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. Sal

    No, it's the republican party that has to worry about future elections! They have told the people to hades with them all, because their election and re-election is more important than people's lives! They will fail!

    April 18, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  2. Mike

    Public Opinion Trumped in ObamaCare Bill

    Oh the irony...

    April 18, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  3. Carlton

    No, the vote did NOT trump public opinion. Just because there are a few biased polls that, with a little magic, said 90% were in favor of "gun control" or "background checks" (both of which are absolutely generic and vague) – doesn't make it so. The law abiding citizens dodged a bullet. Unfortunately, so did criminals, crazies, druggies, etc (who never really seemed the "target" of this entire emotional blackmail).

    April 18, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  4. Joe P

    Who do these elected people think they represent? I hope we give them the message during next election!

    April 18, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  5. Shuffler

    The larger group of Americans won out over the smaller in this case.

    April 18, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  6. wildernessyes

    Shame on the Senate.

    Shame on the republican party and their supporters.

    The republican party needs to be removed from our political process. They are horrible for America.

    I for one will never vote for a republican again, never.

    April 18, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  7. GI Joe

    They'll get trumped at the ballot box.

    April 18, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  8. Junior

    Well Bill, that's the idiotic GOP for you. Those members are only looking out for themselves. They don't care about the country as a whole. That's why the public sees them as radicals. Until they see they need to move more toward the middle (where almost all of America is) they won't be able to win any national elections.

    April 18, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  9. Jon The Mechanic

    The sad thing is that not a single bill offered here would have stopped any of the last three shootings, yet it hasn't stopped the President and leading Democrats from trying to stop law abiding citizens from purchasing the weapons that they want.

    April 18, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  10. Johnny morgan

    The public is against an type of "gun control" leave it to CNN to try and make it look like this was an unpopular result. CNN and the left wing hippies are the biggest sore losers on the planet and it gives me great pleasure reading their crybaby articles and the posts from their brainwashed followers who think the government wants to protect them. lol at the loser hippies and cnn lovers/losers losing again. get used to it you can't win this battle we're too strong lol.

    April 18, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  11. Rick

    Living in Canada just I fail to understand how a universal background check on those who wish to own a firearm would be a bad thing since it would prevent those with criminal records or unbalanced from obtaining one or how it would infringe on the rights of those who could pass a background check. You in the US will keep having these horrible incidents and the rest of the world will kepp thinking that it just makes no sense at all.

    April 18, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  12. guest

    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.

    UMMM 86% of some sort is NOT the same as the bill they tried to pass.. And personally, I think the 86% in a trumped number.

    April 18, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  13. stretch

    I know many foregin students/workers who have come to this country & be only subject to violence. My advice to you back home where the wages are good now & oppurtunities are better & you will go farther in your career. Stay Home!

    April 18, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  14. Gary

    I'm still trying to figure out where these scientific polls get their answers. As far as I know, none of my friends and associates were polled. However, they are not in agreement with the polls as they are not asking for more laws and restrictions but demanding that the laws currently on the books be enforced. My unscientific poll has 99% in agreement with putting a stop to using the victims of these incidents as political foils.

    My advice to CNN, the Washington Post and even Fox News is to quit trying to make the news instead of reporting it. Your bias is showing!

    April 18, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    I don't know where they get these statistics..... I for one did not support their agenda, and neither did anyone that I know or have spoken with on the matter. What they were pushing would not have prevented what happened in CT.

    April 18, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  16. Steve

    Problem is 86% of poll participants agree with "some form of background check" the Senate's version was simply not the level of background check or record keeping that was palatable enough to pass.

    The NRA is only powerful due to the amount of members, (read Americans) that the organization has.

    April 18, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  17. Mark

    great day for America. We are a constitutional republic, not a democracy. We don't rely on public polls, but on a time tested constitution. What part of "shall not infringe" don't you left leaning socialists get? I'll make a deal, all my guns are gun when abortion is illegal. Killing 50,000,000+ babies is a whole lot worse than all the gun violence ever realized in this country. The case suggesting even if one could be saved forgets the flip side that gun ownership has saved even more people.

    April 18, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  18. what's up

    Looks like some off the Obamacrats deserted him. After Obama gets done with his temper tantrum, wonder how he will get even with them?

    April 18, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  19. James

    Who's public opinion? Nobody asked for my opinion on the matter, but I can't help but wonder what the law would have actually accomplished had it actually passed. Background checks are already done for most legitimate gun purchases and "assault rifles" are used in a tiny minority of gun violence incidents. I DO support background checks despite my skepticism as to their effectiveness, but I DON'T support the proposed law as it was written. I know a lot of others in the same boat.

    April 18, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  20. Johnny morgan

    Don't go home mad hippies.... just go home and play with your ipads or whatever it is scared people do with their spare time.

    April 18, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  21. shamsky24

    There is no "leftist bias media," only a bunch of right-wing idiots who think that the sun rises and sets with Fox News. Disbelieve the polls all you like, but any gun owner who has a problem with something as mundane as a background check probably has something to hide, in which case they shouldn't have guns in the first place.

    April 18, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  22. Anonymous

    Let's get a few facts straight... 54 United States Senators voted against the "Gun Bill" S.Amdt. 714 to S. 649 (Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of2013) and 46 voted in favor of it...

    April 18, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  23. lilyrose

    Lets see a poll with those numbers NOT done by a bunch of liberals, and showing the statistical process used to get to that number. Polls are notoriously bent to onions, and I don't believe for a minute any poll not done by a responsible uninvolved party.

    April 18, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  24. KD

    We should do what we are supposed to do. Vote those people that voted against what you want out. It's sad how strong special interests are in our country. They get to pick and choose what legislation passes and what legistaltors get into office. This isn't democracy.

    April 18, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  25. Drew

    It amazes me how CNN wants me to believe 90% of the public agree with tighter gun laws for Law abiding citizens. That's BS. You want to know why this failed in the Senate - because they apparently are smart enough to know that a criminal or whack job isn't going to Wal-Mart or a gun store to undergo a background check to buy a gun! You people on here need to get a reality check. Guns in the hands of law abiding, sane people are not the problem. The feds need to focus on (1) Gang control in large urban areas (Chicago, NY, Miami, Atlanta, LA, etc) and focus on improving mental health services in this country. Sounds like a lot of you on here need some mental health services as well.

    April 18, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
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