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. d.

    Im glad it didnt go through. Sandy hook was terrifying and tragic, but to make a witch hunt after guns keeping our kids safe was statically faulty. The colorado movie incident is another example, his own therapist made warnings to both his campus security and the police about his homicidal thoughts and tendencies a month before it happened. Making everyone else have to fill out more paperwork, wait longer, and put into question what rifle is or isnt to be used would never change the evil like the two of these shooters go through. Our second amendment right is a very important one. There is no sense in hindering it or removing it on the offset chance that we fear our neighboor may be a crazed lunatic.

    April 18, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  2. john Hensley

    CNN...ABC...who are they going to poll? Registerd Democrats and Liberals! sure you will get 90% in favor of gun control everytime. I heard them say yesterday that some higher up law offical stated that without a national gun registry that the expanded back ground check would be useless....did you catch that? national gun regestry...no wonder Obama and Biden had the long faces...if hey had a national gun registry, they would know just where to send nato troops to confinscate all the weapons!

    April 18, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  3. TheObserver

    Well done NRA lobbyists. You've proven you're money and sway is stronger than 90% of the American people. Impressive. Just remember, if someone dear to you is a victim of gun violence, on behalf of 90% of the American people -NOBODY CARES!

    April 18, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  4. oldfart

    who are the people getting polled? where are these polls taken? I have NEVER been polled about anything. I don't believe these polls one way or the other.

    April 18, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  5. mikemc58

    CNN try asking more than an thousand people outside the beltway see how your poll changes

    April 18, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  6. Uncle Buster

    No...public IGNORANCE, knee-jerk FEAR and MIS-INFORMATION were trumped in the defeat of this. Now, how about doing something meaningful?

    April 18, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  7. Sunrisegal

    Tougher background laws would NOT have saved the children of Sandy Hook. He stole the gun! Criminals will always work around the laws. Our founding fathers started this country with gun in hand...They did not trust their govt. Why should we. The 2nd Amendment protects all other Amendments...period. I don't know many people who aren't Pro-2nd Amendment except politicians!

    April 18, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  8. Hot Carl

    This isn't about pro-gun or anti-gun, this is about the Constitution. Anyone who votes against the Constitution isn't doing their job and should be fired, replaced, impeached, whatever. Don't like guns? Don't own one, but don't try and stop others or try to take away their Constitutional right. And don't tell others how many rounds of ammo they should be allowed to have when defending their family and loved ones. There's no such thing as "too much ammo" in the hands of a law abiding citizen.
    This is Hot Carl, and I approved this message.

    April 18, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  9. The Other Bob

    HenryMiller

    "Public opinion gets trumped in gun control defeat"

    But the Constitution won.

    If all you anti-gunners want to take away America's guns, at least be honest enough to try to do it legally and properly by repealing the Second Amendment.
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________
    A sad, hackneyed argument. Background check laws have been found to be constitutional, so closing the loopholes in the laws would be also. There were NO provisions in this bill to take away your precious guns.

    April 18, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  10. Barry

    You can publish lame statistics like 90% on extremely important topics without divuldging where you came up with 90%. How many people polled, where were they polled. Was a majority of the votes coming from major metropolis's?

    Personally gun control should be up to the State governments not federal. If you don't like the gun laws in your state, then move if you feel unsafe.

    There are many laws that do not require federal doctrine. Let the State legislatures handle topics that are important to your way of life. At least then you have choices of whether you're living in the right area for you or if you disagree you can always relocate. Those that say they can't relocate, well, "where there's a will there's a way". The problem is most people don't have a will anymore.

    April 18, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  11. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    @Anonymous

    Well, the crime rate is Chicago is what it is simply because of the legislation that the GOPT/D defeated yesterday.

    April 18, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  12. RGO

    I love how Dumbocrats like to paint the NRA as an evil orginazation bent on striking down any legislation that would benefit the American people. Where as the truth of the matter is the NRA is the American people protecting & exercizing our right to bear arms. Simple fact of the matter libs...CRIMINALS DO NOT...AND WILL NOT, SUBMIT TO BACKGROUND CHECKS! Period! Use some common sense for one (a far cry for a liberal, i know) and see that you are trying to punish the law abbiding citizens for the actions of a few wackos! Drunk Drivers are wacko...Do we outlaw cars?

    April 18, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  13. atacorion

    Shall not be infringed.

    April 18, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  14. Rick

    Your numbers "DO NOT ADD UP"
    90% could not be the poll numbers if you did an "Honest Sample" instead of trying to force your idea of how I should live. I believe in the constitution and I will never give up my rights.

    April 18, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  15. Republicans are Bought & Paid for by the NRA

    What good are Republicans?

    They refuse to do any work for the people.
    They start ill-planned, financed wars and refuse to pay for them.
    They alienate just about every demographic of Americans but one small sliver.
    They are bought & paid for by the NRA.
    They collapse our economy then refuse to work for any job bills for the millions of Americans who they put out or work.
    They do nothing for this country – period.

    What good are they? They're worthless.

    April 18, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  16. Canadian

    With a country that has kept Jerry Springer on tv all these years, I am not surprised by ignorance the U.S continues to support.... a very shameful day for all Americans

    April 18, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  17. adamc1972

    Because we all know everyone that massacres, kills, maims, slaughters people always follow the laws that we made made to keep them from doing it. That's why drug dealers aren't breaking the law, there are loopholes that allow them to keep selling and using drugs.
    How odd that the President has a small room full of "Americans" that he can always refer to as "ALL Americans" whenever he wants to infer that "Americans want" and now CNN pulls out their small room of folks that agree with them; and now refer to them as "THE Public" whenever they want to impress their point of view as being the popular and correct one.. Good Grief.

    April 18, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  18. Gina Gillie

    It is so clearly a mental health problem and not a gun, knife, screw driver, pressure cooker, fertilizer problem. It is the person and that persons mental condition that is the problem in every tragic situation. It is clear to me that having a bullet, magazine capable of holding more than 10 bullets is not the real problem it is people. Can we get some common sense mind control? No?

    April 18, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  19. freebird1776

    Not public opinion – Media opinion

    April 18, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  20. DudeMan

    If public opinion was for more gun control measures, then you would have seen a congress that was also overwhelmingly in favor of gun legislation. The fact that 46 individuals were able to bravely represent their constituents against the small minded scheming of a few misguided government officials and the libreral news media is commendable. We now need to concentrate on enforcing the laws already on the books. Without funding for law enforcement and responsible education about guns, any law (existing or new) will be ineffective. Concentrating on new laws while ignoring existing law is irresponsible and only serves to further the political aims of a few.

    April 18, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  21. malcontent

    who are these 90% of people? I suspect the problem is in the way the question is asked. do you support common sense gun controls? I suppose it depends on what you consider 'common sense'. I for one am very glad that this bill was voted down; I put in quite a bit of effort contacting senators and reps to have it stopped.

    April 18, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  22. poll

    They poll should ask, "Do you believe a private citizen should have to undergo a background check to purchase a firearm from another private citizen?" That is what the bill requires.

    April 18, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  23. Kd5hqs

    Sound off. You are the sheep,I can walk into a pasture of sheep and walk up to them and cut their throats,they will not fight and never seem to know what is happening.

    April 18, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  24. a disgrace

    congress and the senate appear to be sick of obama's incompetence and have finally taken control..obama can have his endless vacations and celebrity parties or resign thats about it...

    April 18, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  25. bs1

    What public opinion was trumped? The 43% or less support for the proposed "gun control"? That 43% was reported on even left leaning sources like NPR shortly before the phony poll that claimed 90% of the 330,000,000 population supported "gun control" based on a poll of barely 1,000 people from carefuly selected demographics.

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