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. Mack Rhoades

    So in the final analysis, it is fairly clear that "government of the people, by the poeple, and for the people" no longer exists, and only special interests and elected officials' agenda for trying to keep their jobs is what really governs the country.

    April 18, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  2. Charles Lawson

    If I read one more article that says that this bill was to extend current background checks "to gun shows and internet sales," I am going to need duct tape to keep my head from exploding. You are already required to complete a background check on both gun show and internet based sales upon receipt of the firearm. Gun show dealers are Federal Firearms License holders and abide by all the laws under which the license is issued. Internet dealers ship firearm purchases to FFL holders to complete the necessary background checks and paperwork filing.

    CNN, Fox News, Local media outlets: Stop the misleading information. This article claims party politics and campaign hopes "trumped public opinion." What trumped honest journalism?

    April 18, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  3. Bryan

    "Public opinion gets trumped in gun control defeat?" How about, public opinion DOES NOT trump the Constitution?

    We are not a democracy. We are a constitutional republic. If you don't like it, move to Canada. Just be careful not to insult anyone over there; no free speech and all that.

    April 18, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  4. John

    This is the same thing that just happened to the people of New Zealand yesterday when their government forced gay marriage on them againt the will of the people. All of the world, it's lobbies, not the people who are heeded and worldwide democracy is being torn to shreads.

    April 18, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    Well considering the Leftist bias media only reports things the way they want them to be, I find it hard to believe that 90% of the population wanted this bill to pass. I guess that may have been 90% of gun control advocates thought this was a good bill. Its the only way that comment makes any sense. More than half of the voting populous do own guns and I can't see more than a small portion of them wanting to make it harder to purchase a firearm. I would really like to see where they get these poll numbers from and who was actually polled. Maybe its time they went after the criminal eliment and disarmed them instead of LAW ABIDING CITIZENS who need to be able to protect themselves. Lets face it, even the best police force in the country doesn't get there until the crime has been committed and the crook has left the scene in the largest percentage of cases. I need to keep my family safe. I may be out gunned in most cases, but that is why you train and shoot on a regular basis. A centered mass will usually outdo a spray of bullets !!!!

    April 18, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  6. Jim R

    I'm sorry but "Public Opinion" wasn't trumped, it was the virtuous.

    April 18, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  7. Guest

    There is a critical error in the headline. Special interest got trumped, not public opinion. Daily abortion deaths amount to more than all childrens' deaths from guns combined. These feeble minded dolts evidently have no idea how dangerous it is to tamper with the 2A. Even if Reid and Pelosi and Weinstein weren't senile and Obama wasn't the antiChrist, some jackass would eventually come along in politics and abuse the people's lack of ability to protect themselves.

    April 18, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  8. Nancy

    I'm so amazed at the Predident and how he can stand there and whine about how congress could go against the majority of Americans ( which I don't believe) wishes. How about Obamacare, hmmm? The majority did not want that either but that's ok with him. Sanctamonious jerk! Finally congress standing up to him and the laws of this land...

    April 18, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  9. J G

    Public opinion trumped?? SAYS WHO? I'm a middle of the road guy and don't like either of our mainstream political parties. But I do like the Constitution. I was not in favor of this law – it would do nothing to prevent the types of tragedies that the President was using as a backdrop for pushing his agenda. Gun ownership is a constitutional right in this country. Tread lightly, Mr. President.

    April 18, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  10. Badhobbit

    Such BS. Crooked pols in the pocket of gun manufacturers via their stooges in the nra. Pathetic.

    April 18, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  11. lulu

    the whole world is laughing at the stupidity and corruption...

    April 18, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  12. Tom

    I know you don't want to hear this, but changes so seriously implicating a constitutional right (2nd Amendment, yes, it exists) should require a 2/3 majority vote. You are unhappy with the democracy of this republic, unhappy with otherwise being unable to end-run the constituional amendment process. Too bad, so sad. Suck it up.

    April 18, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  13. Tom

    Am I being harass by CNN? Every comments I post is awaiting moderation even with few letters.

    April 18, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  14. Chris

    Hahaha! 90% support! Yeah right. And it's not about politics or re-election concerns, it's about the Constitution and the rights contained therein.

    And using victims of tragedy, especially children, as props in his Hitler-esque scheme did not endear the Big O to anyone. And since his carefully arranged tragedy in CT did not get the desired results, we need to be prepared for another massive tragedy to occur, this time involving innocent animals. So all zoos should be on high alert.

    April 18, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  15. Tony in St Louis

    Don't worry. Public opinion will have the opportunity to "weigh in" ...in just a little under 19 months!

    April 18, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  16. Guest Speaker

    The '90% majority support' was derived from a generically framed question the purpose of which was to guage support for the idea of universal background checks. No poll – not one – demonstrates majority support for Dem. background check legislation, because the actual legislation was never polled. This deceptive data point has been disseminated by gun control activists who mistakenly interpreted it as authorization to assert their agenda. Yesterday's defeat was attributable to many things, and conveniently interpreting a vague data point undermined the agenda.

    April 18, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  17. Rick

    C'mon CNN. Since when do your Internal polls count as 90% of the population? Nice try!!! Posting headlines like this...REALLY!!! You all obviously missed the ethics portion of your journalism training.

    April 18, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  18. Dbsdey

    The Constitution is the legal document giving all Americans their rights and freedoms. Are we supposed to allow our Congressmen to take those rights away because mentally ill people with guns decide to go on a rampage? There are more children ages 1-18 killed in automobile wrecks than by firearms. Are we going to outlaw vehicles or lower the speed limits to 25 mph so no one will be killed. Guns have never been the problem. A gun cannot jump up and shoot someone. There must be a person with their finger on the trigger. Criminals possess more guns than law abiding citizens do, but how many raids are done on criminal hideouts to take their guns? What you hear about are the law abiding gun owners being jailed and having their legally bought guns confiscated.
    It makes me nauseated to watch the alphabet media distort and lie about poll numbers and statistics to put forward Obamas agendas. What happened to "honest" journalism?

    April 18, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  19. Jesse

    People wake up!!! This has nothing to do with voters or political party. Your congress and senators can't pass this stuff because they, key word "they" lose their lobbyists money. Will you freaking people wake up stop arguing with each other and make politicians face the music? Nope you won't so just keep arguing with your neighbor and complaining he is not the same party as you, that's what politicians want so just keep it up.

    April 18, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  20. Chamberlain

    @ Ted, Seriously get your facts straight. the bill did NOT pass, They voted to Block the Filibuster some days back leading to to go forward for debate in the senate.

    April 18, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  21. Robert

    Those who have voted against yesterdays bill have blood on their hands. They shouldn't be in congress or have any part in making decisions on behalf of the people or the Goverment! Shame on you!

    April 18, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  22. John W

    You can't really say "public opinion". I wasn't with the others that want to die from criminals getting weapons of any kind from the black market. Bunch of sheeple.

    April 18, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  23. TPitt

    The senators voted just the way I wanted them to vote. I know only a handful of people who were actually for this. I am not sure where the liberals are getting this 90% number and would venture to guess that the number might be more like 10%. The poeple that support this live in area's where their local and state government have already trampled on the 2nd Ammendment. Of course the criminals would like to make it harder also because it will not affect them.

    I recommend that you folks who support stuff like this and begin to use your brains. "Outlaws do not follow the law". If you want to pass a law about the mentally ill people owning guns, pass that. Don't make me pay for those who break the law.

    April 18, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  24. tlc1948

    The NRA made a difference, because of the support of all its members and supporters. This bull about 90% want these changes is the lie being told. The NRA is just representing its many thousands of Americans who don't believe any of these bills will stop these mass killings. When things don't go Obama's or Diane's they cry foul. The people said no to this and the Senate voted as their supporters wanted.

    April 18, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  25. Jim G.

    The 90% number came from a poll that was taken at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut that consisted of 1711 participants. Last I checked there were over 350 million people in these United States of America, I can say with 100% certainty that those 1711 people polled don't represent 350 million plus Americans. A liberal university in a liberal state, polled about gun control in a state that was nailed with a national tragedy, yeah I'm sure there's no bias there at all.

    April 18, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
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