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. JoJo

    "....How can something have 90% support and yet not happen?"
    Because this is a militaristic plutocracy, no longer a democratic republic. If the top 1% say "no", then "no" it is. They own the country, the government, the media and through the media, the minds of enough voters to keep their control over most of the government and everything else. They own YOU and me, my friend.

    April 17, 2013 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  2. Kathleen Pedersen

    I am so disheartened over the Senate's failure to support legislation for gun background checks. The NRA is buying our congressmen and senators through political donations and threats/intimidation to keep them in line. Why should a congressman or senator FEAR receiving a grade from the NRA? They certainlty don't FEAR getting a grade from me, the citizen they are supposed to be representing! I am ashamed to be an American today.

    April 17, 2013 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  3. yogi

    By defeating this common sense bill, the Republicans put civilization in reverse only to guarantee more profits for the gun industry. Republicans are disgusting.

    April 17, 2013 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  4. vidal808

    It's those idiotic Republicans again. I hope we can get rid of that party as soon as possible....a waste of time and a disgrace to this country!

    April 17, 2013 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  5. GI Joe

    I don't mean "our" to include myself – I mean U.S. folks in the illegal militias. (Just wanted to clarify that one).

    April 17, 2013 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  6. Angryoldwhiteman

    Reid is the LIAR. He says his NO vote was procedural but everyone knows it was to save his butt from the NRA and Nevada voters! He waited until the end to cast his vote so he wouldn't be placed on the same boat with all the other rats.

    April 17, 2013 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  7. travis o'connor

    The public has to contact those senators who voted so and put them on notice that you WILL vote them out of office come next election.

    April 17, 2013 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  8. John North

    Did CNN lament that congressional action trumped public opinion when the Democrats passed Obamacare?

    April 17, 2013 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  9. Gunsmith48

    I 'm ashamed to admit the I am from Colorado. Our state was hijacked by the President and all of his Liberal friends, who in my opinion should stay out of Colorado State business. There was not one Conservative Elected official that voted the new state left wing laws that were passed recently. Yes, our legislators will pay for this in the 2014 elections. We took our licks with this, but it is a Sate problem not a national problem. But on the national level the anti-guns are crying loudly about losing this vote including our President. The poll that was taken shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting and emotions running of which the libs sated that 90% of Americans are in favor of the "Universal Background Check" which the poll actually was worded that in a general context that Americans want a change in Background Check but not in this specific Bill. Have the Anti-Gunners even read this bill? They are playing with the meaning of Back Ground vs Universal Background Check, this was an attempt to manipulate the public opinion by using a false premise to back up their Opinion.

    April 17, 2013 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  10. joeinalabama

    I have to think that this 90% poll thing must have a problem, I don't think you can 90% of Americans to agree on anything.

    April 17, 2013 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  11. Grinning Libber

    A lot of ex-congress critters come 2014!

    April 17, 2013 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  12. Jay D

    Once again the Republican party has shown there willingness to concede to big money and not to the will of the people. They wonder why they got there butt kicked in the elections. It seems everytime they get a chance to do what's right by the American people they continue to go against public opinion. At this rate, if they don't get it together, there won't be a republican party to worry about. The majority isn't going to believe that they represent them and not big business. It doesn't matter if none of these mass killings would have been prevented. It just matters that more people would be alived today if it wasn't so easy to get a gun.

    April 17, 2013 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  13. Jim

    The idea that the vote trumped public opinion demonstrates the banal nature of the media's coverage of these issues. "Public Opinion" is most often measured by a handful of simplistic, multiple choice questions such as, "Do you favor some form of additional background checks y/n." That measures SOMETHING, but it certainly does NOT even begin to measure the public's view of, "Do you support a law that does, X, Y, and Z, fails to do ABC, and costs $XYZ to implement etc." All bills are (intentionally) complicated. If you got people to READ an entire bill and then asked them (without coaching from their Union, PAC, etc) whether they support a given bill, you'd get a different answer, either because it's indecipherable or because they feel differently when they see the real option before them.

    April 17, 2013 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  14. Ancient Texan

    The administration lie that 40% of guns sold were not included in background checks also suggested that the government could not be trusted as to whether the background check modifying would also result in a national registry.

    April 17, 2013 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  15. DL

    Poof positive we have the best Congress money can Buy. I am so ashamed.

    April 17, 2013 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  16. victor

    Cowards, Cowards!!! The NRA supports the right of law abiding citizens and CRIMINALS, THE MENTALLY ILL, FELONS the right to buy a gun online or at a gun show. You right wingers don't tell me you support law and order, you support your police force, what a lie

    April 17, 2013 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  17. Eric A.

    Skewed Polling at its finest.

    April 17, 2013 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  18. bdby

    Now from what I am hearing this bill guaranteed that no database would be set up to collect information. This is something the NRA conveniently over looked and mislead their members. Shame on you NRA you mislead your members. After hearing and reading about this bill I don't think it would affect the 2nd amendment and my rights. I for one am for this bill and others in other states should contact their members in the senate and pressure them to change their mind and vote for it too.

    April 17, 2013 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  19. D. Turner

    "The American people are still trying to figure out: How can something have 85 percent opposition (Obamacare) and yet still be enacted?"

    April 17, 2013 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  20. Doubltap

    Public opinion gets TRUMPED? Hardly, you fuzzy brained liberal twit! Public opinion trumped liberal nonsense is more like it. Gee you socialist progressives [yeah, I know a redundancy, but I wanted the emphasis] sure can't stand it when the American public can't be scammed, can you!

    April 17, 2013 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  21. barbara

    Pure CNN propaganda..... or should I call it ONN.... Obama network news. The vote did not trump public opinion..... that's CNN's opinion. There are enough laws already in place.

    April 17, 2013 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  22. coderjones

    is there any doubt remaining, that the government does not represent the people?

    the president called it shameful – I say it's typical

    April 17, 2013 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  23. michael

    public opinion always gets trampled evreyday under the feed of these elected devils .

    April 17, 2013 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  24. allenwoll

    .
    INFLUENCE MONEY trumps public opinion : DOWN with "Citizens United" ! ! !
    .
    The GunNutz want their Freedom and Liberty - But sell them both for a gun in the hand ! ! !
    .

    April 17, 2013 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  25. Ryan

    Restricting rights and freedoms of American Citizens won't solve the issues of violence in our country. Stopping violent people will. Can we get the conversation started about preventing the progression of violent behavior to the levels we see at Columbine, VA Tech, Newtown, etc? All the offenders in these cases had histories of violence, known to many in their respective families and communities yet their tendencies were allowed to escalate from scary to murderous. Our focus as a nation must turn to solving this, while remaining vigilant in protecting and preserving our rights and freedoms.

    April 17, 2013 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
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