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. Eric

    As a life long left leaner I might just head to the range tonight to celebrate!!

    April 18, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  2. chet

    Thankfully reason prevailed in this case. People are getting sick of the SH parents being paraded about and used for Obama's agendas. Emotion should have nothing to do with this and yet the President keeps playing that card over and over again!
    There was not one thing that would have prevented SH from happening again in this legislation, I am glad clear mind won out over politics. Now get back to the table and get some responsible legislation about mental health passed!

    April 18, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  3. Stacey

    Funny, all the people I know spoke AGAINST gun control. Is that not public opinion? I feel that public opinion WON but the media and politicians don't want to admit that.

    April 18, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  4. Bubba Ray

    The right to gun violence shall not be infringed.

    April 18, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  5. Basho1644

    Utterly self-serving and shameful.

    April 18, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  6. Tani

    The ban on large magazines would have stopped many children of newton from getting killed and the people in the theatre in Aurora in each case the gunmen stopped to or attempted to reload which caused more deaths so that law and background checks along with trafficking would have stopped lots of death so to say that this bill would not have helped in these recent shootings is just wrong .

    April 18, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  7. Dan5404

    Let's get this straight. The vast majority of Americans, including Republicans and NRA members wanted background checks on gun sales. The fact is that NRA bullying and political threats as well as lying, paranoid propaganda scared wimpy Senators who care about staying in office more than doing the will of the people that elected them and the morally right thing to do. Primarily it was the stupid filibuster, the method by which Republicans have blocked progress on everything for four years, hoping they can get back in office. These cowardly Senators will be among the first to go as the wrath of the majority hits them in 2014. Wayne LaPierre and these people are promoting terrorism and criminals by allowing unchecked gun sales by the millions. They are not patriots, they are greedy, unprincipled power seekers.

    April 18, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  8. america wins

    Not one of any of the gun bills proposed would have prevent the horrific mass shootings. As evident reading the comments here, there are people who will never be happy till all guns are removed from American Citizens. The concern most law abiding citizens have has to do with expanded background checks being the 1st step in removing the ability to own a gun. 1st comes more background checks, next banning high capacity mags, next ban AR-15's, then comes mandatory registration, then comes taxing of all guns & ammo till the point no one can afford it. Look at Chicago they enacted a law that all registered gun owners have to pay $25 per gun per year for the right to posses one. People on both sides do not trust government to look out for it's citizens. In a lot of communities law officials can not respond to life threatening situations in time, especially in rural areas. A lot of people in this country have been taught to take care of themselves and not look for someone to give them something. Having a gun gives you the ability to hunt, protect yourself & a sense of Independence exactly what our Founding Fathers wanted when they wrote the 2nd amendment..

    April 18, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  9. don't agree with the poll

    I am not sure who did the poll and who they actually polled. I can tell you that I do not know anyone in my area/state that agreed with this bill and are glad it did not pass. Though we want to keep people safe, we do no feel that this is the way to do it. Only law abiding citizens would be affected, and the criminals would continue. It is not the gun. As we see in Boston, evil uses what ever it can to do it's evil deed. Do we run background checks for anyone buying a pressure cooker? We need to be more aware of those around us, and we need greater mental health. I know some of you will have a lot of ugly comments for me, and that is ok. We all live in America, where we are free to express our opinions and have the right to bear arms.

    April 18, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  10. scruffy

    What would it hurt to have passed this? New legislation and cost completely unresponsive to any of the recent tragedies. Less freedom for individuals not demonstrated to have caused harm. No impact to those out to cause harm via bomb, knife, car, truck, poison, etc. And where firearms were used, the legislation would have had no impact. But, we'd have a populous convinced that we'd done something and so no reason to focus on the real problems, isolated behavioral problems and/including fanaticism.

    Laws don't keep the peace. People agreeing to live together in respect make laws work.

    April 18, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  11. Stefano

    Gallop poll yesterday finds only 4% of Americans feel its an important issue. So who is getting trumped ?

    April 18, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  12. Aaron

    Obamacare – majority did not want – voted in by Libs – no one says a word
    Background checks – Lib polls say 90% favored – fails in Lib controlled Senate – OH THE HORROR!!!!

    I guess it doesn't matter what the people want, it matters what the left wants. GOD BLESS THE GOP!!!

    April 18, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  13. Donna

    Most people in the US did not want those extreme gun laws. People who kill mass groups will always get a gun from somewhere to eo the job. Every law abiding citizen has the right to own a gun and are responsible. Keep the government out.

    April 18, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  14. Wesley

    The Republicans have lived up to the core value of their party. To hell with the country. I'll sell my vote to the highest bidder.

    April 18, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  15. Jim L

    Incidents like these is what will put the GOP in the permanent minority. I know so many people (especially young people)who are fiscally conservative, but refuse to vote for this party of extremists. A few minor changes to make the party could have an enormous impact on their future (i.e. civil rights, responsible gun control).

    April 18, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  16. Jim

    This article misrepresents the survey results. Most of us do want tougher background checks. That does not mean most of us want the feds mandating them. What the standards are and who enforces those standards are completely distinct issues.

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

    People like "wildernessyes" are pretty scary and uneducated! Senators from both parties voted down this bill. And this bill would not have prevented incidents like what happened in Newtown. Maybe you should educate yourself as to who commits most of these gun crimes and how most criminals get their guns before you make stupid statements.

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

    I love it. I do not believe the poll numbers or the lies coming from the government.

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

    We are the United States of the NRA.

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

    As a Montanan, I am ashamed of Max Bacus. Spineless, devoid of principal, vapid... Besdies being inherently non-Montanan, he represents everything that's wrong about politicians, in particular that brand of politician who has stuck around about 20 years too long. I'm a liberal who usually votes Democratic. I'll be rooting for the Republican in 2014. Even if that Republican offers bad policies, he or she is unlikely to be as hollow a person as Max Bacus, and I'd rather have a Montanan who was wrong, but at least had the characteristics of a true Montanan, in that Seanate seat.

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

    Uniform gun laws for such a large nation are hard to imagine but this was a good step. I guess the gun folks are more worried about defending themselves than helping others. I personally don't understand how shooting a rifle will stop a tank if our military turns on us. I also know the military is us; so, I doubt they will turn on us.

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

    90% of who? Students at Berkeley? I am always amazed by these "polls". "Hey, lets go ask 10 people if they want this bill, and whatever number of them say yes, we can then use that as the percentage of Americans that support this bill!! Sound like a good idea?"

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

    I would like to know how many people were surveyed in the two polls you mentioned and from what parts of the country those invdividuals reside?????

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

    The ONLY infringement of rights is our politicians ignoring the majority that elected them (but not again). To those fools here who cannot read YES over 90 percent of Americans want background checks period. NO assault rifles have ever been using to protect ones home and NO more than 10 rounds fired have ever occurred in protecting ones else or home. So why the argument gun nuts. You will still have millions of guns, rifles and shotguns for hunting and protection.

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

    the times they are a changen as bob would say. The gun lobby will be defeated . No big deal with background checks but NRA would have you believe you are loosing your rights, Read the bill people. They lied and so did the congress. Vote these trolls out.

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