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. Raven0303

    Thank you to all those senators out there that voted this bill down...Just another attempt by Obama and his liberal agenda to deny the rights of its citizens... I congratulate them for standing up against his tyranny

    April 17, 2013 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  2. Volatar

    They make it sound like these guys defy their constituents. They didn't, they voted with their constituents wishes. If they didn't, they will pay come election time. Only time will tell. Maybe the NRA is right. Maybe laws on the books should be enforced. The other thing is that I didn't know that background checks at gun shows and for internet sales would have stopped any of the nut job mass shootings of the past few years. They will for sure make it more of a pain for lawful citizens to buy a gun.

    April 17, 2013 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  3. mogran

    What total nonsense...the media, especially the liberal media, hates to admit the public is not in accordance with their beliefs...they lie about and think we are stupid enough to believe anything they say...well welcome to reality, guess you know now that your 90% figure was total crap in the public eyes.

    April 17, 2013 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  4. Guest

    Thank goodness that the Constitution stood today.

    April 17, 2013 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  5. GuestAgain

    Wrong again Complicit News Network! The Consitution trumps ignorant liberal outrage! Get a solution, not an agenda!

    April 17, 2013 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  6. Fubarack

    The Senate vote follows public opinion. Except the people don't want this gun control at an even wider margin than the Senate voted. Libs always believe rigged polls, then they wonder what happened. They may be right on the 90% number, but they assigned it to the incorrect side. lol

    April 17, 2013 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  7. Malcolm Schmerd

    Tell me again, who says that 'public opinion' want gun control???? Is it the same people who don't parent and get money from the govn't for not working??? Misinformation is KING I suspect.

    April 17, 2013 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  8. guest

    and exactly who trusts those polls, this is not an unbiased organization

    April 17, 2013 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  9. Bill

    Hey, ya'll, what dose that tell ya'all?

    April 17, 2013 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  10. MPawesome-o

    The poll conducted by cnn was garbage from the get go. Senators voted against these proposals because they have been getting pressure from their constituents to do so, not because the NRA told them not to. Luckily, 46% of the Senators protected 100% of Americans.

    April 17, 2013 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  11. mountainlady

    This outcome is, sadly, not unexpected from the most useless Congress in US history. They haven't the courage to do what is right, oppose anything constructive and really truly don't care about their constituents. Any Senators who aren't already bought and paid for by the NRA bowed to NRA terror tactics. No guts, no morals, no progress for America. I, for one, will remember this vote in 2014. I can't even make a drop in the bucket compared to the millions donated to the NRA by gun manufacturers but I'll do my best to donate to the campaigns of anyone opposing those Senators who defeated this measure. This is not the end for gun legislation. If we have to fight it state by state we will. I do not want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to grow up in a country where the guy with the most guns wins.

    April 17, 2013 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  12. rtrMicky

    The all mighty dollar speaks again!

    April 17, 2013 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  13. Derrick Solomon

    Just because the people of Newtown wanted stricter gun control does not mean it's public opinion. Paul Steinhauser just pushing his own agenda through his propagation engine. Do us all a favor and throw yourself down a flight of stairs.

    April 17, 2013 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  14. I think therefore I am

    Why is it the anti gun folks say that the Senators are scared of the NRA? Have you considered that maybe these Senators don't like the bill for other reasons? Maybe because it won't do anything to stop violence and would only place a burden on the law abiding? It is already Federal law to not be able to buy a gun over the internet and have it shipped to you. It has to go through a FFL and have a background check preformed before being allowed to take possession. How many laws covering this procedure do we need?

    April 17, 2013 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  15. I think therefore I am

    And in addition the headline says "Public opinion gets trumped in gun control defeat" but then you go on to state in your article that 55% of Americans fear a National registration and 2/3 or 66% fear the Government would use a registry to confiscate guns. Seems that the vote DID uphold public opinon.

    April 17, 2013 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  16. Raven

    When does public opinion not get trumped?

    April 17, 2013 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  17. Marty

    When members of Congress vote NO on an issue that NINETY per cent of Americans agree with, that tells us loud and clear that the will of the people is to be ignored in order to appease a very wealthy special interest group.

    April 17, 2013 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  18. Kent

    No it doesn't trump public opinion. However it does trump the medias Opinion!

    April 17, 2013 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  19. anonoymous

    Does the gop realize that no amount of financial support from nra or the like will get them votes. Dont believe me ask Romney all that money down the drain. Until the gop starts listening to we the people they will never see the Oval office except for maybe lunch with the new Democratic President....what a bunch of losers

    April 17, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  20. MC

    A WISH –
    May all the politicians who voted against the background checks fail in their political life and suffer financial doom in their personal lives! We all wish these spineless politicians bankruptcy, costly divorces and foreclosures! May they lose all the money that NRA bribed them with!
    AMEN!

    April 17, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  21. Catherine

    This is pathetic. The senators that voted "nay" need to take a hard look at who they've sworn to represent and whether their decisions reflect those of their constituents. Any rationale to vote against closing loopholes and enforcing background checks is baseless. The NRA is led by a bunch of clowns who don't represent the opinion of most of their members either – why congress cowers to this fear mongering is self-serving and transparent. How such an extreme disconnect can exist between Washington and the American people is simply pathetic.

    April 17, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  22. Richard Right

    Did you know that legal internet sales involve the gun being sent to a business with a Federal Firearms License who then carries out a background check required by the federal govt before handing the gun to the buyer? Did you know gun dealers at Gun shows who have an FFL conduct mandatory federal background checks of buyers, just like at Dick's sporting goods, Academy or other large and small dealers. Private sellers at gun shows , do sell some guns but are not required to make background checks and unfortunately do not have the option of making background checks. Many politicians have on the left have lied repeatedly about these facts I stated. The basic problems remain: criminals don't follow gun laws, the mentally ill have lied about their mental illness situation and there has been no way to catch those lies, nor would the failed bill have successfully dealt with that problem.

    April 17, 2013 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  23. Lloyd Cata

    // Public opinion gets trumped in gun control defeat //

    Why not, Public getting 'trumped' on War, Money, Jobs, ...and a lot more(!) "Carry On!" the -results- will be terrifying.

    April 17, 2013 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  24. Thomas

    America is not working !

    Lobbyist for a stronger tomorrow .

    April 17, 2013 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  25. DAVID

    That is the voice of the most americans!!!
    Long live the 2nd Amendment.

    April 17, 2013 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
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