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. RINO Bill

    Looks like all that money Bloomberg spent on his anti-gun campaign went down the toilet. He should have paid more attention to what happened with Mitt Romney's backers. Just throwing money at something does not automatically mean the American voters will buy it. Or as they say in Alaska, Sara Palin with lipstick is still plain 'ole Sara Palin.

    April 18, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  2. that guy

    When the senate votes they can't forge fake votes like they do in presidental elections. Your fake polls say one thing but the streets are filled with real americans who love this country and don't want to see its history to be ran into the mud. If you don't like being in a gun friendly nation then please do yourself and america a favor and move.

    April 18, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  3. straitsight

    I polled 388 of my friends and only 2 favored the gun control bill. So much for poll results, they depend on who you ask and where.Fact is that the bill would have done nothing to prevent any of the recent mass shootings. Just as a ban on pressure cookers wouldn't stop a bombing.

    April 18, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  4. Steve

    All this legislation was was for expanding background checks. That was it. Polls have indicated overwhelming support for that provision. This was not an extended magazine ban or assault weapons ban like the NRA was painting it as.

    April 18, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  5. Kaye

    Shame on the members of Congress who put their self interests before that of their constituancy! It was more important for them to stay in office, sucking the government tit, than to vote for what any educated, reasonable person would vote for... regulated gun ownership. God forbid they are not re-elected and be forced to work a real job! As for worrying that registration would allow the "gu'mint" to know you own a gun, all anyone has to do is look at your facebook, twitter, etc accounts where you are posting the glories of gun ownership and killing as well as pictures of yourself dressed in your camo gear proudly displaying some dead animal.

    April 18, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  6. Matt

    Sure OKC, but your second amendment was written in 1787 after having to defend you independence from the british in 1783. Don't you think the context of that is a little old? Last time I checked the british aren't coming, red dawn will never happen, Al Qaeda is pretty much broken, and North Korea is... Well they certaintly aren't best Korea. All that being said, who are these guns going to defend yourselves from? None of your "enemies" are going to show up on your home soil. You're handing a bunch of metal death sticks to a group of scared citizens that think everyone around them is going to blow them up or shoot them in the face. Yet you can't seem to grasp that maybe all these guns are the actual problem, not the laws or legislation.

    Hmmm, but maybe you're right. 31 Years of independance isn't a lot of time, so maybe I'm way wrong.

    April 18, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  7. Dick Smegma

    Actually, in the latest poll, less than 4% of citizens think gun control or immigration is a top priority!

    April 18, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  8. Mukk Rakker

    Can someone explain why "strong sentiment for gun owners rights" automatically means no accountability by gun owners? – you have to license your car, in most states you have to license your damn dog, you have to license your premises if you sell food, etc etc etc (it's called protecting the public) but why not if you own a handgun, let alone a military grade machine gun?

    April 18, 2013 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  9. Smiley

    In my area, the headline would read "Public opinion gets trumpeted in gun control defeat".

    April 18, 2013 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  10. mistamista

    @ justrural The public opinion that was trumped was the 68% of Americans who wish to have military-style weapons off the streets. Even in the majority, we seem to be flaccid in protecting ourselves from ourselves.

    @chanruss You're confusing your rights with your desires. No one EVER wrote the Constitution with the inherent decree that a citizen can own any gun they want without protecting the rest of the populous FROM those people. "Shall not be infringed" is a pretty complex term, but you can bet that it doesn't mean a closet full of AR-15 style weapons.

    @merlinfire 68% of Americans support stiffer gun laws and harsher penalties. It's insane to think that more precaution is going to provide a poor result. Sooner or later, there WILL be new legislation that shuts the steel trap on people who misread "well organized militia" as "one man army".

    @WingsofRed There are hundreds of websites where you can buy a weapon online. It takes some work, but you can import an AK-47 from Russia and have it sent through a bonded warehouse with NO background check at all. If you get caught with that weapon, you'll go to prison forever, but it's not that hard to get guns if you're crazy enough to think that you need an AK-47.

    The bottom line is that our leaders are to infatuated with cold blued steel and are being led around by the gun lobby as if they were dogs. Sooner or later new gun laws WILL come about, and THAT is the day when we start to make progress again.

    April 18, 2013 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  11. Russ

    It was not defeated DESPITE "public opinion." It was defeated because:
    1. Of the realization that the constitution cannot be circumvented to advance an agenda.
    2. The term "public opinion" is as accurate as the term "assault weapon."
    3. Those up for reelection realize that they cannot be reelected if they legislate contrary to the will of the people AKA the REAL public opinion.
    4. No matter how many times any politician CLAIMS that most people want this type of legislation to pass, it doesn't change the FACT that WE THE PEOPLE want our constitutionally defended rights left alone.

    April 18, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  12. Floyd from Illinois

    The worst part of it is that every single one of those Republicans who voted against the will of tehir own constitutents will be re-elected.

    April 18, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  13. Beverly

    I'm so sick and tired of hearing the arguements...it's shooter, not the guns. Or it will just be the non-law abiding citizens who end up with the guns. If those are true, then why don't we just wipe the books clean of any laws. Legalize drugs, since it's the abuser not the drug...Get rid of speed limits because the law breakers are just going to speed anyway. Does the Right to Free Speech guarantee you can say anything you feel..NO! Some effin common sense is what's needed here and now! The consititution wasn't written when they had semi-automatic weapons and magazines that can kill a classroom full of children huddled in a corner in one swoop of the gun. There's no perfect answer to this or ANY law but you've got to start somewhere. I guess next we'll be letting people walk around with grenade launchers. I'm sick right now. And blame myself for not speaking up. I will be getting a list of the votes and writing to my wonderful Georgia Congressmen!

    April 18, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  14. JMBarrett

    I'm with CMCLE. You have to understand the ignorance of a huge portion of the American public. They either don't read, or they read only those things that reinforce their ignorance. They think everything is settled with a gun. They hate anything that isn't just like them. They fear their government....a government THEY ELECTED. They take as fact anything they are told because they're too lazy to investigate.

    And I would recommend someone keep an eye on "chandruss" who thinks a nuke should be dropped on the Northeast because he couldn't watch an episode of Johnny Bravo or Family Guy because of acts of terrorism. God forbid he should miss his favorite show! And if the Boston bombings were related to Newtown, it's entirely likely that it's a gun enthusiast who perpetrated the terrorism....in other words, a gun-toting Tea Party Republican.

    April 18, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  15. Eileen Porter

    The "gun lobby" and "NRA" is made up of people–taxpayers and voting citizens–whose opinions were finally honored. You got it wrong when this articles implies that Obama and the liberal gun-control people were the majority. Obviously they aren't the majority, or they would've gotten enough votes to pass the legislation. I for one am glad that enough people and their political representatives realized that you can't trump the constitutional right to bear arms no matter how people try to turn a trajedy into a political issue. The trajedy happened because of a mental kook, not because of guns.

    April 18, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  16. Steve

    Contrary to media slant, public opinion was not trumped by the "powerful" gun lobby. What was trumped is the narrow mindedness of the left wing fear mongers trying to make everyone think that they are going to get shot if they do not pass more laws to inflict oppression on innocent civilians through the gutting of the 2nd amendment. It appears that the media is not away of the most recent poll taken is that only 4% of americans think control is an issue that needs to be addressed. Those are the real polling figures. Where in the world does the media think that monies come from for the lobbying efforts by either side – those monies come from the public. The public spoke – no get over it and move on

    April 18, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  17. Tyrone

    Public opinion according to who ? I am a democrat, a liberal, own a gun and I was against any more laws (on top of the thousands already out there) that revolve around gun ownership. Gun Laws will not fix what happened at Sandy Hook, anyone educated individual will easily understand that. That being said the Boston attack shows us all that guns are not the only tool available to those who wish to inflict mass harm. So we have two options: 1) Take away the rights and liberties of everyone in this country so that politicians who really don't care about us can state that they 'fixed' the problem for political gain. or 2) Stop being politically correct and address the growing mental health crisis in this country, institutionalize people instead of attempting to assimilate everyone, revamp the death penalty, and implement better security in schools, etc.

    April 18, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  18. a76marine

    Public opinion did not get "trumped", it got REVEALED. There's no way 9 out of every 10 people want these laws. In my circle of friends it's closer to 3 out of every 10.

    Add up all the Veterans, Hunters, Sports Shooters and Ranchers in America and I assure you that you're looking at much more than 10% of the population.

    April 18, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  19. Amused

    This bill failed for one reason. It was a bad law. How many of you people that lament more background checks have actually purchased a gun? Do you know what laws are currently on the books? Current law: You have to pass a background check to buy a gun from a licensed dealer, whether he is selling from his shop or a gun show. To purchase a firearm online, it must be sent to a licensed dealer, another background check. If a guy sells guns at a gun show without a license, he is breaking federal law. This law is not enforced. The ATF has clearly stated that they do not have the assets to enforce the law. Do you know what happens if you try to buy a weapon, but lie on the application? If you lie on the application, you are breaking federal law. The dealer must report it. Do you know what happens? NOTHING. Another law that isn't enforced. There are thousands of gun restrictions in this country. You could fill a room with laws already on the books. They aren't enforced! And to use the Sandy Hook tragedy to merely pass another law that won't be enforced just so you feel better is insanity. AND. Had the law they proposed been enacted, it still would not have prevented Adam Lanza from his act. He got his weapons by shooting his mother in the face. He failed a background check when he attempted to buy a firearm, and was denied! Maybe we should make it illegal to shoot some one in the face and steal their weapons. Oh. Right. Already illegal!

    April 18, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  20. ctcool

    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." Can someone explain this to me? if shootings happen to only NRA supporters, it would be OK, but unfortunately it happens to everyone.

    April 18, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  21. zippy

    Obama is setting policy based on polls conducted by news outlets.
    Doesn't seem like a particularly good way to govern.
    You can always find a poll that supports any position you chose.

    April 18, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  22. PK

    Public opinion is that gun control is not the answer. It is people control. Further gun regulations will not make a difference. Only a fool would believe they would. Most want a simple, quick solution. Gun control appears to be an easy actin to take. That is all it is. Besides why expect a government that cannot balance its own check book be able to address more complex issues?

    April 18, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  23. DK

    You can lose a loved on in a in swimming pool, car accident, walking down the street, falling into hole, watching a marathon, or even stabbed in the heart by a stingray.

    Accidents happen. Bad people are out there. The world is random and will never be
    perfectly safe. The government can't keep you safe. It isn't their job to keep your daughters and sons safe. It is your job. Get a gun. Protect yourself. Stop screaming for help, and be the help.

    April 18, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  24. Pinkontheinside

    No, the public opinion of 1012 people was trumped. That is not the majority of the country. CNN/ORC International's poll base seems very consistent as in the numbers of those polled rarely change with differing topics and the number of landline versus cell phone responders are eerily the same. It appears that CNN/ORC have a defined base of people they call on for most issues they seek "public opinion" on. You can research this all on your own, and you can draw whatever conclusions you like but polls are not representative of the country as a whole, and should not be used to shape public opinion by CNN, the President or anyone else. They can be easily skewed by the base. What really happened here is the majority of the country contacted their elected officials and provided their views. Public opinion was upheld by this vote.

    April 18, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  25. Alfredo

    Remember, the NRA bullied and bought lawmakers to prevent them from requiring taggants in gun powder. This act of bribery and coercion is making the job of finding the Boston Marathon murderer that much harder.

    April 18, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
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