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. Mark

    If my information about this bill is correct, this is actually a good thing. It's my understanding that this bill would have exempted sales to family members including aunts, Uncles and other relatives. It would have also exempted sales to "friends" whereby everyone, even those you don't know, can simply become your "friend" and thereby making this bill not even worth the paper it was printed on. If this is indeed correct information (and please tell me that I'm mistaken) then hopefully when the bill is presented once again, it will be written properly, closing ALL loopholes and doing what is, to me, commonsense. As for voting against this bill simply for political reason of re-election concerns, I think this once again raises the issue of a one to two term elections. These politicians are suppose to be the voice of all the people, for the people and not for some lobby or corporation and if the folks of the NRA and their members only excuse is to be able to fight back against a tyrannical government, I wish them all well going up against the B-2 bomber, heat seeking missiles and drones. Without question our government has some serious issues in the way things are done in Washington, but in most cases, voices in large numbers can be more effective than a gun. It's extremely worrisome that our elected officials have silenced these voices with fear and because of this, the people don't speak out. I can only wonder what's in store for my granddaughter where my country is concerned. As far as this commonsense bill, rewrite it properly and have the courage to do the right thing and pass it....even though the 2nd amendment has nothing to do with the people's right to bear arms. It was written for state militias which no longer exist and not for the common citizen which makes the amendment outdated and null and void. This whole debacle makes little sense to me.

    April 18, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  2. Miranda

    Public Opinion was against Obamacare and it passed anyway/. It seems to me that reporters cling to public opinion when it aligns with their agendas.

    April 18, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  3. JCMars

    Finally the Senate does something we can be proud of. Protecting our rights. For the anti-self defense people out there, thing how you would feel if a new limitation was place on abortions for minors, say a parental consent requirement or the like.

    April 18, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  4. nana

    First, most of America wants stricter gun controls. Look at the polls nationwide. It is a fact, despite what the NRA tells you. Those in Congress who voted against it did so because they fear the NRA and the money they get paid from them. What is interesting is that the bulk of the anti-gun control comments here echo the NRA talking points. What was that about thinking for yourselves?

    Second, the argument that criminals will not submit to any laws on gun control is beyond silly. We are not concerned with criminals. LOOK at who are committing these horrible acts, it is not some guy from the hood or some illegal immigrant.

    Third, not wanting background check on you when you are writing a comment on cnn.com? Are you serious? You are on the INTERnet!!! Besides, if you have nothing to hide or fear, if you are a good, law abiding citizen, what do you care?

    Most important, the hallmark of living in a civilized society is giving up some conveniences in order to live in greater harmony with everyone. That is a good Christian. It is understanding that your 2nd amendment right is not as important as everyone's 1st amendment right and being fine with that.

    April 18, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  5. Babs

    News reports indicate the people want gun control but the NRA does not. I am one of the people and I also am a member of the NRA. Politicians and the press need to get it that the criminals and mentally will not be defeated in their efforts to acquire guns by making it more difficult for responsible citizens to purchase guns. The facts seem to indicate that no one is smart enough to take on the issues of gangs/terrorists, mental health, over population, or the lack of significant punishment for criminals.

    April 18, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  6. IvotedforObama

    WHEN not IF the next mass shooting happens, don't whine about it America because it is your own fault.

    April 18, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  7. Informed

    INTERNET SALES AND GUN SHOWS DO CURRENTLY REQUIRE BACKGROUND CHECKS! Anyone stating otherwise are the misinformed ones. And if you think gun laws do anything other than increase crime and death rates then you are truly misinformed. Stop getting your information from CNN. CNN’s strings are pulled by the government and they do nothing but report what the government wants you to hear. Public support IS NOT for more gun laws because a majority of the public is smart enough to educate themselves with true facts. Gun laws do not work!!! See Chicago, Australia, Europe, New York for examples. Passing gun laws have done nothing but put citizens that follow the law in harm’s way. Are you for more deaths or against it? Stop being puppets! Stop being foolish and learn your facts!

    April 18, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  8. Stacy Halterman

    All of you that truly believe that any poll showed this are truly ignorant! If they believed that public opinion was for this, why not just move to put it on a ballot for the voters to vote on? Because they know that IT WILL NOT PASS! It would be nice if news outlets would just stick to delivering the new in an unbiased form. Leave politics to the idiots in Washington, they do a bad enough job at without having CNN shove their liberal views down our throats!

    April 18, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  9. Just right Thinking

    Public opinion was completely against ObamaCare and Democrats JAMMED that down our throats. But that was apparently ok by you whack jobs.

    April 18, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  10. TravT

    Clearly there is a discrepancy here. The polls suggest that 90% of the population believes in expanding backgroud checks. Yet the majority of Senators feared that they would lose their seats if they voted in favor of the bill. Either the polls are inaccurate or the fear of NRA retribition is heavy. Let's work on campaign finance reform first. Let's ban ALL political donations. Then we will know who our elected officials really work for.

    April 18, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  11. Thomas Lippert

    Only the liberal public opinion lost. People whom care about their rights won.

    April 18, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  12. B stewary

    I dont remember being polled! The 90% must have been polled above the Mason Dixon line

    April 18, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  13. milenkovic milan

    Gallup poll on 04.12.13. show that only 15 % Americans support Congress ??? My the biggest concern during Pr. Obama second term is gridlock in Congress ( economy, unemployment, houses market depression are improving). President should use more Executive orders, Veto and deadline to be more effective!!! I gave my support to President to say NO to AR-15 or any other assault weapons in everyday life, and NO guns on Campus in ALL States. Gun control Law is so important for us, our children, for USA futures…

    April 18, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  14. Anonymous

    It doesn't matter if 99.9999% of the population wants gun control, even if only 1 person was against any gun control, the 2nd Amendment GUARANTEES that right. NO MATTER what the rest of the population wants.

    April 18, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  15. Tim DiFalco

    In the face of another tragedy the cowards in the Senate on both sides of the aisle cannot even pass the most pathetic watered-down version of stronger background checks for America's beloved guns. Once again the gun lobby and the 4 million member NRA have far more power and influence to promote violence than the other 296 million Americans who have no voice at all. Let's pray that all of you cowards out there that keep blogging about how necessary it to have no gun control laws, never have your families face the violence in Newtown, or countless other senseless acts of violence. Keep drinking the conservative kool-aid and defending unchecked violence in America, and maybe we can become just like the Middle East where we can all be afraid all the time. Keep your precocious 2nd Amendment that no one is challenging in the first place, but please stop pretending to care about the innocent victims of our American tragedies, when your uncompromising right-wing politics and greed for the almighty dollar, are the only things you are truly willing to defend.

    April 18, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  16. lionhart

    Weather you agree or not why not allow a vote? That's what is cowardice about it. Senators are elected to vote on bills not avoid them!!!!

    April 18, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  17. Fedupinseattle

    MSM whines about senate trumping public opinion about background checks yet celebrated dems trumping public opinion on Obamacare.

    April 18, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  18. Pam

    Polls can be skewed, I certainly have not been asked my opinion. I am sure many pollsters have an agenda...and the results can portray one thing and still not be the majority opinion even though that is what they try to make people believe.

    April 18, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  19. Theresa

    So tell me exactly how gun control would have stopped the tragedy at Sandy Hook? Or Columbine? What has gun control done for the city of Chicago who has the strictest gun control laws in the country yet has the highest number of gun violence?

    April 18, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  20. Thinking Person

    When you quote numbers like 86% you loss all credibility. 86% of Americans would not agree on a tax break. We are diverse and have many opinions. What I observe with the entire debate is a play on emotions of how the gun caused bad things to happen. If we take a problem solving approach to the issue, then we will end up addressing the real issues which is not guns. To paraphrase one of our fore fathers, Those that would abandond their freedoms in a quest for security, deserve neither.

    As long as we allow politicians to drive us to emotion, we will be like sheep wandering where ever we are lead. Time for Americans to think issues through and look for what is hidden from view. Think about the motives of those trying to drive their agenda.

    I applaud those that had the courage to stand their ground to not allow emotion to sweep away our liberty.

    April 18, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  21. Taylor

    Which public opinion are you referring to? This is surprisingly one of the first votes in this administration that actually reflects public opinion and the correct way to proceed. This site is a joke.

    April 18, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  22. Henry Snoospit

    Why is it so hard to find out who voted which way? So that you can vote them out.

    April 18, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  23. Willy

    The majority of Americans didn't want Obamacare. Just sayin....

    April 18, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  24. Anonymous

    And why is he a supporter of gun control when his hometown, Chicago, has the strictest gun control, yet has one of the highest murder rates, shows that gun control doesn't work?

    April 18, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  25. Frank Steele

    "You need a license to drive, why not one for owning a gun?" Ah, another liberal IDIOT thats doesn't understand the difference between a privilege and a RIGHT.

    April 18, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
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