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. Brussell

    90%????? Americans HAVE NEVER agreed at that ratio on anything.

    April 18, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  2. Doug Dickey

    Too bad liberals and Democrats cannot read nor work within the Constitution. When they do not get what they want, they try to circumvent the Constitution. The NRA has 5 million members and represents the 100 million firearm owners. That is not some fringe group, unlike the Obama groupies. If they do not like the US Constitution, they should either change it as provided by it or leave and go live in another country. I hope they pick the later because they have proven time and again, they do not have the support to do the former. As Obama supporters love to say, "you lost, get over it!"

    April 18, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  3. catamount

    Background checks did not seem to be the issue here as much as the possibility of a gun registry. I do not believe that will ever be supported. Do away with a registry and see what happens. But, most people do not trust government anymore, with good reason.

    April 18, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  4. Jon Deveroux

    It failed because it was complete nonsense which would not have prevented any of the recent incidents.

    April 18, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  5. Bryan

    If it were really 90%, you put it to a Constitutional amendment vote. After all, you are trying to restrict a Constitutional right.
    . . . Must not really be 90%

    April 18, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  6. labillyboy

    The utiopian society doesn't need guns, everyone lives in a city under a bio dome, all the food is processed hydroponically so there's no need for people to live on dirty farms outside of utopia. Unicorns and fairies run loose granting wishes to the poor who don't have to work. The burning of fossil fuels and the dirty, messy oil business are all a thing of the past. Everything is powered by magic. Everybody is sane, and happy. There is no disease and everyone lives forever. There is no crime because the government provides for every whim nobody lacks anything they want... and THEN... the LIBERAL woke up! I am still waiting for the gunphobic leftist, socialists to wake up! Maybe then we can have a sensible discussion about why we have the Second Amendment and why they can't take people's property away or their right to self defense. We can move to repeal the gun restrictions in places like Kalifornia, New York, Connecticut, Chicago, Washington DC. We can reinstate the right to carry a firearm concealed as a means of self defense in all 50 states. Right now, today, every single bad thing that you can do with a gun is highly illegal and then some. We don't need any more laws. What needs to happen is we need to start enforcing existing laws against violent crime. We need to increase sentences for criminals and make them serve hard time for the entire term, no probation, no early release. Make 10 years mean, 10 years. Change the prison environment from the ACLU version with TV sets, libraries, basketball... to breaking rocks in the hot sun. At the same time, in order to make room for these violent felons, we need to stop the war on drugs and let all the non-violent offenders out of prison. Do this and violent crime will grind to a halt. Heck, give every criminal a gun... make it so they know if they use it to commit a crime, that's it... they will be caught and locked up for a long, long time in a place they don't want to be. THAT is the "respectful" discussion we need to have.

    April 18, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  7. patricia walton

    Do you honestly believe that more laws are going to stop the criminals from getting guns. Like criminals go to a gun store to buy a gun. In case you have not heard The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 requires background checks.The only people you are penalizing are those who are law abiding citizens. More laws are not going to lower the crime rate.And no I do not own a gun nor do I plan on it.

    April 18, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  8. Gargoyle

    – Stop blaming guns – blame people –Background checks wouldnt have stopped Sandy Hook shooting

    April 18, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  9. Pete Hommes

    I have a question fot those of you favoring registration of my guns. How many of the Chicago gang-bangers have registered their guns? Remember, Illinois has extremely restrictive gun laws. I fact, what percentage of the crooks in your neighborhood are going to line up to register their guns when the law you are backing is passed?Have you notice that most of the horrific gun related murders are committed in gun=free zones? Have you noticed that all those who commit those heinous crimes are democrats? Yoa know very well it is not about guns, it's about control.

    April 18, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  10. Leo30000

    All these polls have been reference to. Funny if the majority of Americans polled favored one way or the other I should have had at least one phone call asking my opinion. I know the majority of my family, friends,
    & neighbors are against any new gun laws but not one received a call. So who was called & in which geographic area of this country. Was it a predominately red state or blue. I would like to see the data on area polled. Area codes would be OK

    April 18, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  11. Ashley

    Yeah, because biased polls conducted by liberal media outlets are always true. The correct thing was done.

    April 18, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  12. Mike

    If it was JUST background checks and mental health background checks I think i may have passed even though background checks do NOTHING to stop someone from getting an illegal firearm. Keyword "illegal". Enforce the laws already on the books and you might be pleasantly surprised.

    April 18, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  13. SB

    90% of the American people were against the Affordable Healthcare Act, was that poll a consideration before it became law of the land? NOOOOO

    April 18, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  14. vet70

    government by the people, for the people....? If the polls are correct, that 90% of the people support background checks and our employees (our elected reps) are not voting as their employers (we the people) wish, then the reps should be replaced, with someone who will listen to their employers. Each state rep. must vote as directed by his employers. It is not about how he/she feels about any bill, IT IS ABOUT THE PEOPLES CHOICE!

    April 18, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  15. guest

    I am a republican but in my view they all just hurt thier re-election chances, I will vote against anyone that voted no to this bill. Not sure how the feel they protected their re-election chances. They just hurt them even more. If that party doesn't adopt to the changing world, they will be gone. And that will not be good for this country

    April 18, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  16. onepercenter

    "The American people are trying to figure out: How can something have 90% support and yet not happen?" The answer, Mr. Obama, is because we are not a democracy, we are a republic. You know..."and to the republic for which it stands". We are a nation of laws, not majority rules. Enforce the laws on the books, stop coddling criminals, start teaching Judeo-Christian values, and the problem will be significantly reduced. Like him or not...the teaching of Jesus works!

    April 18, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  17. Liberty Brigade

    Oh man anti-gun measures failed...time for the backup plan, banning fertilizer!

    April 18, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  18. Bill

    The polls were CNN polls...'nuff said

    April 18, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  19. Pat Cooke

    I am proud of those Dem Senators that voted 'no'. I have already sent them thank you cards. I don't think the President is looking at credible pollsters. Everyone I know feel that the words, "shall not be infringed" mean just that. Gun Control isn't on the top of my worry list, neither is Immigration. The only real thing I'm concerned about is the economy and jobs and every thing else is just shiny things that are supposed to distract us. The President is right on track to bring the U.S. down to third world status and fundamentally transform America.

    April 18, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  20. Lance Brown

    The gun control movement has shamefully paraded children, politicians and other victims of gun violence to no end. They have repeated one lie after another, used decades old data in polling and worded those polls to force answers to fit their agenda. As late as today; Feinstein still refuses to aknowledge the differences in auto, versus semi auto firearms. Obama is not qualified to call anyone a liar when he wouldn't know the truth if was sitting next to him. He calls Fort Hood "work place violence", refuses to allow contact with survivors of Benghazi and the list goes on. You allow your 2nd Amendment to be infringed, and your 1st will follow. Bloomberg, Feinstein, Obama and the rest of the American public saw first hand yesterday what America thinks about gun control. Those screaming the loudest are just too blind to see it. Your poll was wrong. Yesterday was proof.

    April 18, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  21. Jared Trombettas

    Tyranny of the majority. Ever heard of it?

    April 18, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  22. Joe

    The outcry over this is so hilarious.. First, the "86 %" that are okay with the background checks doesn't automatically mean that all of them are upset that the background checks didn't pass. Second, this legislation is flawed in so many ways. First, it wouldn't have stopped Newtown. Second, it won't ultimately stop people from getting guns. Third, I find it ironic that the same people who get mad that the Senate "ignored" public opinion are going to be okay with SCOTUS ignoring the people of California's VOTE on proposition 8. You can't have it both ways. The reason for the Republic is so the majority (if you really have one) cannot trample the rights of the minority and here we're even talking about an enumerated Constitutional right. And before anyone jumps to conclusions: I do not own a gun, I consider myself politically moderate, and I even voted for Obama (once).

    April 18, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  23. Ken

    When I was in college in the 80's, my liberal professors were all raving about the Brady bill. They told us how it would do so much to curb handgun violence. The Brady bill became law almost 20 years ago, and violence has continued. Has it occurred to anyone that maybe – just maybe – gun control does not work?

    Some of you have been asked how this proposed bill would have prevented the Newtown massacre. I've yet to see an answer. I've asked that question of many people, and all they do is spout the same old talking points. I don't know where this "90 percent" figure comes from; if support for gun control were that strong, you'd think the Senate would have passed the bill. Has it occurred to anyone that maybe support for the bill wasn't so strong as they like to think?

    April 18, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  24. John Gilbert

    Tougher background checks doesn't necessarily mean universal background checks. They knew going in that universal background checks are useless without a national gun registry. That registry was deemed unlawful years ago (why? Because it's only a step away from confiscation, and that can not happen as long as the 2nd Amendment is valid). And for all of you follow the Liberal belief that the NRA is an evil bully, go do some research as to why the 2nd Amendment exists. You don't like guns? Fine. But you have no business messing with my right to own and carry one.

    April 18, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  25. ConfucianScholar

    This ridiculous polls represent only the people who has been brainwashed by CNN and their political agenda. The days of honest journalism are gone.

    April 18, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
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