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. woodie

    Why does this opinion writer say public opinion trumped? I thought the bill was badly written and nobody accepted it as it was.

    April 18, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  2. Doris Godbey

    The headline should read: PUBLIC OPINION TRUMPS IN GUN CONTROL DEFEAT! Finally some Senators listened to their constituents instead of those polls that were so obviously designed to get a certain response! The public won for a change! Yeah!

    April 18, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  3. Janet

    CNN - it's amazing that when Obama doesn't get his way on something, you stop the Comments. Where's your objectivity in reporting?
    .
    Public opinion was served in this matter and the senate heard the American people. The problem is mental illness. A person intent on harming another will use anything as a weapon - gun, knife, hammer, rock, their hands, etc. Any weapon is a symptom of the illness.
    .
    Obama is mad because he didn't get his way. When he doesn't, he has these tantrums and/or 'runs to mommy', i.e., campaigns again to his base to try to force his decisions down America's throat. He had ObamaCare passed in the middle of the night because that was what he wanted. He's used the Executive Order too many times to get his way, including covering up crimes. He threw Hilary under the bus for Benghazi because he did nothing to prevent what happened and tried to pass it off due to a film. Talk about lying. He had been given warnings and did nothing but blame everyone else. Those killings are placed squarely on him. I would say on his conscience, but he doesn't seem to have one. America has never been so divided into various groups before him. He's done everything to put us at each other's throats instead of helping us work together for the great good.

    April 18, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  4. Happy Hunter

    I am very pleased with the outcome of this horrible idea. I have but just three things to say. 1. To use a gaggle of "families" to further your objective is pandering emotion at the very least and bordering on exploitation at most. 2. GUNS don't kill people, PEOPLE kill people. Put a gun outside in your back yard. check on it everyday for a year. I PROMISE you, nothing will happen UNLESS someone picks up that gun and uses it. 3. NO "long gun was used" Remember the words from the MEDICAL EXAMINER from Sandy Hook? His words! So why go after the very weapons that keep our President safe? One more! I promise. Hunting has been a family tradition for most of my 55 yrs. This has kept my Father and I close. Regardless of the things that have happened in our lives that would normally cause division between Father and Son, Hunting and all that goes with it, has kept us together as a family. Thank you Senate and those willing to save the Constitution!

    April 18, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  5. CitizenMatt

    There is a middle ground. I am a gun owner but I don't see a problem with background checks. The problem lies with the extremists on both sides (not just in gun control issues). You can't let the extremists have their way. States like California vote in Reps like Feinstein who is an extremist. If that's who California wants as a representative, let California enforce any laws that the voters deem necessary. If New Yorkers think that 16 oz soft drinks are harmful to their society, continue voting for the same reps. Let the rest of the country live the way they want. None of these senseless laws deter people who have no regard for the law anyway. They only affect the law abiding.

    April 18, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  6. Justin

    I am from NY, and normally I would be for something like this,and calling anyone who is against it an NRA nut, Until what happened to something like several million lawful gun owners that have done nothing wrong, here in NY. They passed a bill that harasses, targets, and criminalizes lawful citizens of the state, that have done nothing wrong, instead of making a bill that targets actual criminals, and psychos (for instance a law that states, if you use a gun, and someone ends up dead and it is not self defense, you face the death penalty, and armed guards in schools).Not for nothing, I believe that lawful gun owners, and even the NRA would go holding hands with lawmakers if they really wanted laws on the books that targets criminals, but since that has not happened here in NY, and the rest of the nation seen that (the governor said that NY was the model for the rest of the country) it looks like the Senate rejected the bill..In a round about sort of way.. the governor here in NY is actually responsible for this bill not clearing the Senate seeing that the rest of the nation saw how he rammed legislation through that harasses, criminalizes, and targets something like several million lawful citizens that has done nothing wrong :)

    April 18, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  7. Rain

    Public opinion gets trumped in gun control defeat????? Public opinion does not want anymore gun laws. These libs/dems are something else. Just because they think a thing they believe everyone else should as well. This administration has encouraged and rewarded illegal immigrants to invade the US by the millions yet they want to take our guns?

    April 18, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  8. Rickster

    Finally, some sane voting by our representatives. Thank you for listening to the people, doing whats right, and upholding your oath of office.

    April 18, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  9. johng75

    Let's try this again.

    I don't mind the background checks. But in exchange, remove the limitations. Don't add a new law that restricts us citizens that follow them while taking away more of our freedoms at the same time.

    You are following the same crappy process that the RIAA/MPAA/ and EA are doing by punishing the good for what the bad does.

    Go back and make a new bill that says "Background checks are mandatory. If you pass, you can now buy automatics, scary black rifles, pistols with infinite ammo, or whatever. You have earned it by being a damn good citizen."

    April 18, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  10. Joe

    When the next gun massacre happens in the US... and you ALL know it will... just remember you did nothing to stop it. Nothing at all.

    April 18, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  11. Janet

    That should have been for the GREATER good.

    April 18, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  12. John

    I dont understand how background checks to help keep guns out of potentially dangerous hands is a bad thing. 2nd Ammendment withstanding, it is a rediculous arguement that screening people would not affect the increasingly disturbing numbers of public mass shootings. It's big business that keeps the guns flying off the shelves, even at the expense of public safety. Im not against gun ownership, but lets use some common sense and make some changes. The 2nd ammendment was not made in a time where dozens of people could be mowed down in a matter of seconds. Fear and blind patriotism keep this country from protecting its citizens.

    April 18, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  13. Rain

    Public opinion ????? Public opinion does not want anymore gun laws. These libs/dems are something else. Just because they think a thing they believe everyone else should as well. This administration has encouraged and rewarded illegal immigrants to invade the US by the millions yet they want to take our guns?

    April 18, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  14. thinkscience

    What poll??? Quinnipiac, Washington Post, CBS, FOX! And there are more. More twisting and torturing of facts from the gun fanatics. Another fact. 54 in the Senate were FOR. That is a majority. This is a democracy. Stop the cowardly hiding behind the flimsy interpretations of the 2nd Amendment. Those senators voting against are heartless cowards. This isn't over.

    April 18, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  15. NorCalMojo

    Think of all the problems we could avoid if we allow the government to create a national database of mental illness.

    Guns are just the tip of the iceberg.

    Do we really want them voting? Should they be allowed to have children? Drive? If we allow the government to label certain people as insane or unstable and take their rights away, think of all the problems it will solve.

    The possibilities are endless.

    April 18, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  16. Tressa Resch

    right now we are in such a horrible time in this country, such ugliness, tragedy and sorrow. We are all American's we need to Unite, stop the petty bickering and snide comments about our elected officials. The Government needs to come together and show a United Front that we can get through all this tragedy and show all American's they can do the job we elected them to do. I as one American Pray and hope there is light at the end of this, lets spread love and being United, no more ugliness and pointing the finger that it is the other sides fault, we need a United America, divided we will fall.

    April 18, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  17. Change

    It failed due to lack of common sense not because of the gun lobby or us evil gun owners. If they put something on the table that would help stop violence then im sure we could all be in aggrement.

    April 18, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  18. Bill

    In one of the news magazines, I read that 86% wanted new gun control measures. Then at the end of the article in fine print, it showed the 86% came from 841 people being polled. The President, news media, and his party favorites in Congress only want to distort the truth – elected officials are to serve the will of the people, not a poll.

    April 18, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  19. thomaswde

    Its real simple CNN, everyone seems to get it but you so I'll spell it for you. Do Amercians support background checks? YES! Do we support expanded gun control that has been watered down to force it thru to validate the president's recent "grandstanding", absolutely not! The system worked yesterday, we told our senators to vote no and they did. I support background checks but I dod not support that bill so I told my senator to vote NO, he listened.

    April 18, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  20. Steve

    The problem with Liberals and Progressives is they think that taking away the 2nd Amendment is going to somehow miraculously avenge the death of all those beautiful kids in Newton. The truth? No, it's not! No bill, no measure, no regulation is ever going to bring those kids back, or serve as vengeance and revenge for the horrific crime that took place. All you're going to do is further remove more and more freedoms from law-abiding Americans who understand and respect the 2nd Amendment and choose to protect themselves. Criminals will never respect the law, or our rights. There are bad people in the world, and no measure the Government enacts will ever change that. That is the sad truth!

    It was a great day to see that our Constitution still lives in America! It was a great day to see that the words "Shall not be infringed" still have meaning, despite Obama's attempts to burn the Constitution and our rights. It was a great day to stand together and show we, as free people, can still defend ourselves.

    Thank God for the USA!

    April 18, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  21. Nayda Verier-Taylor

    So much for them being our Representatives. Accountability has clearly gone out the window in a non-election year.

    April 18, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  22. Anonymous

    bottom line none of the proposed measures will stop a psychopath from killing innocent people.........bring back the death penalty that will stop most of it!

    April 18, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  23. Willim Michealsmith

    CNN manufacures public opinion to bolster the Obama agenda . When CNN buys a pole , it will say what they want it to say , even if the vendor has to selectivly choose mostly Democrats to prove CNN's premiss . Media poles are pure propaganda anyway .

    April 18, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  24. ColdWarVet75

    Being a retired law enforcement officer, I realize that this was just "feel good" legislation. I have not seen in 20 years a criminal go to a gun show to buy a gun. They either steal one or they buy them on the street. We already have background checks done and there is a waiting period for hand guns. How about Democrats and Republicans get together and draft legislation that if you use a firearm during the commission of a crime there is an automatic mandatory minimum sentence? This would have to be done on the state level as few crimes are prosecuted at the Federal level. This could be accomplished is many Democrats didn't receive so much money from the American Bar Association and the American Trial Lawyers Association.

    April 18, 2013 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  25. Reality

    Always amusing to see when these people think public opinion on a bill matters. The healthcare scam was opposed by 3/4 the country.. but oddly we didn't see a single article about going against public opinion from CNN.

    April 18, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
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