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. Jimh77

    They did the right thing. I'd like to see the surveys and the 9 of 10 people that want our freedom messed with.
    The gun issue is not to be messed with. There is nothing wrong with present laws. I want my large clips and AR15 to defend Amerca.

    April 18, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  2. JJ

    Liberals want your guns, they want to tell you how much to drink, next up when you have to goto bed.
    You know anything less than 8 hours isn't healthy

    April 18, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  3. sunflower2

    this bill was a first step to more intrusive gun ownership provisions...don't be fooled. The bill needed to be simple, clean, and only address one thing. Not a multitude of things that frightened the American public. We are losing our rights daily now. Many want it to stop. This is evidence of that. What we SHOULD be focusing on is care for the mentally ill. NOT stripping American citizens of rights.... We failed miserably on the care for the mentally ill. It's time we admitted it and corrected THAT.

    April 18, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  4. AlanS

    DON"T FALL FOR IT MOST OF THE TEXT IN THIS AMENDMENT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH BACKGROUND CHECKS. READ IT. THE MAJORITY OF THE PEOPLE IN THAT POLL DID NOT SUPPORT THE VAST MAJORITY OF WHAT WAS IN THAT AMENDMENT. Yeah public opinion ALSO stated in that same quinnipac poll (which was ignored) that the public felt that armed guards in schools would help stop the violence MORE than stricter gun control laws. Barackolypse Obamessiah ignored that and went for the loser about "background checks" (NOT) with text in it that would make it necessary for people driving with a gun in the car to keep it unloaded AND where it could not be accessed from the passenger compartment in the trunk or other locked container AND the same with the ammo. Real useful in a carjack or other self defense situation if you're traveling eh. Sound like a background check to you...no? Sound llike infringement to you? Does to me. Useful in knocking out drive by's? Sure IF gangbangers were law abiding citizens. No no, the best way to handle this is to treat every citizen of the united states like they were a potential gangbanger because THEY'LL obey the law?!? Again, sound like infringement to you? Does to me. They're going to pay a comissioner 145700 a year to appoint and give UNLIMITED SALARIES to DOZENS of board members who will be required to IGNORE the testimony of people who successfully defend themselves with firearms in attempting to find ways to reduce the ownership of guns and restricting the means of access to them. DOES THAT SOUND LIKE BACKGROUND CHECKS TO YOU? NO?? Sound like more infringement in the works to you? Does to me. READ IT. WE NEED A "GUN CZAR" LIKE WE NEED 1.5 BILLION .223 HOLLOWPOINT HOLES IN OUR COLLECTIVE HEADS!!!!

    April 18, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  5. Steve

    That's rich. Equating some vague poll question with how many American's wanted this stupid bill to pass. There is one reason it did not pass and it had nothing to do with the NRA. It didn't pass because many Americana didn't want it and their respective politicians were scared to do what their constituents did not want. Simple as that. The 4 dems did not vote this way because of NRA threats, they knew their constituents would not appreciate more government intervention in their lives. Get over it libs!

    April 18, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  6. RH

    What happened was senators listened to their constituents. This bill would have done NOTHING to prevent Newtown. Most people understand that. The person who killed the kids in Newtown STOLE the weapons. Criminals who steal weapons do not typically submit to a background check, whether the current ones or the enhanced ones proposed.

    This bill would have done nothing to save those children. The senators made the right decision. Its silly to pass laws just "cuz". Criminals don't do background checks. Lanza stole the AR he killed with. Lets improve mental health care and accessibility. That would do more.

    April 18, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  7. Thomas

    A society with dysfunctional people terrorizing our nation & a dysfuctional senate supporting them! Do not vote these people in anymore!

    April 18, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  8. Think about it

    If you have a 6 cylinder engine that does not currently work (wont start, keeps dieing, take your pick) and you desire more power than your 6 cylinder engine can provide, what do you do first? You repair your engine and get it working the way it is intended to work, and THEN you worry about adding power to it, if you still desire. WHY DO YOU GUN GRABBERS WANT TO ADD LAWS TO A SYSTEM THAT DOESNT EVEN ENFORCE THE CURRENT LAWS!?!?! Prosecute current offenders first. Make it known that this is not a joke, you break a gun law, you pay for it heavily. Then, and ONLY then will I have a serious discussion about more laws, if we see that it may be needed. some people amaze me....

    April 18, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  9. Johnp40

    Boo-hoo-hoo, BO got his wrist slapped. (Welcome to early-onset lame duck status.)

    April 18, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  10. David

    Why do you people read this garbage? The gun control issue is headed in the wrong direction. Look up all of the statistics YOURSELF. and then form your OWN opinion. From what I have seen by the number of murders, etc... We do not have a gun problem...however....we do have a serious problem with criminal activity that includes drugs, gang violence, and a lack of disipline...... Law-abiding citizens are the only one's that would follow the laws they were trying to pass, so they would do nothing to curtail the issues at hand.

    April 18, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  11. patty

    yes do get a few facts straight Anonymous
    54 votes were yea which means yes and 46 were nay which means no look at the picture.

    April 18, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  12. Steve

    This vote is about the GOP keeping control of the House, the GOP knows well that House seats are much more likely to fall on a single issue like background checks then Senate seats.

    Besides, the way the Senate is currently operating they don't need a majority to run the place just 41 votes, but the House could flip on a few lost races. Stop background/gun laws in the Senate and House members don't have to vote so no one can use the GUN issue as a hammer in the election cycle of 2014.

    April 18, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  13. WhyBother

    This is the reason people don't go out and vote or care. Their opinions mean nothing when a few can betray the majority. To say "with Liberty and Justice for All" is a joke in light of this cowardly, self serving move on the part of politicians trying to keep their jobs over listening to the majority voice. This will lead to rampant apathy, anarchy and disrespect of anything tied to the government. Worse than we had before the vote. Welcome to the Third World mentality, America.

    April 18, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  14. Johnp40

    Wake-up call: Early onset of lame duck.

    April 18, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  15. My10Cents

    Why are gun owners worried about having the government know they own a gun? They're not worried that the government knows they own a car or a boat or a home. Do they think that having a gun would stop any unexpected government action to suddenly suspend gun ownership and confiscate all privately owned weapons? Do they think that having a gun makes them a potential force against a government they suddenly decide to reject? Gun registration and the 2md Amendment are not mutually exclusive regardless of what the NRA tries to make people believe. The NRA likes to use examples of other countries and eras where firearms were confiscated because registrations allowed those governments to know who owned firearms. What the NRA fails to mention is that their examples are for countries that did not constitutionally enshrine the rights of citizens to own personal firearms or that the firearm confiscation was only one part of a larger suspension personal rights. None of the examples the NRA uses is comparable to current America however if things in the US did suddenly change your personal firearms, registered or not, would do very little to prevent the outcome. There are no valid reasons to not only perform full background checks on any firearm purchased or register firearm purchases.

    April 18, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  16. Michael

    Just goes to show that the American People have zero influence with their Senators. This is all about Big Money – the NRA especially, and other special interest groups that BUY votes. Whilst the gun lobby may deny it, I would venture a guess that the majority of Americnas see nothing worng with stronger background checks and closing gun show loopholes. One has to wonder what their point of view will be like if their own children are killed like Columbine, Aurora or Sandy Hook.

    April 18, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  17. cphillips

    The bill is defeated regardless of public opinion much like Obama Care was passed regardless of public opinion. In the same way the majority of Americans were for background checks, the majority of Americans were against the healthcare package. So sounds like all of Washington is broken.
    At some point our government needs to be concerned with Americans desires over their own. We empower them, they should NOT empower us!

    April 18, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  18. Rob Williams

    Maybe after the mid-term election it can be brought up again this time it will have elected official who campaigned for such measure both in the House and the Senate I challenge those people who talk about the 2nd Admendment right to actual read or take a class to there was a bill passed after prohibition due to gang violence and certain automatic weapons were banned stop listening to talk radio people and have your own opinion about what's going on in this country Sandy Hook wasn't the first massacre in the USA but I hope it will be the last law abiding citizens should embrace background checks people worry about a national registry but states can give out info to the public about residence who carries concealed weapons permits NY

    April 18, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  19. Alan

    What do you expect when people who do not own or understand guns then try to write laws against guns. I have not problem with background checks, but I do have problems with the way it was written and would have been implemented. That is what everyone fails to understand. Propose something that is actually workable. Using firearms dealers as the only way to do background checks was the problem. Give me an ID card or use my drivers license and then use your smartphone or Internet to do the check. Why the insistent on using firearm dealers? The reason I fought against this law was due to its implementation. And stop using the term 'common sense' because that immediately puts gun owners at the defensive because none of the proposals have workable implementations. So for me, 'common sense' means not workable. It is a complicated problem and then are no common sense solutions.

    April 18, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  20. Libdumb

    Yep the pack of liars, Liberal Democrats, tried to dictate and control law abiding citizens. No control of the insane or criminal element that is the core of the Obama administration. They would be the protected ones. Unreal that all Obama can do is use emotion by dismantling the second amendment on the backs of victim families.

    April 18, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  21. Jerry

    I feel like cnn should run a new poll on this same issue, put it on their home page for all to see, then see what result you get. I keep hearing these poll results but haven't seen a single poll to voice my opinion.

    April 18, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  22. Rich

    Anyone who votes for anyone who voted against the bill yesterday. Blood will be on your hands! God will judge you & yours accordingly in this life & in the next!

    April 18, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  23. Anthony

    this is why there needs to be term limits! this bill was defeated by everyones re-election bids

    April 18, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  24. jharwo

    You people just don't get it, you can have a million gun laws on the books and criminals will still find a way to get guns. Since when does laws stop criminals? You want to pass a law that really works, close down our borders, prevent the terrorist from coming over here in the first place. You take guns away from law abiding citizens and crime will run rampant!

    April 18, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  25. Anonymous

    Reps that don't represent teh majority shouldn't be voted back in...

    April 18, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
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