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. Melissa Regier

    "shall not be infringed"! I don't believe anything CNN says, any poll they create. Too many lies, edits and liberal posturing have perverted CNN and made it a liberal mouthpiece not a news organization.

    April 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  2. sagewy

    I think 90 percent of actual Americans do not want gun control. It is irresponsible to throw out numbers like that and lacks credibility. I was outraged listening to the Newton victims- I feel empathy. However, their need to make their child's death mean something does not give them the right to threaten, whine, attack, or chip away at our second amendment rights! It does not mean we have the right to violate several federal laws, not just HIPPA by examining psychiatric records. What will happen is the very mentally ill will now be justified in their paranoid state to avoid seeking help! Perhaps we should get rid of pressure cookers now, cars, and not be allowed to drive within a three mile radius of our homes as this is where most people die.
    Another issue, quit controlling the Ammunition!

    April 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  3. Kevin

    Polls are really irrelevant. We don't (and shouldn't) vote on gay rights, civil rights, etc. We shouldn't be voting on gun rights either.

    April 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  4. Barmes

    I just don't get it!!! Why are people always going after gun owners who are law abiding citizens, when it's the "psychos" and criminals who do the shooting sprees. Leave the RESPONSIBLE gun owners alone and start going after the criminals who obtain them illegally. What about FAST AND FURIOUS, what happened here??!!

    April 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  5. Angelique

    Oh, if you'd like us the public to vote, I'm pretty sure you'd find out that you're wrong and public opinion was NOT outvoted. You'd find out that the 14% who is loud and opinionated would still go down in defeat on a bill to create a mass registry of every firearm in our country. What is the purpose of that? Knowing where they are and who they belong to has NOTHING to do with criminals who care NOT for laws, but will commit a crime whichever way they can. The gun by the way in the CT tragedy did NOT belong to him. Background checks don't bother me, but the govt wanting to know who owns and where every firearm is is only another push for power over the public they are supposed to SERVE, not dictate to.

    April 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  6. Lucas McCain

    I wouldn't believe a single poll from the mainstream media. I don't know of anyone that was for this bill and according to their numbers 8 out of every 10 were for it. It is just their way of manipulating what they want. The Senators knew that a majority of their constituency was saying "Don't do it"!.

    April 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  7. Name

    America has devolved..sad day.

    April 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  8. bear

    Funny how we never saw the headline "Public Opinion Gets Trumped in Passage of ObamaCare".

    April 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  9. Derek

    It wasn't the NRA that defeated the proposed Federal gun control legislation. it was ordinary Americans who care about the 2d Amend. calling & writing their Senators to oppose this ineffective legislation. Bloomberg/Soros have more money than NRA. The 2d. Amend. has grass roots supports among millions of Americans who don't want their constitutional rights infringed. The polls are not accurate because most respondents were ignorant of guns & existing gun laws. Most didn't know that the majority of gun purchases already include a background check. Most respondents did not know the difference between an AR-15 and M-16 or know that assault rifles are already banned by Federal law. Constitutional rights are there to protect us even if the majority does not believe in them. I'm glad the US Constitution won today in the fight to preserve our 2d Amend. rights.

    April 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    The 90% poll data was/is a lie; looks like CNN and the president both lie. Even the Dems top dog in the Senate, Majority Leader – HARRY REID (D-NV) voted no.

    Harry Reid, the dem who defended the amendments on the floor of the Senate – but voted against the amendments when the vote was taken.

    April 18, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  11. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Does anybody actually believe our government and judicial system work for we the people?

    For example Jared Loughner the murderer in the Tucson shooting was allowed to plea guilty for a sentence of life in prison instead of getting the death penalty. So just imagine while the whole world saw Loughner shoot his victims and attempted to reload his weapon, the judicial system allowed him to plea guilty for a lessor sentence as though the world didn't already know he was GUILTY of multiple murders. Yes, our system serves the interest of cold blooded murders. What a screwed up democracy.

    April 18, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  12. Pro-gun

    I'm pro-gun and glad that guns remain untouched but I'm disappointed about background check.

    April 18, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  13. htillots

    im with the President 100%. the senators who voted against the bill should be ashamed of themselves.

    April 18, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  14. SAM

    This gun control issue is all mumbo jumbo. Waste of time and money. Isn't there more important issues to deal with than eroding people's freedoms because of the actions of a few deranged individuals. This is a mental health issue. Politicians should tackle it as such.

    April 18, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  15. Marco

    Public opinion trumped? Only if you believe the media polls and the prez's rhetoric. Even in this day and age, the American people still respect and believe in the Constitution, and the American people let their representatives know their feelings, and their representatives voted accordingly.

    April 18, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  16. Jeezlouise

    THANK YOU! American values stand against a Communist Dictatorship. Obama is a fraud and a bully.

    April 18, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  17. JY

    People/profits, people/profits, people/profits.... Hmmmm

    Where do my campaign contributions come from, hmmm, aint the people...

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

    Who makes up this public opinion that is the majority of USA? Are you talking about illegal immigrants? Are you talking about self American hating minority who are not proud that we saved Europe in WWII, who have contributed more to the world in the last 50 years than any other country. The country that gives to ever disaster where we receive NO aid from these so called great nations that are our friends who would rather terrorize us?

    We have the right to bear arms. Those that are abusing those rights are also abusing the legal purchase of arms. Make laws to protect our rights and to punish those nuts that use ANY item in a deadly manner. For our civil servants and news media to claim we do not have the right to bear arms is anti american and should be recognized as such. This article is a clear example of the real problem in America.

    April 18, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  19. Woody

    Public debate did not get trumped ! This last week all of the public was at the gun stores and gun shops buying guns thanks to all of this debate . The debate put millions of more guns out into the publics hands . There is such a shortage of ammo from so many people stocking up even law enforcement people are having a hard time finding ammo . None of us will see guns go in our lifetime . No more then there will ever be an end to undereducated people in politics ! When you shoot trap or skeet you shoot up in the air , and not out directly in front of you !

    April 18, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  20. Tom from Canonsburg

    So many stupid people allowing the NRA to blow smoke up their kilts. This would have had zero effect on the 2nd Amendment.

    April 18, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  21. Bob

    Minority rights should never be left up to a mob. I learned this a long time ago.

    April 18, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  22. Dave

    No, public opinion was upheld by this defeat. Your, and your colleagues in the media are lying about the number of ordinary citizens wanting gun control. The vast majority of Americans know that this is not a solution. Disarming or causing law-abiding citizens to lose any right granted by the Constitution will in no way stop the mentally disturbed or criminals from committing such violent crimes. If laws or bans worked then there would be no crime. It is already against the law to commit these acts. More laws will only affect citizens who legally own weapons, it will not affect anyone intent on perpetrating violence. Common sense prevailed and so did public opinion. Get your facts and figures correct before you pontificate false claims.

    April 18, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  23. Mike

    I'm glad that guns remain untouched but I'm disappointed about background check.

    April 18, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  24. localyokel

    Passing laws that don't prevent the problem the public is concerned about is irresponsible.

    April 18, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  25. bla bla bla

    So how about the over 60% of Americans who opposed Obummer care? They still rammed that down our throats. Criminals do not follow the law so why place anymore restrictions on purchasing a gun? When are they going to place background checks on drunks or people with multiple DUI's from owning a car? Following the CDC and FBI's own statistics, in 2010 27 American's per day are killed by drunk drivers, and 30 people per day are killed by firearms. Where's the outcry to ban cars, or alcohol? Why isn't there an outcry for bars to do a background check and refuse booze to people with dui's or suspended licenses? Keep asking for the government to take complete control and you will get it.

    April 18, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
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