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. ghostriter

    Oh, and you conservatives will love this one:

    A new Fox News poll finds the most popular measure continues to be universal background checks: A large 85-percent majority of voters favors requiring checks on all gun buyers, including at gun shows and private sales. That includes most Democrats (90 percent), Republicans (83 percent) and independents (82 percent), as well as most of those living in a gun-owner household (81 percent).

    There is also sizable public support for requiring mental health checks on gun buyers (72 percent) and background checks on ammunition purchases (70 percent).

    April 18, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  2. Bobby

    This is what happens when you start to beileve in the polls that you took to make it look good for your own personal view points. Unlike MSNBC, I applaud those senators who voted "No" because they know their voters better then MSNBC or any other State. They work for the people of their own State, no Conn.!!!

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

    We also need a law tightly controlling purchase and possession of pressure cookers.

    April 18, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  4. ogbomoso

    Funny thing ... it is the Senates JOB to protect the American people from themselves and from the tyranny of the mob mentality of the majority.

    April 18, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  5. Matt From Canada

    I'm just gonna leave one final message, influenced by one of my favourite rappers of all time.

    Mo guns, Mo problems.

    Do what you want Americans, it's not my country you're running into the ground.

    April 18, 2013 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  6. Alfredo

    They don't represent us, they represent the monied few, the 1%.

    Read the second paragraph of our Declaration of Independence.

    April 18, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  7. HeinzM

    What a crock. It was grassroot Americans who cherish their freedom that worked against this not just useless, but freedom counter productive piece of crap legislation. Only getting rid of government mandated killing zones (called gun free zones; what a bad joke) and allowing some of the people working in these places to carry concealed, will have any impact on such mass murder sprees.
    Gun free zones are politicians way to invite killing nuts to come to these places, so they can then rationalize pushing idiotic, anti 2nd amendment laws. THEY are the actual (seemingly non insane) parties that cause such tragedies nd should be indicted for that. The nuts just do what the voices in their heads tell them to.
    The actual nuts mostly commit suicide as soon as armed personnel shows up. They wouldn't go there in the first place if they knew they would not be unopposed by anyone.

    April 18, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  8. den

    Wow. Maybe the notion that we, as a nation, have awoken and decided the people we have elected have not been working for us or in our best interest. This was NOT a common sense bill. Thank God at least some of the people voting in the senate recognized incrementalism.

    Oh, and I can think of MAYBE a handful of people who don't understand America's fascination with guns. Maybe half of THEM would be in favor of this failed legislation. Not NEARLY the 90% that was advertised.

    April 18, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  9. Sandra Miller

    @ Dave in Jax, Fl...you are uniformed. No one is trying to take away your guns. It was just a proposal for stricter background checks online and at gun shows. I am really tired of hearing that argument....which is the same one the NRA keeps brainwashing everyone with. AND it's only for new gun sales....no one is taking away your right to defend yourself. I'm sure you would pass a background check with flying colors, right? Then why be concerned?

    @Gloria you really need to quit clinging to the Bengazi attacks as your major beef with the President. Where were you when we entered Iraq under false pretenses and thousands of Americans lost their lives. You are just passionate about this because Fox News and the buddies in your small town told you to be.

    April 18, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  10. Alfredo

    ogbomoso. Is it tyranny to close some loopholes in the background check laws? You know, the legislation that Lapierre supported before a Democrat became president.

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

    I polled 100 liberals and all of them said they are liberal so therefore obviuosly 100 percent of the country is liberal. What kind of nonsense are some of you selling??? Just because you ask 20 of your friends, who probably live in the same general area as you and also since you are friends probably share similar views and or biases, and you all agree, does not make it as valid as a scientific poll. If we are going to get ANYWHERE in correcting our problem solving mechanism in this country it has to start with accepting scientific methodology again and not ignoring real data and evidence when it is contrary to what we want to believe.

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

    I believe Steinhauser speaks for the media opinion and not of the publics opinion. Every poll that I have seen with straight forward questions and answers was totally the opposite of Steinhauser's opinion. The truth would be nice for a change rather than knee jerk reactions created by media half truth's(lies).

    April 18, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  13. NYC REPUB

    I dont say this often....ut the people on this post re idiots and know nothing of the 2nd amendment they love so much.......In 07, or 08...The Conservative Supreme Court settled the right to bare arms in stone. With the cavieat that government can still regulate (write rules for) guns.

    April 18, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  14. Jaron

    Since when did reporters opinions become America's opinion? I don't know a single person who is in favor of any of this gun numbing jumbo...

    April 18, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  15. getaclue69

    STOP SAYING 90% OF AMERICA IS FOR GUN CONTROL...... 90% of the thousand people that were polled wanted more gun control. All Americans want to be safer, not all Americans believe senseless legislation will get us there. This is why I HATE the media releasing stories that are incomplete and false.

    April 18, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  16. Chicago

    I get it, people are more scared of the government taking away their "right" to own a gun more than they are of the stranger down the street carrying a gun. Many people think that owning a gun makes them safer, but It does not. Unless you are using pistols at dawn, you will never see that drive by or gunman opening fire before its too late. I think that its selfish for people to value their guns more than allowing simple background checks that might prevent tragedies before they happen. I say "might" because we would never know whether or not those methods were effective. But, I don't think that its too much to endure for a country who allows things like the PATRIOT Act and Terry Stops. American society is so afraid of blacks and hispanics in poor neighborhoods, people from the middle east, gays, feminists, etc. that we loose sight over what will kill us, Guns.

    April 18, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  17. mike

    Mabey Bieber will come over and sing for him....

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

    The people spoke!!!

    April 18, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  19. Sandra Miller

    Conservatives also didn't believe the polls in the 2012 election...Maybe, just maybe, you're wrong this time too.

    April 18, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  20. noly972

    This is just another example of America having the finest Congress that money can buy.

    April 18, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  21. trailboss

    The Gas ,Oil and Petroleum Party just told you how they feel about your vote and what it come down to... Your children or your party. Now you know your party is more important than your kids. You're looking better and better 2014.

    April 18, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  22. Margo

    Your report is so ludicrous. Contrary to elitists beliefs, it doesn't take a rocket scientist or any college degree to think for ourselves. Go cry on a rock in Norway or some other God-forsaking country where some liberal might care. Gun control is not the issue and deep down you know it's true. Thanks to the teaching of evolution as though it were fact, people don't value human life anymore because there is no valid reason for a human to exist, right? People change the terminology of everything to make it politically correct or at least palatable. Our country is in the condition its in because for generation after generation we have bought into the political and social propagandas that rival Hitler and the teaching of Fredrich Nietsche. May God forgive us!

    April 18, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  23. MesaMax

    CNN, where are your stories about the trial going on NOW of the Philadelphia abortion doctor who killed so many babies born alive, as well as many mothers? Far, far more people died than the Newtown incident. Yet you had wall-to-wall coverage of Newtown, and nothing on Dr. Kermit Gosnell. Why, CNN? Why, CNN?

    April 18, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  24. Namil

    Sucks but gets me a good current event grade!!

    April 18, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  25. Anonymous

    Any academic writer and researcher should know that if you are going to claim specific information you have to cite your sources for credibility. If you do not show where you get your information credibility is in question. I can conduct a survey to justify my opinion all day. I can establish high numbers of people that believe the way I believe, post it, and make more people believe this is the way all people believe. This does not establish truth. Opinion of the writer here seems to be the direction through the use of unsubstantiated "fact" of surveys.. A weak method of providing fact.

    April 18, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
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