lot of other issues settled also besides ripping our rights apart with add-ons and sometime times ridiculous amendments, if it wasn't originally written by our forefathers then leave it alone.

    April 18, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  16. Renee G

    What's really sad is some people think that the government is after their guns !! what is wrong with making guns a little harder to get ?? If it would save one life it's worth it !!! Shame on the senate for voting this down !! The people want this to happen and last i checked this was a country by the people and for the people !! As far as I am concerned congress, the senate and the hard core gun people will have blood on their hands. When the next mass shooting happens these people will be the first to say "what a tragedy !!" hypocrites !!! When it's your family that is killed through these sensless killings it will be a different story. You say responsible gun owners, well part of being responsible is trying to reduce the number of killings by guns, you say it's my right .. well what about my right to go to a movie, send my children to school, or walk down the street without the fear of being shot !! Yes we have freedoms in this country but they come with a cost and it should'nt be placed on the deaths of children. so the next time a 5 year old is shot 11 times look at your gun and ask if a cold piece of steele is worth their life !!!!

    April 18, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  17. Public

    Public opinion was not trumped, obviously they don't know that the public does not want our rights taken away.

    April 18, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  18. Jim

    The comments on here easily show the so-called "public opinion" stats CNN keeps pushing don't even hold true ON THEIR OWN SITE! Just because you keep saying it is so, does not make it so! LOLOLOL!

    April 18, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  19. D

    Its funny how people who don't know how polls work keep saying the people voted into congress is the poll of the country. Let me just remind you that the polls in the last election were near perfect even though people called them fake and discounted them leading up to the election. It is a science using statistics. So if you don't know it, don't assume so one smarter than you who does is wrong.

    April 18, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  20. John

    Oh my! The look on Bidens face is just friggin PRICELESS !!

    April 18, 2013 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  21. Joe

    WOW ... Its just a back ground check people., Relax !! You Americans are crazy.

    April 18, 2013 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  22. TiredofLies

    Yeah where the hell do they post these polls, ive been looking for anything and i cant find them anywhere.
    The left-wing press makes me sick for all americans. Those polls are crap. Telling me what to eat, what type of gun i have, whats next for your government control....? Who do i marry, where do i go to the bathroom mr. prez.
    Everyone i have talked to "including randoms" have been against what our tyrannical government is trying to do with gun laws. Come up with something that makes common – sense and we might think about it. But if ur goona ban "Tactical" rifles, (Assualt is a term made up by left-wing control artists), then i want a ban on all pressure cookers and any kind of grocery store item that someone can make a bomb out of also. This is sick....The gun haters just have no idea....next time you experience or hear of a home invasion, which happens tons of times per day....Think about what that invader would do if a "tactical" rifle was in his face. Banning magazines would help? I dont think so, you can just tape the magazines together, so what would that prove? That would just give the attackers a faster reload time.

    Shame on all the democrats you people elected into office, for trying to take away constitutional rights.

    April 18, 2013 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  23. Ki

    The will of the people was ignored. Yeah, the same thing happened when Obamacare passed.

    April 18, 2013 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  24. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    What does our legal system usually say to our citizens? "Do not take the law into your hands." Well, I'm afraid the actions by these congressional leaders yesterday violated that legal doctrine, implying that if Americans feel threatened, then they should arm themselves and take the law into their own hands. What a screwed up country. But I hear ya, I'm getting my arsenal. Hey Rambo, here I come! DUMBEST COWARDEST country in the history of the world!!!

    April 18, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  25. Chad

    The senate and the President also trumped public opinion when they passed Obamacare.

    April 18, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
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