April 17th, 2013
06:15 PM ET
12 months 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. Craig

    Yep.......just like Obamacare. 68% were opposed to it yet they rammed it through. I guess public opinion only matters when it suits you.

    April 17, 2013 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  2. Jimbo

    There will never be another assault weapons ban, large capacity magazine ban or any other type of gun legislation passed that infringes on the 2nd Amendment in any way. Mr. Obama's influence will now start declining. People are going to realize he can be defeated on fulfilling his agenda and legacy. Nothing he has done has been for the good of the country. It has all been to secure his place in history.

    April 17, 2013 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  3. Gambi

    It's clear to me who owns Congress. When 90% of American's support stronger background checks and the Senate does not pass it the NRA owns Congress. I'm sick to death of big money special interest I hope they sleep well tonight knowing they sold the American people out.

    April 17, 2013 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  4. Jason Amundson

    Maybe someone should look into how much campaign contributions the NRA gives these congressmen and women.

    April 17, 2013 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  5. Triple Lindy

    Does anyone actually believe those poll numbers? You could not get 86% of the people to agree that the sun rises in the east.

    April 17, 2013 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  6. IH

    A sad, sad day in America. Democracy once again failed because special interests and gun manufactures had certain of our political "leaders" bought for and feeding out of their back pockets. Money and political aspirations clearly hold more influence than the lives of the average American citizen. While there's going to be some finger pointing, please remember that we put some of these very people in office. For the 10% who will not support the bill, I hope the next tragedy will not strike your family or loved ones. For the other 90% of us, I hope to see you all at the next election.

    April 17, 2013 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  7. Jim H

    Apparently the people who we elected are finally realizing the media figures are bogus concerning the wants of Americans. Hope this continues.

    April 17, 2013 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  8. Marc Lohrisch

    86% of Americans support increased background checks? Who do our politicians represent? So much for representation. Something's seriously wrong with our political system.

    April 17, 2013 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    I don't trust CNN polls or any liberal poll.

    April 17, 2013 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  10. AZ Girl

    I am so disgusted at our "misrepresentatives" today. This is truly a sad sad day for the American people.

    April 17, 2013 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  11. HenryMiller

    "Public opinion gets trumped in gun control defeat"

    But the Constitution won.

    If all you anti-gunners want to take away America's guns, at least be honest enough to try to do it legally and properly by repealing the Second Amendment.

    April 17, 2013 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  12. David

    Once again CNN gets it wrong. No one cares about this. Its all about the economy. BTW quoting a CNN/WAPO poll killed any validity that the article may have had... CNN is dying, the lefties do not represent any of us...except Hollyweird.

    April 17, 2013 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  13. Fedup1962

    I don't know anyone who has ever been contacted for a network or newspaper poll. How do you conduct a "random" poll these days, when the majority of people no longer have land line phone numbers published in a phone book ? Poll results can be altered vastly by carefully wording your questions, and hand picking your sample source. I tend to believe Obama's poll results came from a small group, like Mayors Against Illegal Guns, or the DNC, or maybe a homeless shelter where picking the correct answer gets you a sandwich.

    April 17, 2013 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  14. Dr. Jeff

    No, public opinion didn't get trumped, only Obama and the biased media did. You guys should quit believing your own press clippings.

    April 17, 2013 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  15. tyler fitzpatrick

    "The ABC/Washington Post survey also indicated that 86% of gun owning households supported the proposal."
    Can I get a link or something to this source? Also, didn't The Washington Post basically create Yellow Journalism? I'm not sure how you are helping your cause by bringing up a poll by them, more or less proving this article was really only written in the attempt to spike viewers.

    April 17, 2013 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  16. Dr. Jeff

    P.S. Had the proposal been backed by a President I trusted, I might have considered it, rather than opposing it out of hand.

    April 17, 2013 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  17. tarura

    I am part of a public (and re-public) and I applaud Senat for voting down this background check proposal.

    Finally, a good news from Washington DC.

    April 17, 2013 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  18. Rusty

    We've got the best government money can buy. Thank you, Will Rogers.

    April 17, 2013 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  19. Scrappyike

    How can something have 90% support and yet not happen? About the same as more than half of Americans not support a barack second term and yet he gets in. The numbers are made up

    April 17, 2013 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  20. David

    This proves that our country is bought and corrupt.

    April 17, 2013 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  21. Dr. Jeff

    No, public opinion didn't get trumped, Obama and the biased media did. You guys should stop believing your own press clippings.

    Without the right of self defense AND the means to carry that out, you have no rights at all.

    If you think for a while, you will realize that you can actually make a stronger argument for repealing the 1st Amendment than the 2nd Amendment. There is a reason for each and every item in the Bill of Rights. When you realize how the amendments work together and support each other, you too will understand the importance of maintaining each and every part of the Bill of Rights.

    April 17, 2013 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  22. David Holmes

    this is something that should be taken out of the rats that infest our government, and but in the voters hands!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 17, 2013 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  23. jinx9to88

    One word "COWARDS". Those 6 and 7 year old kids from Newton show more courage then these so called Senators that are suppose to represent the people of their district. 2014 cant come quick enough. I hope my representative calls me and ask for my vote so I can tell him to F off. The president was correct when he said "shameful day in America".

    April 17, 2013 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  24. robtemery

    The polls out of Washington would be amusing if they weren't so ridiculous. Given the number of people I know I should know at least one who supports gun legislation.

    April 17, 2013 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  25. David Holmes

    There is other things that should be kept out of our government, race, gay rights , as well as gun rights, anything that involves religion !!! to many nuts out there!

    April 17, 2013 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
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