April 17th, 2013
06:15 PM ET
12 months 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. JERRY

    I think we should ban all pressure cookers with a capacity of more than 3qts, If they have a handle we will label them assualt cookers and ban them completly.

    April 18, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  2. dnc

    I tried, but I was unable to fine ANYONE that was polled..... Do you have to be a registered Democrat?

    April 18, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  3. Dhms

    The funniest thing is the polls they keep talking about. Most of them poll around 1000 adults nationwide. 1000. Now how they can say that this reflects the entire country with only around 1000 polled escapes me. What percentage of the population is that? That's why I never listen to polls. Law of averages just don't support it.

    April 18, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  4. Brian

    You do not govern by emotion. You do not erode the rights of others with emotion. As we have all found out, a knife, a bomb or other device will always be used. Anyone who thinks this bill was about reducing gun violence – has not read it. This bill was about starting down the road of removing the rights of the people. Today is a good day

    April 18, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  5. Anonymous

    Too bad the people using guns as public acts of violence are the ones who aren't going through the process legally.

    April 18, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  6. mike melson

    Well with 75% of the national not wanting obamacare, they passed. So how can obama say it was wrong for background check not to be passed because the polls said 80-90%. Of the people supported it, on polls number that were wrong. NRA is the reason background checks didn't pass, it was the milions of people who wrote there senators saying they didn't want there 2nd amendment rights taken away from them. I wish we could make these guncontrol/gun grabbers have to get a background check before they could use the 1st amendment

    April 18, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  7. A.

    I'm sorry but the logic I keep hearing from so many is something along these lines : "Criminals will do their best to find a gun without having to go through a background check so making them required is useless." It really makes it sound like this however: "Since criminals will do their best to get a gun without a background check we should just do nothing at all." Illinois has background checks and I have yet to hear how it's hurting anyone. Maybe I'm wrong but I really do feel that it's better to try and do something than do nothing at all and risk another horrible shooting...just my 2 cents.

    April 18, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  8. JohnW

    Apparently the will of the people means nothing to the incumbents in the Senate. Let's send them a message. VOTE AGAINST ALL INCUMBENTS IN THE NEXT ELECTION.

    April 18, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  9. lespearsen

    At what point did gun rights overcome the right to life?

    New York has almost 30,000,000 people and about 5600 gun deaths.
    Arizona has about 6,000,000 people and about 5300 gun deaths.

    New York has tough gun controls and Arizona, with 1/5th of the population, has very weak controls and almost the same number of deaths.

    Yet the gun polishers continually lie about this, and it is a lie, an intentional mistruth. The NY Arizona example actually reflects the trends among states. Tough gun laws, lower homicide rates.

    Stop getting statistics from the NRA, try the FBI (or are they still considered black booted thugs?)

    I am also curious how supposed Christians can ignore the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount and continue to let this carnage go on.

    April 18, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  10. M Cooper

    Absolutely a terrible shame that a few handful of people can control what the vast majority of us know is just wrong! How can anyone not pass a law asking for background checks for those who have deadly weapons, weapons that are killing out children by the minute! Shame on you elected officials who serve the people, shame on you NRA for senseless rhetoric!

    April 18, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  11. Bubba Ray

    The only way to prevent gun violence is with more guns.

    April 18, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  12. UDidntBuildThat

    Wasn't Fast & Furious desgined by DOJ to cause mass carnage so that there would be so much outcry, that the American people would demand a change in the constitution to eliminate the 2nd Amendment? No? Then what were they doing not tracking the guns? So it would not come back to them.
    Of course they got exposed and had to go with plan B. When Newton happened Plan B was put into place. Never let a good crisis go to waste.
    Will there be a ban on pressure cookers? I'm wating for that Bill to be introduced.

    April 18, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  13. Lead Headache

    @Joe, yes, this will stop massacres from happening at schools and other places with background checks. Sorry pal, you live in the world of fairies and unicorns.

    April 18, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  14. Bob

    That is right, keep using that school shooting to push your liberal agenda. The reason it did not pass is that fact that more checks and gun bans would not have stopped this. Stop trying to use these people who were involved in the shooting to push your agenda!!

    April 18, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  15. RC

    Well he got that statement right. It is always shameful to take advantage of people who are either weak or stressed beyond good sense.
    There should be a cooling off period before politicians take advantage of individuals.
    "All in all this was a pretty shameful day in Washington," added Obama, who was flanked by victims of gun violence.

    April 18, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  16. tuscany590

    Many on the left are complaining that the will of the people was ignored. This was a bipartisan effort, which was voted down in a bipartisan way, unlike obamacare, which was a (1) sided sham that the public overwhelmingly rejected.

    April 18, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  17. Calcommuter

    First it was Grover Norquist the Republicans in Congress feared by signing the "no taxes" document. If they ever voted for new taxes, he would get them removed from their seat. Now they buckled to NRA and their money for the same reasons. No mention of the will of the American people, just Washington, money, influence and power. We will have our say in the next two elections. They ignored you. They ignored those school children. Do something! vote. vote. vote.

    April 18, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  18. VBVAGUY

    Why are they going so hard on LAWS on checking someone ?? What they should be doing instead is getting the people that have mental problems the assistance that they need. More background checks will not stop gun violence. Bad guys will always get guns. In Japan guns are not allowed for the regular civilian population, yet none of the laws stop the bad guys in Japan from obtaining them and using them against the unarmed sheeple of Japan.

    April 18, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  19. yogi

    This is definitely not the greatest country in the world. Reading the posts of the gun lovers with their self serving logic shows how far away we are from civilization, and as soon as you oppose their opinions they will ask you to leave the country. In my travels around the world I have never seen such cultural illiteracy as is shown here by the loud mouths Republicans.

    We will see many more massacres until there is a very strict gun control in all states. It is incredible that an organization as the NRA still has such power over politicians, and organization that is run by the gun industry, and it's only purpose is the the sale of more weapons, they have zero interest in the deaths caused by guns, the more deaths the better for them because it helps the sales of more guns by spreading more fear.

    No, this is not the greatest country in the world, yet.

    April 18, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  20. wowzersz

    huh. the Republic actually works for once. fancy that.

    April 18, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  21. prairedoc

    Shame on those senators who's blindness to public opinion say, in essence, they care more for the N.R.A.'s financial support than for the safety and good of the people they represent and are suppose to serve. They should know that their actions will be remembered to their detriment.

    April 18, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  22. UDidntBuildThat

    Aerin-Gallup Poll: 91% of Americans support background checks for ALL gun sales.
    _____________________
    The Bill was not just about background checks.

    April 18, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  23. dannyC

    As a life long gun owner/collector and former competitive sport shooter I am beyond amazed that GUN OWNERS such as myself aren't tearing the NRA apart for this decision. It's the EXACT SAME attitude I hold as a RETIRED AIRLINE PILOT in regard to the requirement that everyone flying AIRCRAFT IN CONTROLLED AIRSPACE HAVE A VALID AND CURRENT PILOTS LICENSE!
    I don't want to share the sky with untrained pilots and I don't want people who can't pass a background check to have firearms. I certainly don't want to sell a gun to someone who might use it to kill someone, or even worse, leave it in a place where a kid could kill themself. Someone who will sell a gun to someone they don't know anything about have nothing to say about someone who sells RX drugs illegally. "How do I know that person was going to use the gun to kill someone?" Well, that person buying the Oxycontin might be getting them for their poor grandmother who hurt her back. Maybe they just want to get her a 4 year supply.
    You CAN NOT be a RESPONSIBLE GUNOWNER and OPPOSE BACKGROUND CHECKS. 5000 hours of "Gears Of War" really didn't give you a good grounding in respect for firearms. You are to firearms what the 17 year old who puts $10K into a Nissan Sentra and proclaims they are the best driver since AJ Foyt and they should be allowed to road race because their incredible natural talent makes it safe for them and everyone around them.
    Read that last sentence again and thing about this. They are 100% CONVINCED that it's true.

    April 18, 2013 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  24. Canadian

    I guess the NRA and the politicians who voted on their behalf don't mind innocent people and children being slaughter for no reason. Long live America.

    April 18, 2013 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  25. dave

    nobody called me and asked my opinion these polls suck.if 90 percent want to send immigrants back.will america send them back . 90 percent is a joke.lair

    April 18, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63