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. djc60

    "The American people are trying to figure out: How can something have 90% support and yet not happen?" Could it be that the 90% is a liberal lie?

    April 18, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  2. TiredofLies

    Oh yeah almost forgot, all this money our government is spending on this control tangent could be used to maybe....Feed hungry americans or maybe PAY OFF OUR DEBT. But no more important to take rights away from your own people.
    Thats ok, go spend another 4 million dollars on an afternoon with tiger woods, mr.president

    April 18, 2013 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  3. not me

    They keep saying "87 percent" or "90 percent" of Americans favor background checks. No one has polled me or anyone I know with this question. Who do they ask? Just people in New York and Conneticut?

    April 18, 2013 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  4. scott

    We are at war and too dumb to know it

    April 18, 2013 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  5. whatacountry

    Wanting background checks is not anti-2nd Amendment...quit spouting the NRA mantra folks! Big money talks and huge money screams! That is what we saw yesterday. The congress is more afraid of the wrath of the NRA than they are of the voters...let's make them sorry about that. Our congress is a national disgrace!

    April 18, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  6. Cunfuzed

    For those who believe the NRA is so powerful are you aware that another amendment, supported by the NRA, also failed? The NRA isn't that powerful people! The bill failed on its own merits, poorly written and far too open to future changes.

    As for the poll data that shows so much support, the support is a response to a simple question: "do you support universal background checks?" The amendment in question was far more nuanced than that.

    I see the defeat as result of pressure from individuals like myself (I'm NOT an NRA member) who are tired of knee jerk legislation that would not have saved one single life at Sandy Hook, but only further erode the rights and freedoms of all Americans.

    April 18, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  7. PY

    I was disappointed to see that the amendment did not pass. I want to ask the rightful responsible gun owner – what is the fear of proper background checks and registering their firearms. We all have to take a written test and a road test to drive a car. We need to know the rules of the road and responsible not to drink and drive and not to endanger others while driving a car. Why can we have some regulation for owning a firearms? Are we back at the wild wild west ara? The government is not going to confiscate firearms. It is not going to happen. I see banning cigarettes and alcohol would be in the front of the line if government be banning anything. I have no issue of responsible people owning firearm as long as they have proper background checks, gun training and knowing their responsibilities of safe keeping and transferring of sale. I do have issue if the firearm owners do not take their responsibility as a gun owner. If I got caught drink and drive, my license will be revoked. If I have a night vision problem, I will be restricted to drive in daylight. I would expect this to happen to all gun owners. If background indicates high risk of misuse then the person should not allow to own a firearm. If they don’t take up a good firearm practices they should lose their right to firearm. They need to be responsible. We all need to be responsible.

    With great power comes with great responsibility.

    April 18, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  8. boe33877

    Polls are not an accurate assessment of the American people. CNN is strongly for democratic views and spins everything to support a president that 90% of the people I know don't want him in office.

    April 18, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  9. Kevin

    Since when did the majority of any population actually support the correct answer to any question? You're talking about the majority, who are swayed by shiny objects and empty, undefined promises. Elections alone are more than enough proof. Politicians no longer give details on what they will do; they concentrate on their opponents wardrobe, knowing that the average voter is not swayed by sound policy, but by shiny objects and fake sincerity

    April 18, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  10. SPOT

    .

    How discussing! I guess all the NO votes really could care less what the American citizens really want. Shame on them all.I am sure the real swan songs will be heard with the next election of the Republicans

    April 18, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  11. Andy in Switzerland

    All those who voted against this bill should be publicly named and shamed.

    Sigh.

    April 18, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  12. dave0943

    I am a true supporter of the second ammendment. With that said, If the compromise included that a gun registry would be banned, would that hold up in the future. I don't think that there is enough trust here. I have no problem with closing the internet and gun show loop holes.I still don't see how that is going to stop a nut from getting a gun. It has been proven that you can go into quite a few bars and come out with a gun for the right price. There will always be black market sales. If closing the loop holes will make people feel better,than go for it. Just don't expect any law to change a nut getting a gun. It won't happen.

    April 18, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  13. JeffersonLives

    Great day for America and our Constitution!!!!

    April 18, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  14. MrCommonSense

    There are only 4 things Congress does agree upon and excels at:
    1. Voting when it makes them money: Salary, benefits, etc. They never disagree, filibuster, or vote it down. Ever.
    2. Ignoring the will of the people: Sure, they'll pander and promise, but that's just for our vote. When it comes time to represent the people, that promise and "good will" mysteriously disappears. Why? It's about the money.
    3. Voting in the interests of lobbyists: Why? They have big money, and big money always trumps voter interests. In this case, the NRA will put all it's clout behind any bill that may hinder the sale of guns (since the NRA is backed by the gun manufacturers).
    4. Total incompetence and ineptitude: Yes, beyond voting in the interests of big money lobbyists, Congress excels at being totally incompetent like no other group of adults. They don't have to act, for they created the policies (and amazingly voted on them) that ensure a fat salary and benefits for not getting anything done. Remember this at election time. You suck, and should be fired.

    April 18, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  15. Connerls

    I don't know any gun owner that supported the gun legislation that didn't pass. I certainly did not support it! Obviously the US Senators listened to the people!

    April 18, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  16. DoseOfReality

    "Journalists" and politicians that trumpet public opinions usually don't have an intellectual and/or logical leg to stand on.

    April 18, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  17. boe33877

    Good point Chuck

    April 18, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  18. Seathrun OCorrain

    An open letter to the U.S. Senate

    The year 1776 witnessed the writing of several profoundly influential documents , among these being the American Declaration of Independence, Common Sense by the American patriot, Thomas Paine, and, arguably, of equal import, Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Sadly, the recent vote by the U.S. Senate regarding the proposed legislation concerning the manner by which citizens are required to purchase fire arms has more to do with Mr. Gibbon and his detailed account of an Empire in decline than it does with a deliberative(?) body conducting its business in a manner born of the people, by the people, for the people. It is painfully ironic is it not that amongst this historian’s many findings, he came to the conclusion that the corrupt (and cowardly) Roman Senate played an integral part in Rome’s decline and subsequent fall? History is in danger of repeating.
    If you , senator, voted against this modest and sensible proposal because you feel it infringes upon the 2nd Amendment you are at the least a fool. These proposed requirements would ask less of the citizenry than what they must produce as proof of the competency needed to obtain a driver’s license!! If you voted against this legislation because you are fearful of the potential backlash from the NRA’s influence at the ballot box, then you are a coward. If you turned thumbs down (appropriately, a famous ancient Roman signum) on a bill that would modestly increase public safety for fear of losing campaign contributions from the many pro-gun lobbies, then you are in fact putting your own self interests before the lives AND civil liberties of many innocent souls. You are, in short, a corrupt politician.
    Yes, shame, shame on all 46 of you.

    April 18, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  19. rand

    The Senate, which is controlled by the president's own party, handed him a stinging first defeat for his second term by voting down a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks for gun buyers. The disappointment was all over the faces of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, their mouths turned into deep frowns as they appeared in the Rose Garden shortly after the vote.

    April 18, 2013 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  20. Mike

    THIS COUNTRY TOOK A STAND AND WON !!!!!!!!!!!! For you you out there that beleive this should have gone through, O WELL............

    April 18, 2013 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  21. Wendy

    If 90% of the population agreed to this then it would have passed! Use your heads. Background checks are ALREADY in place. Gun laws are ALREADY in place. Ask any lawful gun owner how many hoops they had to jump through before obtaining their permit. And how much they had to spend to get there. Here in Massachusetts it's more than frustrating for a law abiding citizen to obtain a permit... How long did it take the criminal to get his? NO LAWS WILL CHANGE THE CRIMINAL MIND. Guess I'm in the 10%, and ill proudly stay there.

    April 18, 2013 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  22. tony

    and don't come back asking to squash the 2a again

    April 18, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  23. dcase20

    Ignoring the will of the people. That's what congress does best.

    April 18, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  24. Som3 dude

    This entire story is full of crap. Those "polls" ,if they could even be called that, are so inaccurate its not even funny. Polling 1000 people and saying its what the country wants is garbage. There is 313 million people in this country and last I checked you needed to poll 10% for any type of accuracy. This is just propaganda by the anti gun nuts. Take a statistics course and try again. Maybe I'll go take a poll and see what it says. I'll stand outside a gun shop and see what the "random" people leaving vote. Stop the lies.

    April 18, 2013 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  25. Go Figure

    So muich for the hype about the percentage/number of Americans that want more of what doesn't work. The left was caught in a typical lie. "Our poll shows that ?? Americans want this or that." If you poll your left leaning faves and do about 1/100th of one percent this is what happens. I live in a blue state and people that I talk to don't want more of what doesn't work and the President did not help when he said that these actions would not have prevented Sandy Hook or a similiar event in the Future. In the end this is only to distract the sheeple.

    April 18, 2013 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
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