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. ZZ

    You constitution was written in the 16th century during the industrial revolution, 20 years before the invention of tin can !

    Time to maybe update to at least the 17th century ? You know, after they invented guns that don't need you to pack your own gunpowder down before putting the shot in.

    April 18, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  2. Charlie

    The only thing the latest gun control proposal would have done is to remove the right of law abiding citizens to have arms. What is needed is a law that sets up a registry of those who have lost their right to bear arms. That registry would include criminals and those with mental problems. It should also be against the law for anyone who is a member of a criminal gang (Bloods, Crips, MS13 ete) from having guns. Non citizens should also be barred from having guns. Strict and harsh penalties for those who sell guns to those on the registry or gang members or non citizens should be put in place. That would be a meaningful law that if strictly enforced would reduce gun crimes.

    April 18, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  3. The King

    Too many of the US citizenry spends their lives quivering in an angry delusional bubble designed by the right wing propagandists "Deathpanels, gun confiscation, victory mosque, etc.." They've been reduced to a quasi-schizoid state by the relentless nonsense pumped out by fox "news", rush limbaugh, and the GOP.
    May the Good Lord help their tortured souls.

    April 18, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  4. Samantha Meyers

    The Dems top dog in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) voted against expanded background checks and banning several semi automatic guns that looks like a military assault weapon.

    Obama couldn't even garner 60 votes from a Dem Controlled Senate, only 54 voted yes.

    April 18, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  5. Jesse

    Who accepts NRA money, wait did I see Obama shooting guns with NRA people awhile back? Yes I did. Go to you-tube and its right there to view. If politicians would stand up to lobbyists, America would be fine but they wont, and that includes both democrats and republicans.

    April 18, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  6. Name

    The Marxist did not get his way this time! Thank God and a few good men!

    April 18, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  7. Name Shari Capaccio

    I think it stinks you should be ashamed our children are being slaughtered and you could have done the right thing and you didnt SHAME ON YOU.

    April 18, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  8. Tom c.

    Republicans are over with! They were the majority who voted against yesterdays bill! I will never vote republican again-EVER!

    April 18, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  9. TheVoice2

    Gun lovers keep using the 2nd Amendment as an excuse. Who needs 15 ARs to defend yourself from a burglar. And if tyranny is your excuse, a gun will not save you from a nuclear warhead. Now that's logic.

    April 18, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  10. Dave K

    "Supporting Background Checks" does not equal "Supporting that particualar bill". I support background checks for gun purchases but I need to see more protections for law abiding citizens (from government abuse of new and existing legislation) before I support any additional laws. We're already seeing the new laws in NYS abused... everytime the government betrays trust they increase the hurdles for even common sense legal limits on freedoms.

    April 18, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  11. Harbin

    Malarkey!! I don't believe for a second that the majority of the public wants new guns laws. Public opinion has never mattered before, even when determining who will be President of this country. If it were just about background checks I would be more interested in the idea. But, the background checks would be the first step to control guns with the next step to start banning them and with the new data base maybe start confiscation. Don't laugh, there are some states in this country that have already passed laws to force residents to register their guns or risk them being confiscated. Maybe now "officials" can start working on the real causes of violence rather than the instrument used. We can't / don't even enforce the guns laws that we already have, how are we going to enforce additional laws or bans?

    April 18, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  12. J

    Why do you people think these gun laws will help?!?!?!?! What crimes have been committed due to the movement of ownership not being documented? Because that's what it really all comes down to. Creating more laws will ultimately affect the tax payer, remember that.

    April 18, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  13. HarrisCCBCMD

    I believe this is the NRA flexing its muscle in front of the the U.S. Its ridiculous that as a second term president Obama couldn't break bipartisanship and convince some of his own democrats from Arkansas, Alaska and Montana in congress to vote in his way. Even John McCain voted for the bill. Another reason could be because congress waited so long after the Sandy Hook shootings to vote on this issue. Four months have passed since the day and its no surprise the bill died, no ones talking about Sandy Hook anymore. People are slowly staring to forget about the shootings and the talk about guns have calmed down. The Bi Partisanship in the congress is making the president look weak. Presidents get a majority of their work done in their second semester as president. For our country to continue to grow, congress needs to change.

    April 18, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  14. DirtDevil67

    Why would people have a problem with having a background check when purchasing a gun? WTF is this world coming to.

    April 18, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  15. Egotripped

    Enough with the 2nd amendment nonsense...if you want to talk about constitutionality, isn't the government supposed to be for the people by the people? Then they (the government) turn around and vote down something that has been spoken (or wanted, asked for...etc) for by "by the people"? Your system is a joke and most (but not all) gun enthusiasts are very narrow minded...None of the regulations being proposed say you cannot own a gun...the "right to bear arms" simply means you can have a gun. The government still has EVERY right to dictate the terms and conditions of owning a gun. Face it...you (gun folks) keep pointing back to you constitutional rights...well...why is the minority can rule the majority? If you're going to try and leverage the constitution for your argument...you'd better be ready for the counter argument. Lastly...your argument is hinged on the 2nd amendment...meaning the terms and conditions set for in original body take precendent (as in priority of documents)...so again...the government is there to represent the people...and they failed. Yet again the world laughs at you...nothing like being the butt end of every joke outside of your borders.

    April 18, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  16. marc

    Its about time we do something about the money these lobbyists give to buy votes

    April 18, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  17. Jay

    Just like public opinion was trumped with the passage of Obamacare.

    April 18, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  18. NameRey

    The Marxist did not get his way this time! Thank God and a few good men!

    April 18, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  19. Publius

    What's sad is that this bill was done in by Dems but the press is so damn liberal all they can do is blame it on repubs and the NRA. This is a Dem failure, plain and simple.

    April 18, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  20. mg

    Now ammo and gun prices will drop, yeah!

    April 18, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  21. DJ

    Obama's performance last night was THE most shameful tantrum I have ever seen coming from an American politician. His endless tirade of lies, distortions, whining and crying, threats and pandering outdid even HIS previous best.

    April 18, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  22. TheVoice2

    The only ones that one in this bill was the NRA and big gun lobby. Sad day for America.

    April 18, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  23. precious

    Anybody that participates in making a weapon or gun & some one is innocently killed Blood is on your hands & God will judge you accordingly in this life & the next life to come!

    April 18, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  24. Anonymous

    Can any one of you who supported this law please tell me how it owuld have helped Sandy Hook or any future school shootings?

    April 18, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  25. us_1776

    GOP now owns every single mass shooting going forward.

    .

    April 18, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
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