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. Anonymous

    how is 46 a majority?

    April 18, 2013 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  2. kathryn mccauley

    i can't believe they can lie about what public opinion is... there is no way 90% of the public is for gun control.... its not a gun problem its a crime problem... they can't enforce the some two thousand laws on the books competently as it is and they are so scared for their own behinds because they know they are screwing us royally... its not about our guns its about our rights... the second amendment is our right to protect the rest

    April 18, 2013 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  3. Ginger

    So these 6 people were only looking out for their political future. I hope they are never elected again. In fact, the whole Congress only looks out for themselves not the citizens they serve. Look at all the freebies and goodies they get. When are we ever going to have term limits, and get rid of the lobbyist. When can we find our way back to America.These 6 congressmen apprently to full of themselves to understand the meaning "home of the brave" Six little chickens!!!! Hope you enjoyed your lobbyist treats because many more more are going to die as a result of your vote.

    April 18, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  4. Kathe2OBX

    I am not opposed to stricter background checks, but I am not naive enough to think that they will really make all that much difference. Nancy Lanza may have passed every background check out there, but that wouldn't have stopped her son from killing her and taking her guns. You can't always stop crazy. Especially first time crazy. How many are among us that are seemingly fine, with no record of mental illness or crime, that could easily pass a background check acquire a gun and go on a rampage? They will always find a way. Guns, bombs made out of pressure cookers, fertilizer you name it. There are a couple of European countries with much stricter gun laws and latest report? Their violent crime is on the RISE. Taking away guns or our right to own them, isn't going to stop anything, other than the ability to protect ourselves. The 2nd Amendment exists, among other reasons, the right to bear arms to protect us from the tyranny and oppression of a corrupt government. Maybe that's why so many in Washington really want them done away with.

    April 18, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  5. Rick

    Since when has real public opinion favored gun control? "Public" includes "fly over America" for all you east and west coast socialists, er I mean liberals, or is that progressives now. The name changes but the policies don't. America is a free country whether you like it or not so feel free to emigrate. That means move to another country for you liberal arts majors.

    April 18, 2013 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  6. Not a sheep

    It didn't happen because it simply doesn't have the support that our criminally left-leaning media want to cram down our throats that this nonsense has.

    April 18, 2013 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  7. FUTPOTTY

    Cowards!!!!! I hope the blue dogs are happy. If I was the Democratic Party lead I would seek out how to keep those seats and get rid of them. I don't care if the replacement is a gun loving nut. Just dump the ones that betrayed the party and the American people with this vote. This would have been killed in the house anyway because our gerrymandered unrepresentative government has been commandeered by a bunch of right wing ideologues. The incredible thing is that we are not being represented by these idiots. Dump them all and start over, these morons would never survive in the real world and would perish without the limelight.

    April 18, 2013 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  8. Jerry

    I guess that it didn't happen to them (Senators) that the NRA told them to vote "NO" since they give a damn.

    April 18, 2013 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    We the people don't need government or any one else telling us how to live or what kind of weapons and magazines we can own.If you don't choose to have them then don't buy any or turn all of them in if you aren't mature enough to handle them.We the taxpaying citizens and hard working families seem to be doing just fine with what we have.We didn't put elected officials in office to make all decisions for us.And I don't believe congress or anyone else but the people should have a say in what firearms we own.Like I said before ,if you aren't properly trained or mature enough to handle firearms then turn them in and let us know if this keeps the criminals from ever hurting any of your family members.Let us know in ten years how well this worked for the cowardly bunch,and then we will look back and make our decisions from there!

    April 18, 2013 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  10. Larry Carter

    The polls don't mean anything the questions are worded in such a way to get the outcome the pollsters want. In this case liberal bias. Just simply ask the question if people want their 2nd amendment rights restricted and you will get an entirely different result in the polling. You can't trust CNN to report anything unbiased. They are liberal to the core and they will make their reportingfit their views, even if it means fabricating a story to fit their agenda.

    April 18, 2013 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  11. Blog Man

    That's OK. We need to concentrate more on bomb control laws. People shouldn't be able to just go buy bomb making materials. I dont...what? Those laws already exist? Then how did the Boston Marathon bombing happen? That's illegal! Stupid criminals need to read the rules.

    April 18, 2013 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  12. gijames1225

    Good for the senate. I know it's a democracy, but what the majority wants is not always the best, and representatives have to do what's right and not what's popular (when the two conflict).

    April 18, 2013 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  13. Ken

    It is a total lie that 90 percent of the people support gun control. Why does the media lie to us just so they can advance their own ideas and sell it as what America wants.

    April 18, 2013 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  14. sonnie3

    This is just going to prolong for a little while the slippery slope of total government control and the day we all get a tattoo on our arm just like Hitler did. Read a few history books to see what road this leads to. Registration will soon
    turn of confiscation. The people that are young and those who come here from other country's don't have a clue
    what made America Great and that we are now being destroyed with in , from our own Government. Go Figure?
    Stupid is what Stupid Does.

    April 18, 2013 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  15. DVDCRR

    If you support the 2nd Amendment, like Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and George Washington did, you are a true friend of Liberty. This Liberty was hard fought and hard won. It was partly won by volunteers who showed up with their arms. They won it over the world's best and most advanced military at the time. That was ON OUR SOIL. The second Amendment was put in place by revolutionary people, not by common sense moderates. The common sense moderates were wearing red coats. Figure out which side you need to be on. That way when our Freedom is again at stake here we will have the arms we need to preserve it. Join the NRA. Do you want the whole country to look like New York does now or Chicago? Police eyeing you at every corner? Dogs sniffing your children on the street? A mayor telling you what you cand eat and drink? My gosh its almost like the terrorists have already won. We are turning away from our own Liberty. Come on people, realize that you need to be responsible for yourselves, for raising good children, and for maintaining a country where people can live their lives free and be happy. You can't solve the problems of society by granting absolute power to a government. They cant raise your children. They can't secure our borders or even show up to a shooting quick enough to stop it.

    April 18, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  16. sonnie3

    All the props that obama used to get his anti gun legislation done in the name of Newtown did not work. This is good.
    Why, because all that he wanted would not stop another senseless tragedy like in Newtown. It was all about gun control and nothing to do about solving the troubled minds of sense less people responsible for such atrocities

    To wait for a tragic situation to exploit for political posturing is a spineless type of a move. If this had merit on it own it would be something else. But to truck in props on Air Force One is a shameless act of desperation by our potus.

    April 18, 2013 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  17. sonnie3

    The majority in my area of Iowa wanted this gun legislation to crash and burn. We understand the stepping stones that a government run amuck will take to get their goal of total confiscation of arms from law abiding persons in America.

    cnn's polls are really out of whack with We The People. Where do they get polls to get such a distorted picture of what is going on in America,

    April 18, 2013 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    remember when a majority of americans were opposed to obama's healthcare bill but they passed that anyway? where was the outrage then?

    April 18, 2013 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  19. Merlin

    90% of Americans? Americans would mean the whole country. That is not where this percentage came from. Look it up.

    April 18, 2013 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    Common sense question ; Why would congress vote against gun control if they are worried about reelection and 90% of the population is for gun control??? They would obviously have voted for gun control if their reelection dependd on voting that way. Duh !!!

    April 18, 2013 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  21. jim blake

    Most of what I want to say has already been said by the others before me. I am not against back ground checks. Every gun I have bought came after a back ground check. No problem... Until you can do a back ground check for "crazy" you have not done anything. The NRA seems to be getting the blame but realize their member ship is not large enough to control any legislation. I am not a member.....Fear... is why the legislation was not passed. The FEAR that if we give an inch they will want two more inches next month. Then they will start on another amendment , one more of our rights.

    April 18, 2013 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  22. moi

    ....only in CNN's world and the world of the progressive-socialist mainstream media bias are these numbers reality. How out of touch with the truth can they get???

    Just an FYI–checks and balances are in place within each branch of gov't via certain procedures to keep from 'majority mob rule' from taking over THE REPUBLIC. Amazing how many Americans are now into the majority mob-rule mentality–dangerous mentality!

    April 19, 2013 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  23. JD

    Anybody think just maybe those polls were all rigged!? After all, look who owns and runs all of those media outlets – liberals!!!!

    April 19, 2013 01:38 am at 1:38 am |
  24. smuzer

    hmm....it came down to what was written in the bill. it wasn't ALL about gun control issues. the president is an excellent actor.

    April 19, 2013 01:53 am at 1:53 am |
  25. smuzer

    and who is this "majority" of Americans? it doesn't list who was polled in the survey. perhaps we should have a nation-wide vote on these measures to truly see what the "majority" of US citizens think. This article is purely one-sided. public opinion has nothing to do with this.

    April 19, 2013 01:56 am at 1:56 am |
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