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. Dave

    The real problem is that both sides want all or nothing. I am glad that this did not pass because none of these laws would have helped Newtown. Gun lovers as you call us just don't want to feel that you are going after everything. The reason the second amendment was put in was because our forefathers had already had government try to take everything, and it looks like they are trying again.

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

    In 2011, more than 2.5 million Americans died, according to the CDC. Just 15,934 were murdered. Thus, 99.37% died of natural causes, unintentional injury accidents or suicides. Homicide is the 17th leading cause of death and it disproportionately (more than 50%) affects young (mostly teen) inner city males (2% of the U.S. population) who are killed by other young inner city males, using weapons obtained illegally. These laws may have had some impact on the periphery, but the overall impact would have been quite minimal where the greatest problems exist.

    April 18, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  3. celtblood

    "We are the United States of the NRA"? Sounds good to me!

    April 18, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  4. Dave

    Fix the economy, and there will be less crime and violence.

    April 18, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  5. Kanageloa

    We can't trust the politicians, we can't trust the media, we can't trust opinion polls so who do we trust?

    April 18, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  6. JO

    Polling 1000 people and trying to extrapolate any meaningful trends from that across 300 million people is a exercise in futility. According to the CNN/ORC International poll that surveyed 1012 people by telephone, 870 said they agreed with the questions presented. All you should take from this poll is that 870 people agreed with the questions. There is no correlation to the opinions of the American public as a whole. And there is especially no correlation to the opinions of the industries that fund our Congressmen.

    April 18, 2013 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  7. Sean

    Since I read the bill and it would have zero impact on rare events like Sandy Hook (you guys might try actually reading the bill before you drop your jaws in awe that it wasn't passed) then the only reason I can think that this bill served was to make Republicans look bad, thus securing more Democrat votes in 2014.

    For those who think the bill would have helped, I have some questions. Since the mother of the Sandy Hook shooter had registered legal firearms, how would the bill have stopped the event? Please tell me how you were failed yesterday. What exactly would this bill have accomplished? I seriously want an answer.

    April 18, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  8. Patines

    Men who need guns to feel protected are cowards who dream of being macho. Hunters who need rifle to kill animals are the ones who will never face another man without an arm.

    April 18, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  9. trewte

    OK That's it, let's all break the country into republics and you go live in the republic that you like best that meets your needs.

    April 18, 2013 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  10. Catmman

    Well, the President and congressional Democrats subverted the will of the A,Erica's people on their midnight passage of the Affordable Care Act.

    I don't remember any wailing or gnashing of teeth from the Left, the President or CNN.

    April 18, 2013 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  11. Fred8680

    Most people I know do not favour gun control nor do they believe climate change. I live in a 'blue' state.

    April 18, 2013 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  12. Rev. Ernest Long

    I agree with one of the comments, if you give them(anti gun) an inch they will take a mile. I am 100% against anti gun laws even though I do not own a gun. I live in California, where we have every restrictive gun law in place.We the people need to have politicians who represent our views at the national level and we also need to elect politicians who will start dismanteling the crippeling tax laws they all enact. The need for government agencies to start saving monies from their alloted budgets,instead of spending every dime and than asking for more at the next budget setting session.

    April 18, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  13. Bob

    Special interest groups control our government. People elect candidates who represent special interest groups because voters are too naive and too influenced by special interest group propaganda mills like the NRA to realize that the people they are voting for are not going to represent them in Washington or their state capital, but will represent the special interest groups that funded their campaign. We need to change our election laws or we will never have a government of the the people, by the people and for the people.

    April 18, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  14. Dihanna

    And this is why we need term limits. These jerks are so afraid of losing their spot at the public trough that even a minority opposition can run the show. If you aren't convinced by now that politicians need term limits then you haven't been paying attention for the last 2 decades.

    April 18, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  15. FedUp65

    Not my public opinion and the 68% everyone gives is 68% of people I don't know! Everyone I ask, both Democrats and Republicans understand its the finger on the trigger that kills, not the trigger...my gun sits right next to my bed and it has never tried to shoot me.

    April 18, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  16. ishekhar

    going thru the comments, its pretty obvious how hollow are the arguments by 'pro-gun' aka 'pro-violence' folks are; 2nd amendment, criminal-will-get-run-no-matter-what etc. etc.

    In a civilized society likes ours, no one needs gun, not assault weapon, not automatic, not even shot guns, except some very rare exceptions like you are living in country etc. Certainly not for the sole reason of having it because 2nd amendment permits you to.

    And if comes down to that level, REPEAL 2nd amendment.

    I see this going the same route as 'gay marriage'. They couldn't just trumpet (wrong interpretation) of Bible forever to deny them what a human right.

    No matter how the angry the other side sounds

    April 18, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    i wish they would state numbers and not just state percentages. the problem with percentages is you dont know how many were interviewed. sample size matters when trying to figure out what the population as a whole wants. Ive only found one poll that stated its numbers and it polled only 1200 people. 90% of those 1200 wanted background checks. well 1200 is less then .000004% of the us population. my guess is that none of these polls are accurate, and are mostly biased for background checks.

    April 18, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  18. Brandon

    Public opinion was trumped? I think you mean CNNs agenda was trumped, everyone I know didnt want this to go though. Even if this was in place, how would this have stopped Sandy Hook from happening? It wouldnt have. The person commiting that crime STOLE those guns and did not obtain them legally. Doing a more extensive check on the person who purchased those guns LEGALLY, would not have stopped this.

    April 18, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  19. LJ

    Hmmm, I wonder why the President didn't say something about poll numbers when the polls showed the vast majority of citizens were against Obumacare and was passed against the will of the people!

    April 18, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  20. cadiwampus

    The writer refers to states where gun rigthts are "sacred." That means the people in those states consider gun rights to be "sacred." I'm from a place in California where there is a saying..."We're rednecks. We'll keep our guns." You can find this sayhing on bumper stickers that are printed in black and white. The polls may "say' one thing, but everyone I know is completely opposed to the government continuing to regulate our lives..no matter what the issue. The President continues to use the Sandyhook Massacre to promote and justify policies that will intrude into the lives of lawful citizens while he refuses to acknowledge that that massacred was perpetrated by someone who used guns that were stolen from his mother..whom he had previously murdered. The massacre had nothing to do with the kind or the number of guns used...it had to do with a person willing to do what he did...regardless of the weapon used.

    April 18, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  21. AZ-Gun Owner 66

    Too Bad so sad, the left coast and the North East libs do not have enough power to control the country.... Out here in west we love our guns and WILL NEVER give them up to any Liberal.... My guns have never killed a person, but could if necessary. So sorry to let you know that nobody ever asked my opinion, and we are officially considered part of the public.

    April 18, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  22. yogi

    @ cmcle
    All those who are concerned about their sacred guns, and keep talking about the polls being the oposite of what 90% believes, should read your post. Your comments are so true, the ignorance in this country is beyond incredible.

    April 18, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  23. sam

    The problem with these polls is they are not accurate. the only poll i could find that gave numbers of people polled stated that 1200 people were polled. thats less then .000004% of the us population. that is nowhere near large enough to be a scientific sample size of value. These polls seem to be biased for gun control and not what american people want.

    April 18, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  24. Nice Catch

    "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."

    " 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."

    Why do conservatism and denial go hand and hand? This is like deja vu all over again. Just like poll after poll during the presidential campaign season favoring Obama were skewed all of these NATIONAL polls are supposed to be skewed by a bunch of lying liberals? Why can't you gun nuts accept the fact that the majority of Americans support common sense gun control measures such as background checks. In your distored world a background check will equate to the a government conspiracy to disarm the entire nation. No wonder we can't get anything done is Washington.

    April 18, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  25. don

    I'm sorry I just don't think a CNN or ABC poll is going to reflect the national opinion and to suggest that it does shows either pride/arrogance or downright stupidity.

    April 18, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
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