April 17th, 2013
06:15 PM ET
2 years 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. dan

    "a CNN/ORC International poll released last week that indicated 86% of the public supported some form of background checks "

    ya, that poll isnt biased in any way.

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

    I wrote both of my Senators yesterday to let them know that I was a voter who was watching what they did. They should follow the will of the people not the NRA. I am a voter and a parent.. Each one of them should be forced to sit down with a victim of gun violence and explain to them why you should be able to buy a gun without a background check.

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

    Coward slaves to the NRA.

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

    Yep the pack of liars, Liberalstried to dictate and control law abiding citizens. No control of the mentally ill or criminal element that is the core of the problem. 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 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  5. DJ

    The majority of people were against Obamacare yet it was passed into law... so what's your point ?

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

    It is far from over....Columbine, Denver , Newton etc..were not the work of hardened criminals, the perpetrators were middle and upper class Caucasians...It is sad when a small group (4.5 million) of paranoid people can put their fears above the safety of innocent people...

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

    Jimh77 – And who will defend America from you? You're very obviously close to the edge.

    JJ – Read more about Fast and Furious – it was the spawn of the NRA. Obama lied about Newtown? What are you talking about?

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

    If the polls that stated that a clear majority of NRA members supported universal background checks are true, it just goes to show how much the NRA truly only represents gun manufacturers, and NOT its ordinary members.

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

    The "public opinion" the liberal talking heads and ideologues are using is made up polling where they select people based on how likely they are to answer then report that small snap shot as being reflective of the nation as a whole.

    Had they been in place and in full effect at the time, NONE of these proposed actions would have done a thing to stop Sandy Hook, or any of the other shootings including Congress Woman Gifford or even the guy who shot up the theater in CO.

    We need to stop pandering to the knee jerk reaction crowd that thinks every tragedy requires a law to fix it, stop using tragedies to enact ideologically driven agendas, and look at each of these incidents to find the root causes (such as having a poor mental health care system in our country that leaves violence prone people on the streets where they can do harm to others) then address THOSE root causes with real and effective solutions.

    Don't punish the law abiding citizens, punish the criminals who commit the crimes.

    April 18, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  10. Preacher monsignor

    I don't think what Condoleeza Rice said about the President being tested for what's going on in the world today is proper.! It's more the new Pope who should be tested & ministers of the Gospel. God is above all! & they have the power to bring that power down to earth as well as individuals! I'll test the Pope & other ministers of the Gospel, before anyone! I leave the rest in GOD'S HANDS. God will judge those anybody having to do with guns or violence accoringly in this life & in the next. The greatest Judge of all & teacher is above us! I leave it in Gods hands to favor the right & punish those who do wrong in the world!

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

    Remove the magazine and weapon bans and it passes with flying colors. Why attach items to a good idea. Just like a pork filled bills. The bill funds what is for the good of the American Public.. Then the politicians hitches idiotic pork $$$ to it and takes good bills down. Try it again... BACKGROUND CHECK ONLY... Leave the weapons alone. Use the KISS factor.. (keep it simple stupid)

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

    No offense, but public opinion doesn't matter. If 80% of the population voted to legalize slavery, it wouldn't pass in the house, senate, or the Supreme Court. Sure, public opinion can help dictate policy, but it isn't the and shouldn't be the gauge of voting in public office.

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

    Isn't California expanding it's "CONFISCATION' of guns from those households it has deemed unworthy (illegal) to possess? I heard that there were still over 20,000 households that were to be raided to collect their guns.

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

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

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

    I wondered what all the fuss was about so I went to the gun shop and purchased a AR-15 (it's cool looking) all you gun lovers need to understand, before poeple would buy guns from poeple on the streets cheap 38's and 32's , but now a male between 21 and 39 can go to a gun shop or show and buy some real fire-power. So America wants everybody to own guns huh, well thanks but remember you asked for it. Hint i you make it out of the ghetto with no felony on your record you too can purchase a Bush-master and 30 round chips legally oh wait they dont check back-ground at gun shows (Wow), and in the south these boys down here think they are the only ones that have real GUNS.

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

    There were too many other things included. If it was only tougher back round checks it may have passed. But it would not have helped any one in Boston. We need better mental health care or laws.

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

    this appears o no longer be a democracy country. It is run by the wealthiest and special interest groups, who are not the majority but can be the loudest voice and some special interest groups with enough money to buy the politicians. I think Everyone knows this at this point. What do the majority do now is the question?

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

    It must be a good feeling when you can make things disappear.

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

    Funny how the Democrat controlled congress could not get this passed. There was bipartisan opposition to this bill. It's like saying we should outlaw fertilizer because of what happened in OKC – and now in Texas.

    April 18, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  20. Bill

    How can intelligent, thinking people believe that when a poll is taken and the results are posted that 90% of "the people" are for or against something. We all understand that "the people" are a select chosen few that the pollster is using to support their opinion! Or am I missing the point that "the people" want to believe these polls really represent the majority when the majority is never asked nor do they answer?

    April 18, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  21. drkent3

    I know that people don't like to hear this – but rights are not, and should not be, subject to 'public opinion'. They also should not be modified by a Congress that has the lowest approval rating of any political body, and should not be modified based on a hastily put together bill. The same is true of so many issues – but everyone seems to want a fast-food approach to legislation. There obviously is a sensible approach to dealing with violent crime and gun ownership – but it should be done slowly, carefully and with full disclosure so all sides can make sure their concerns are addressed. Screw the extremists shouting out that their side is the only 'correct' one.

    April 18, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  22. davecu

    Sometimes bills get voted down because they are bad bills or ill conceived.

    I wish ObamaCare had been better thought out. We've STILL not seen all the consequence of that fiasco.

    April 18, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  23. Tim

    Go ahead liberals, keep exploiting a bunch of poor dead children for your BS agenda. Truth is, nothing in the 900 page bill would have prevented another Newton, or Aurora. The liberals pushed and pushed, until most mentally ill people were realeased, on the street, back in the 1970s. Now its next to impossible (Thanks ACLU – another LIB front group) to have someone involuntary committed. Do you Libs really think that criminals are going to stop and get background checks? How does checking and re-checking law abiding people make kids safer in school. Answer – it doesn't. That's why this stupid bill was voted down – and even better – Harry Reid voted NO too! Hahahahahahahahaha!

    April 18, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  24. HistProf

    Lie: That this bill would have made anyone safer

    Lie: That it is possible to buy a firearm from a licensed dealer at a gun show/online without a background check

    Lie: That the US electorate actually wanted the full contents of that bill passed into law

    Who's lieing?

    April 18, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  25. Burnsy

    Make no mistake, the government sincerely wants the citizens of the country to be disarmed. They realize what the founding fathers alluded to in the 2nd amendment, that is to forcibly remove a tyrannical government. They are not there yet but well on their way with the perpetual mismanagement of everything from immigration to finances. Neither party is willing to deal with these issues in a real way so eventually it will be up to the citizens as has always happened throughout history. An armed public keeps that threat alive and provides the last option to its citizens in the face of overbearing government.

    April 18, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
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