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. Name

    The same way the Healthcare reform was passesd even though a vast majority of Americans did not favor it.

    April 18, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  2. Live in Texas

    We track automobile ownership from factory (or dock if imported) through the dealer and every owner until the salvage yard. You have to have a license to drive or own a vehicle. Cars are a mode of transport that if used improperly can hurt or even kill people. Guns are weapons designed to hurt or even kill people (or animals, for the hunters). So what is the problem with universal background checks, gun licensing and life cycle registration and tracking?

    Perhaps we need a few more mass slaughters of the innocent to occur, especially in "gun country" for enough people to come around to the only view that makes sense – that guns are inherently dangerous and need to be tightly regulated. What if Sandy Hook had happened at your kid's elementary school?

    April 18, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  3. BigPPP

    I think you need your brain more than your R15 to defend your country. LOL.

    April 18, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  4. Julie Miller, MC, LPC, LISAC

    Another example of the NRA and lobbyists being the 4th branch of government. I don't get to vote for them. Lobbyists do not represent the people. I strenuously object to the lobbyists getting the final say.

    April 18, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  5. brad

    Once again the good ole boys club wins / aka superwealthy/ and the rest of us get left with having to live with their greed.

    April 18, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  6. chris

    We should not run our country on national polls. If we did Dewey would have been president, slavery would still be legal in certain places, and women might not have the vote in all 50 states. This bill was being forced by those wanting to abort the constitution.

    April 18, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  7. McCain is Out Of Touch with reality

    I am a Vietnam era Vet and I used to respect John McCain, but with his departure of freedom and the rights of every American and for him to stand on the side of socialism and fascism with the democrates and obama, I now wish Vietnam would have kept him.

    April 18, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  8. superfed67

    "All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression."

    Thomas Jefferson: First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801

    April 18, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  9. massconn72

    I am so glad that we keep voting for these imbeciles. At least here in CT they voted the right way. I thought they were supposed to REPRESENT" us not themselves and their lousy attempt at keeping their jobs. Maybe it is time for another revolution. We are getting awful close to "taxation without representation" all over again.

    April 18, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  10. Snidely DooRight

    Public opinion is, of course, to be obeyed above the Constitution.

    April 18, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  11. J. Smith

    The poll numbers are skewed regarding this issue and the supporters of this measure continue to say public opinion was trumped. I, and everyone I have spoken to about this issue, don't support this measure. I doubt highly that 86% of Americans do. As for Canadians, well, who cares what they think?

    April 18, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  12. Wallace Whitlow

    The reason the Senate voted this down is because the 90% figure is a lie. The people that put these Senators in office let them know where they stood on this issue and at least in this instance the Senators voted to actually represent the people that gave them their jobs.

    April 18, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  13. jeremy

    REPEAL THE 2nd AMENDMENT!!!! What was necessary once is no longer required. Now that "right" is a danger to us all! Make it a "privilege" like driving a car. With ALL the same requirements.

    April 18, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  14. Jason

    What the so called "majority" of the people who want background checks fail to realize is that there already are background checks for EVERY gun purchase online. You can't just purchase a gun online and have it sent to you. It has to go to a FFL and THEN you get your background check.

    I think B.O. is praying on the stupidity of the American people. People who have never owned a gun or purchased one would not know this and would think that you can just go online and have one sent to you. It simply is not true.

    Enforcing the laws on the books before creating new ones that are essentially the same as what we already have makes more sense than anything.

    April 18, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  15. JesterJames

    When a government doesn't govern according to the will of the vast majority of the people, it's called tyranny.

    April 18, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  16. Jeebus

    If I want to buy Sudafed at the drug store, my purchase is automatically flagged. If I try to buy more somewhere else, cops will show up at my door with a warrant to search for a meth lab. But if an mentally unstable person like the Tuscon shooter goes from store to store buying ammo, with some stores turning him away because he's acting so nuts, nothing gets flagged and no cops are alerted.

    We just want people to use their guns responsibly. If you already do this, then you have nothing to worry about. I have no problem with people owning assault rifles, but only if they treat them with the same respect that soldiers show their weapons. As a service member what happens if you ignore gun safety at the range, they will often tell you how disgusted they are by the reckless behavior of people at private gun ranges.

    April 18, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  17. DougJ

    Please remember that civilized countries don't allow their streets to be flooded with weapons – especially military weapons. Well actually most uncivilized countries don't either. And then when we have such an incredible amount of gun violence, we're not bright to connect it to the incredible amount of guns we have floating around. America will persevere, but we will definitely lose our place among the world's great, advanced nations.

    April 18, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  18. California

    Public opinion also got trumped in the Obamacare issue.

    Your point?

    April 18, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  19. Jackie

    Those who voted No one the bill supposedly feared retribution from the NRA, well... good for them. I believe the real retribution will come from the power of the vote and the pounding they're going to get from the Bloomberg group.

    April 18, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  20. T

    Matt from Canada, that was an excellent post. I will add to that that unfortunately the gun society in the U.S. supports a very big business, one that has the money to influence politicians more than non-paying voters do. So you have those politicians acting apparently irrationally, but in fact they are just lining their pockets. Shameful.

    April 18, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  21. OKC

    When the question asked is "do you want to keep crazy people and criminals from having guns" I'm surprised it wasn't 100%. Pols can be manipulated very easily.
    Has anyone seen an example of this Poll??

    April 18, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  22. TheObserver

    OK, this argument that this legislation would've done nothing to prevent the Newtown tragedy anyway, is CRAP. How many people have been killed by guns that aren't there?

    Gun people, do you want NO changes at all? Don't you think gun crime is a problem in our country? Besides nothing, which obviously won't work, what else are you willing to try to help reduce these crimes and reduce the carnage when these crimes happen? Do you see need to be proactive at all? Or are you all too busy amassing military instruments of killing, and living in fear of a government-led, ground-based assault on your home?

    Hate to burst your bubble, but if the American government wants you dead, its NOT GOING TO MATTER if you have one gun or 10. You're dead.

    The next time a theater, school, store, event has a mass shooting, I hope all the gun people feel happy knowing that 10 more people died to protect their rights to a closet full of military weapons. Ridiculous.

    April 18, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  23. B

    Pot calling the kettle black.

    April 18, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  24. Thatguy371

    Bought n paid for legislators worrying about getting re-elected without gun lobby funds. Won't matter. We'll all find out who voted against it, and the vast majority of us will NOT vote for those shills.

    April 18, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  25. D-rock240

    Glad this didn't pass. It was an invasive mess masquerading as a useful bill. Now, if you want to talk about people bowing to political power look at Maryland.

    April 18, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
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