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. Steve

    All the background check expansion did was to make it so that private individual to private individual sales had to go through background checks. How is that going to help? One, you can't sale your weapon until you have a way to do a background check on someone, and two, you have to pay big bucks to get one. Now, you think an illegal sale between private individuals will change if legal sales require background checks? NO, criminals will buy from anyone and a private sale is a private sale. How you going to know if it even happened? Oh ya, registration and gun confiscation like in New York is the only way to handle that. Forget it, my guns are not registered and I will sale them to anybody. So screw public opinion. The public does not control me and background checks will save NOBODY. You are totally ignorant to think a criminal will even be slowed down buying a gun with background checks in place.

    April 18, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  2. BOB

    the media was beaten there polls that they publish are not the people who called and who use facebook twitter that is where you get polls comment pages which I see msn is not publising any neg comments try it for yourself. the media and demcrates got a lesson yesterday the government works for the people and the people won

    April 18, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  3. Sallyforth

    90% of the population was for it? Where did they get that figure? Did they ask every single voter in the US? No one asked me. None of my friends, acquaintances or coworkers that I polled got asked. And of those I polled the result was more like 50-50. Reminds me of the old joke that 87% of statistics are made up on the spot. Well, if it was 90%, I guess now Obama knows what it feels like for his administration to completely ignore the will of the people. He's been doing that same thing tous for more than 4 years now.

    April 18, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  4. Jim

    What the media has completely failed to tell is this bill applied to all Private Gun sales, not just Gun shows & internet sales. All internet sales are also already required for a background check. This law would have applied also to sales between friends, family, and neighbors. They rightly rejected a bill that did not represent what 90% support. This is why nothing gets done. The left takes a part of what people want and then expand it citing only the part people support. The blame falls 100% on the shoulders of "news" agencies like CNN for not reporting the truth of what this bill would do and forcing them to craft a specific bill to match a specific sentiment. They are too busy instead trying to create a divide and to marginalize the right so they can gain the Senate in 2014 and ram a national registry and weapons ban down our throats when there is nothing we can do to stop it. Obamacare was hardly popular and they did it when they had control and public opinion mattered little

    April 18, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  5. Larry J Morris

    Its not guns, knives,etc etc that kill people, its people that kill people,to take guns from law abiding citizens, so they are unable to protect them selves and family would only cause more innocent people to loose their lives think about it, criminals don't buy guns legally, they get them however they can , they don't want them registered,if you want to cut down on school killings, etc.change laws that effect the mentally ill, take away some of the privacy laws , so parents and family member can find out info from their doctors about meds,,treatments. behavior,and whats going on with them, make sure they are in the system and unable to buy guns or own a gun,spend more on prosecuting the criminal,than punishing the law abiding citizen for defending themselves and their family's,in reality we all know what gun control laws are all about, its all about control, no guns would mean total control over every American by a tyrant government which is why we have the 2nd Amendment to start with the law abiding citizens have few rights as it is,the law protects the criminals, if you don't believe me the next time you need help call your local police.
    Sincerely Larry J. Morris

    April 18, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  6. soshorespike

    So the polls said the people wanted it. Big deal. The American people want term limits and voter ID's and a stop to illegal immigration and a host of other things Congress will not allow

    April 18, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  7. wildernessyes

    Republicans and conservatives are about and love violence. They both are no longer a positive part of our nation and need to be removed from office.

    April 18, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  8. ralph martin

    Yea see the constitution was written to keep people like those here that think the rules should be changed because opinions change. Sorry like the stupid joke goes a democracy is two wolves an a lamb voting on whats for dinner. Its not a democracy and shouldnt be, its a constitutional republic and when it works we dont get more useless laws that would do nothing but punish law abiding citizens. Not ONE law they proposed would have stopped or would prevent another newtown from happening.

    April 18, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  9. Big Bird Johnson

    The title of this article is just a big lie. The majority of Americans do not want it.

    April 18, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  10. Jon

    Please publish a list of how each senator voted on this. Not sure why this is so hard to find.

    April 18, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  11. Jim

    Author...before you use the term "public opinion", poll us, ALL! It appears that the majority don't want their rights lost...what's next? They take away your right to misrepresent "public opinon"???

    April 18, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  12. glk20c

    Sorry Joe. Go to the window and fire off a couple of shots from your over and under. The American people fought gun control and won. That's it.

    April 18, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  13. Lawrence

    Only the people can act to save this country where a important bill was declined by dysfunctional people in the Senate who voted this bill down! Please do not vote these people into office anymore. Step by step we will conquer! People have the power! Lets use it constructively!

    April 18, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  14. Tony Boomer

    What is the big deal checking the so called background?, What the NRA guys are afraid of?, I just don´t get it!!!!

    April 18, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  15. JJ

    FACT Obama lied about Fast and the Furious, lied about Benghazi, lied about Newtown.
    Why would anyone believe what he is saying now. The senators listened the President is out of touch.

    April 18, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  16. Davy

    As we all know, national polls can be constructed to arrive at a desired result. However, as I previously stated, each state is a poll in and of itself. Therefore, if a senator believes that a majority of the voters in his/her state would vote him/her out off office if they voted for this bill, that is the only poll that matters to them. For example, I believe that a majority of the voters in Montana and Alaska wanted their senator to vote no. Isn't this they way representative government is supposed to work? One is sent to Washington, DC to represent the views of their state.

    April 18, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  17. Marco

    Are you serious, this is an outright lie. What public are you walking about... the senators gave into pressure from their constiuents. It would be a completely imbecile conclusion to think that they only gave into the gun lobby.

    April 18, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  18. anonymous1

    why doesn't the government publish who voted YES and who voted NO to the public?
    Let's call their name out so that the people whom they represent can think about the 2014 vote...

    April 18, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  19. Tim Williams

    So much lies and misinformation. 90% of people support "background checks" not "universal background checks". It failed to be passed because of this. 80%+ of police support "background checks" and more money for enforcement of current laws, not more laws. To spin it to such an extreme your way makes it a lie. Stop the lies. Stop treading on the 2nd Amendment. Fix the problems in enforcement and mental health, then come back and we'll talk some more.

    April 18, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  20. bks

    Senators who voted against gun bill do not have any feeling for the victims.
    They only have their eyes on them being re-elected whether they are republicans or democrats.
    It is very unfortunate and only way they can be taught a lesson is not to elect them

    April 18, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  21. captainclarity

    I am not the gun lobby nor NRA. I am just a hardworking American citizen who is glad that the government's infringement on my rights was held back for at least one more day. I have a crazy neighbor whom I have had to call the cops on over a dozen times and my average wait time is around 30 minutes. They have never cited my neighbor, they just keep giving warnings to my neighbor and tell me to take the neighbor to court. I have even tried a community reconciliation organization recommended by city hall but my neighbor refuses to respond to requests. I only want the right to defend myself. Please allow me that.

    April 18, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  22. Frank Warner

    pro gun and pro choice... not a common idea, but keep your laws off my guns, and our babies.

    April 18, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  23. muri

    Disclaimer: I am a gun owner and happy this bill was defeated.

    However....

    For the puppets parading around the republic vs. democracy, defenders of the constitution facade......where were you when the fundamental components of said document were being dismantled ~10 years ago?

    I seem to remember this country frothing at the mouths to remove the privacy aspects in the name of national security....but you're totally defending the principles when it comes to guns....

    Or how about being anti-choice (LOL @Pro-Life....yep, until it's born poor, gay, or brown) while claiming a platform of smaller government?

    Want me to keep going?

    When you folks decide to achieve consistency you will surely gain constituency.

    April 18, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  24. Rob

    My question to everyone in Washington supporting more gun control is this. Show me and the people, where the criminals that use firearms to kill someone, bought the firearm legally and went through a background check. Guess what they didnt. Even if they did buy a gun legally, they are not going to use that one because it could be traced back to them. they are going to steal one, or buy it off the street.

    April 18, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  25. Just An Average Guy

    I live in Mitch McConnell's area. I'll be working against his re-election.

    April 18, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
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