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. sam

    all found cnn statistics and they only polled 1,012 adults nationwide.

    April 18, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  2. Gloria

    Hooray for Obama's own party to vote against his lies!! He kept saying 90% of Americans supported his proposal, but if you really sat and thought about it, that would be practically the whole United States!! I know alot of people and I live in a little town, and I didn't know anyone that supported his proposal, so as I've said in other postings, it was just another one of his lies, if this was true, which anyone with any common sense would realize there is no possible way, then it would've been passed. I'm hoping that our people are finally opening their eyes and realizing that supporting him is like someone slowly poisoning someone to a slow death!! I sure wish he would be as loyal to the families that lost their loved ones in the Benghazi attack as he is to the Newtown and Boston tragedies!! They won't let the truth about that though, its not even talked about in congress, it was swept under the rug!!!

    April 18, 2013 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  3. Dave in Jax, FL

    "Public opinion gets trumped in gun control defeat". Please, the 'public' is not informed enough to have an opinion. All public has is emotion fanned by the media and the current adminsitration. Any shooting is a tragedy, from dark alleys to public schools. But what was being proposed in Congress would not have prevented Sandy Hook or Columbine or any other shooting. For that matter, Boston showed us that if someone wants to cause harm, they can go to WalMart and get just about everything they need. Where is the call to ban pressure cookers??? There will always been good and evil, law and chaos. There will always be people who intend to do harm and find a way to do it. Yes, keep weapons out of the hands of people proven to be mentally unstable. But don't try to take away my right to defend myself or my family.

    April 18, 2013 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  4. Kevin

    This is a common sense bill. How did it not pass?

    What a country we live in. Where special interest groups and corporations make the rules. The people be damned.

    April 18, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  5. Bob

    Public opinion was NOT trumped. The liberal anti-gun agenda was defeated.

    April 18, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  6. getaclue69

    Another misleading article by CNN. The majority of America was not polled. What to watch for next? Since background checks will not be agreed upon, the next stalemate will come when they attempt to ensure the 'mentally ill' do not have access to weapons. Who determines the guidelines that establish someone is 'mentally incapable' of owning something? This will fall in-line with the Obamacare death squad too..... Line up for your physical so the government can determine if you are capable of having children, guns, a job.............

    April 18, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  7. wrm

    The Senate does not exist collectively to reflect the popular opinion of the country as a whole, but to bring to it the best opinion of the states represented by it no matter what their population. You can whine all day about what the majority want, and even have numbers to back it up, but that doesn't change the construction of our government.

    April 18, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  8. yogi

    @trewte
    I like that idea, in the blue states nobody would have a gun, and in the red states they could have their weekly shootouts, they would be in heaven with their semi automatics and no limits clips.

    April 18, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    Public opinion trumped, just like with Obamacare

    April 18, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  10. Ryan

    Out of the hundreds of gun laws already on the books, was this the one that criminals were finally going to abide by?

    April 18, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  11. gj2001

    This is not a card game.

    April 18, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  12. Raven

    Everyone gets so riled up about having their rights taken away by gun regulation. Meanwhile the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau collects all your bank records.

    April 18, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  13. trishmartin

    This headline says public opinion got trumped... I'd say PUBLIC OPINION in the form or faxes, letters and phone calls from 2nd Amendment supporters is what precipitated this defeat. The PUBLIC spoke and for a change, some in Congress listened and voted as the PUBLIC made clear it desired. PUBLIC OPINION trumped the attempts of Congress and this administration to curtail guaranteed 2nd Amendment rights!

    April 18, 2013 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  14. Jack 63

    How can something that has a 86% public opinion vote of being for fail? Here is how. Look at who conducted the poll, who they asked, and when they asked. I can practically guarantee that they didn't ask anyone before 9 am nor after 2 pm, and I bet they didn't ask anyone engaged in any form of employment. CNN is notorious for skewing it's polls in those ways. Now when the real voices get off of work and start calling their representatives and senators and speaking their minds about the subject, that is when the truth comes out.

    April 18, 2013 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  15. LT Fang

    1012 is more than adequate to make a statistical conclusion.

    April 18, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  16. PowderBud

    What a disgusting place this has become. And people keep telling themselves that corruption only happens in other countries. I hope they love what the lobbyists and Corporate America love, because we're now governed by them, not us.

    April 18, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  17. TheTruth

    Public opinion wasn't trumped: too many elected officials recognized this bill as flawed and unsupportable.
    1) Research what has and has not worked in the past
    2) Research current law to see if any apply
    3) Write a law that serves its purpose properly

    April 18, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  18. Elysion

    Here in Alaska, I'd say 90% (No one I knew anyway) were against any and all forms of gun control. It's a way of life for us and we've never had a problem with gun violence up here. The big city states need to keep their gun control to themselves since it obviously works so well for them.

    April 18, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  19. Heywood_Jablowme

    9 out of the 10 ultra-libs they found running around the CNN office comprised their poll of "Public Opinion"

    April 18, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  20. ghostriter

    CBS News poll, March 20-24, 2013. "Would you favor or oppose background checks on all potential gun buyers?" Favor: 90 percent. Oppose: 8 percent.

    April 18, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  21. Grandpa

    The polls are a contrived, manipulated lie, taken in places where the pollsters can already predict the outcome. Then they are extrapolated to represent all of us, while they really do not. 90 % support??? That is a bald-faced lie. That makes Mr. Obama and his cohorts bald-faced liars. IF there were really 90% support, the bills would have passed. The senators voted against them because THEY know there is NOTHING like that kind of support. Dave has it right. The revolutionary war was originally fought over gun rights. This issue is not really ABOUT gun control. It IS about people control, and if the gun control people ever succeed, the rest of our rights will not be far behind them in going down the drain.

    April 18, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  22. scuba

    bogus poles, It aint like you dont have to have a background check now to buy a gun I believe its a law, I have never bought a gun without a background check, is it a 2 year wait
    ?????

    April 18, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  23. Schep

    This article fails to address the huge gap in opinions re: gun control between the general public and those who actually vote. Politicians obvious respond to those who vote.

    April 18, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  24. Scott

    And here is, yet again, proof that politicians do not reflect the will of the voters but instead the will of lobbyists and campaign contributors.

    April 18, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  25. Rodeo Joe

    Why ? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

    Democracy is dead. Pretty flag – but only a meaningless decoration now.

    April 18, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
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