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. WT

    I wasn't polled. Don't know anyone who was.

    April 18, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  2. ShawnDH

    The disgraced and shamed Senators who defied the CLEAR WILL OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE in favor of a small, well funded extremist group (the NRA) will pay for this with their jobs.

    April 18, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  3. Guest

    Don't fool yourself. The system did not work yesterday. Only in America does 46 trump 54. Every where else 51 is a majority. 1 point beats a basketball game ending in 115 to 114. CEOs covet the one vote majority in the Board Room. But the dems are to blame. The four dems who voted no are really republicans. It's usually the same dems that vote with the republicans. And, they did not want to end the filibuster when they had a chance to protect the republicans. If the majority of their State wanted them to vote "no" it's all right, but was that the case? I would like to hear from those four dems and see if they voted the call ins. Reid is understandable as far as the procedural vote is concerned.

    April 18, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  4. Gb

    Listen... You people need to understand that we DO NOT LIVE IN A DEMOCRACY. We live in a Constitutional Republic. In a pure Democracy, whatever the majority wants goes. So if the majority decide that they want to take your house from you they can. Or if the majority decide they want to go back to the days of slavery, they can. But in a Constitutional Republic, every citizen has certain rights that are protected by law FROM THE MAJORITY. So frankly, the fact that 90% of the population is ok with background checks is irrelevant. It does not give you the right to infringe on the rights of other law abiding citizens who want to have their guns (protected by the 2nd amendment) with big brother looking over their shoulders.

    April 18, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  5. dnc

    I propose a MANDATORY 5 year sentence ADDED to the regular sentence for anyone convicted of using a firearm in a felony case, without the posibility of parole or sentence shortening for good behavior for those 5 years. Let's make it about taking it to the law-breakers.

    April 18, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  6. Rick

    The only thing to get trumped by this decision is Obama's continued effort to ensure the rights of law abiding American citizens to defend themselves are removed. What I haven't heard is Obama's explanation of how stiffer background checks would have stopped any of the elementary school tragedies. All of the weapons used were bought legally. Obama has this pipe dream that those who plan to murder someone are going to go into their nearest gun shop give up a fingerprint , and maybe a DNA sample, then signing a sworn affidavit explaining who they are planning on killing, when, and where.

    MOST CRIMINALS DON'T OBTAIN THEIR GUNS LEGALLY!!! Stiffer background checks won't change a thing!!! Here's a thought...If the government spent as much time and money trying to stop criminals as they do harrassing law abiding citizens,...then there would be fewer shootings, and fewer deaths. Mr. Obama...How about fighting the problem from the root, rather than taking the easy way out by looking for someone to place the blame on after the incidents occur.

    Maybe it would also help if you would trying leading from in front, rather than leading from the golf course. Just a thought.

    P.S. I don't think that internal CNN polls really count as 90% of the population. Nice try though!!!

    April 18, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  7. An Eye on the city

    Lobbies are twisting democracy, how can they defeat the american people willingness to stop the proliferation of guns? it is outrageous

    April 18, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  8. Jim

    Typical reaction over lost legislation is to lash out and chastize the people who voted it down. This childish behavior demonstrarted by Malloy & Obama to immediatly demonize and further divide the country is typical of the galvanizing Obama administration. When will they learn that shaming and hammering your opposition publicly will rarely induce them to see things your way? Someone who truly wants to unite the country would have just stated that, "Things need to be done to stem the violence, clearly this approach was not correct and we all need put our collective heads together to work together and come up with a mutually acceptable plan that will address all issues and the concerns of boths sides of the debate." Instead our president and Ct Gov malloy whined like insolent children. Reliance on poll numbers that do not directly address the exact substance of the bill is like comparing apples to automobiles. Factually the data does not relate to the fundamental points in the bill.

    Who doesn't want guns out of the hands of bad people? Other bad people maybe? To say that the NRA wants to arm lunatics is a truly misinformed statement. The NRA and groups like the NSSF in Newtown are the only ones advocating for gun safety. The government actuallly relies on the NRA to promote gun safety because it does not weigh in on that issue. The nuances and amendments in the bill were it's undoing. Everybody wanted something, Feinstein wanted her assault weapons/magazines in excess of 10 rounds amendment passed, Schumer wanted a national registry, Manchin/Toomey did have some good provisions, but the bill as a whole was hastily constructed and wasn't put out there for the public to read and digest. Like the Connecticut legislation, it had to be rammed through, no questions asked, limited debate – "We've waited long enough!". Stamping your feet, rushing the bill through in secrecy will make skeptics of us all. That's why the bill died, not the influence of a lobby group. The politicians listened to the constituents of their states and voted for them.

    April 18, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  9. glk20c

    Psst. It wasn't the gun lobby that defeated this bill. It was the American people calling our senators and telling them not to vote for it.

    April 18, 2013 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  10. scott

    15000 criminals attempted to illegally obtain a firearm, 44 prosecutions. Why not enforce the laws on the Books! Why more regulation, why continue to attack the bill of rights? Deal with the Criminals and the mentally ill, then when the current laws are working then come back for a discussion. Internet sales require FFL and background check. Gun show require an FFL and background check. Criminals in the alley buying a gun out of the back of a car, NO BACKGROUND check. Mentally ill people shouldnt have guns, maybe shouldnt be allow to drive. this is what needs to be debated and why isnt the government enforcing the current laws?

    April 18, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  11. billy bob

    Statistics say a lot. Assuming 10% of the population owns guns, and 20% have contacted their representatives/Government about gun control, it is still a lot fewer people than the 10% of the remaining 90% of the population. The same goes for the rest of the paragraph.

    April 18, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  12. LTN

    I am not a gun owner yet I believe in the second amendment and that our founding fathers had it right. I feel that during those times they reasoned citizens should have the right to bear arms to protect themselves against state or other goverment or country militias, especially invading countries. Perhaps our founding fathers had the foresight of crime and violence in our neighborhoods and homes and one should have the means to protect themselves from that as well. However, did they have enough foresight to see massive killings at schools, churches, movie theaters, parking lots, and possibly other venues where large groups of people congregate such as sporting events, concerts, parades? Would they have believed the invention of powerful guns and high capacity magazines could have existed? Times have changed, shouldn't an amendment be considered for such extreme changes? I would not want to see the right of gun ownership taken away from stable, law-abiding citizens, but hope that a law, bill, amendment or make it harder for criminals or a mentally un-stable person(s) to possess guns. I don't believe our founding fathers envisioned such citizens causing such massive harm to others when they created the second amendment.

    April 18, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  13. Ryan

    The bill didn't pass because it wasn't the people's will. Curbing guns won't matter if we still have a bunch of crazy people running around. Hell, nobody cared about the school stabbing that happened not too long ago. Maybe it was because the knife didn't shoot any projectiles.

    April 18, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  14. ZZ

    Your constitution was written in the Industrial Revolution 15 years before the invention of the steam locomotive, and 20 years before the invention of the tin can !!!

    Maybe time to update to at least the 18th century.

    April 18, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  15. Devin

    Absolutely ridiculous. So much for being a responsible nation.

    April 18, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  16. Marty Marten

    They voted for what the gun loving residents of their state wanted, that's representing their voters. That's public opinion not CNN's cited polls that are no doubt asking the wrong people questions they aren't qualified to answer. Fact is a criminal will get a weapon, gun laws, background checks or not. That's reality, deal with it and be glad the 2nd ammendment give us all the right to defend ourselfs from the ones not following the rules/laws.

    April 18, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  17. Linda

    90% Really Your poll is way off

    April 18, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  18. AnotherGuest

    This article is misinformed and liberal-slanted.

    The NRA didn't stop this bill, the American People did. It doesn't solve any problem. Instead, it punishes legal gun owners, strips away more of their rights to buy, own and sell weapons as they choose. Moreover, it doesn't prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook. Bottom line is, there are no good answers, and this legislation targets the wrong people, for the wrong reasons.

    CNN is far too liberally slanted. Journalism is supposed to be fair and balanced, yet there is no news organization that is so. The people did not want this bill, and let their representatives know that.

    Liberals also seem to forget that the NRA is a group of American citizens, and they let their voices be heard in Washington. These people have loudly said, "Find another way." So Washington, get to work!

    April 18, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  19. DLF

    Obviously it doesn't have 90% public approval then does it. You are liar and a fake. Keep throwing your tantrum though. Maybe it'll help people see what you are.

    April 18, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  20. Real World Democrat

    Obama still refuses to release the Fast Furious documents . Obama still refuses to use DHS to forcibly take guns away for Drug Cartel opperatives and drug gangs in the USA . Fast and Furious was a tactic to give the Sinaloa Cartel assault weapons for information on the other cartels , kind of like a bribe . Obama can use DHS storm troopers to clean out Chicago of gun violence , for some reason he chooses not to . ( Sinaloa's need to make thier money )

    April 18, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  21. Davy

    As it is often said that all politics is local. Seems to me that the senators that voted "no" are simply reflecting the wishes of a majority of the voters in their state. If they feared loosing the next election by voting yes, they must have concluded that a majority of their voters wanted the no vote. What am I missing?

    April 18, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  22. Gary

    Public opinion is primarily based on what the people in a few large cities think, just because there are so many people living there. Why should the federal government pass laws that require less populated states to do what the popular opinion in these large cities say they should do? People in NYC have no idea how people in Louisiana want to live. These sorts of laws should be left up to the states, not the federal government.

    April 18, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  23. rr

    With 90% of Americans agreeing to have extended background checks on armed purchases and the law being cut down in the Senate, this is the New United States of America. Americans without representative. Our Representatives did not listen to the people, but to an organization called the NRA who are the few. The rights of the majority were dismissed. This is a very sad day for our Senators not doing the right thing. This is not the end.

    April 18, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  24. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    MESSAGE TO THE NEWTON, AURORA, OAK CREEK, TUCSON COMMUNITY:

    There's a legal doctrine in this country that implies "no one should take the law into their own hands." But unfortunately what the GOPT/D did yesterday was broke that doctrine, thereby implying that we Americans are on our own when it comes to domestic terrorism. With that being said, I urge each and every one of you to arm yourself and protect your families because our governemnt does NOT serve our interest to "defent serve and protect." Good Luck and God bless!

    April 18, 2013 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  25. Vickers

    yeah, if 90% of the people actually wanted it, it would have passed. so.......

    April 18, 2013 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
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