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. earlyman

    Total lies that 90% of Americans approved of more gun restrictions........
    Thank God that those Senators voted exactly how America wanted them to vote.......

    April 17, 2013 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  2. tom

    Oh, I get it now. Because the votewent against what the liberal editors of CNN wanted and it came out contrary to their carefully structured polls, it's "contrary to the wishes of the American people." I call BS. Translation: Liberals didn't get their way and now they're throwing a tantrum.

    April 17, 2013 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  3. californiafats

    maybe because the poll lied, just like everything about this gun control measure.. when you buy a gun, you already have to register, except when you buy from a private seller and that would do nothing to stop a criminal.. i'm not sure where this left winged tabloid of a so called media gets thier info, but for the poll saying 90%, I don't know anybody that was in favor of it!

    April 17, 2013 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  4. Surfer George

    Republican Congress a wholly owned subsidiary of the Gun Lobby says: "We don't care what America wants, We only care about ourselves... And America will actually make me WORK for a living after i'm voted out of office... This vote sets me up for life.

    April 17, 2013 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  5. Jim Perry

    The public is the citizens of all the states and our Senators voted the correct way. Liberty breathes again in America.

    April 17, 2013 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  6. richard macfee

    so what else is new? We have a President who routinely disregards the opinion of the majority as only he interprets it. So, lobbyists control our elected officials!! So what else is new? Money talks. The only way we will ever fix this is to put term limits in place so that our elected officials have at least their last term in office free of the pressure of getting money to get re-elected. Our system is broken.

    April 17, 2013 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  7. kc2

    A CNN pole that is representative of 86 % of Americans????? Give me some of that good crack you are smoking! The only thing shameful about Washington these days is the Democratic party and Obama.

    April 17, 2013 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  8. Howard

    I believe the part about 90% of americans want this is false.

    April 17, 2013 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  9. PeaceOfficer5376

    So, POTUS wonders how something can not happen when 90% of the public is for it? Wonder why he didn't actually spend political capital to see the measure pass. Perhaps, because immigration reform and a path to citizenship for criminals is more important to him than the lives of American citizens?

    April 17, 2013 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  10. Greg

    > "... 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..."

    If the author wants to show a contradiction between public opinion and the defeat of this bill, then the author needs to quote poll results specifically about this bill. For example, perhaps the majority of Americans are in favor of wider background checks, but that does not imply the majority of the people were in favor of the way this bill would have implemented that desire.

    April 17, 2013 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  11. Vrgreg

    How do account for the recent AP poll that only 48% polled support stricter gun control and 52% disapprove of Obama's handling of this issue. Also how about the source of the 90% poll cited by gun control advocates, that was only conducted in 7 eastern states, mostly blue states. In today's connected age putting forth questionable stats only hurts your cause. Public opinion did not get trumped here, an agenda to misrepresent it did. A focus on mental Heath issues and violence in general was needed. Also, I wish the White House would focus the the same level of resources on jobs.

    April 17, 2013 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  12. Rabies

    I find it hard to believe that public opinion wants the government to keep going after our rights. I want to thank the Senate for taking a stand for the people. Kudos to you all.

    April 17, 2013 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  13. jessup

    What's with the minority party filibustering everything? They really should have just voted against the legislation instead of blocking cloture.

    April 17, 2013 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  14. BOB

    I guess the 1000 people polled on cnn and cbs did not really show how the people really felt the 100 thosan or more phone calls the dem and rep got might of made the difference

    April 17, 2013 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  15. Freedom

    Let Freedom Ring!

    April 17, 2013 11:29 pm at 11:29 pm |
  16. fernace

    I think we all better start taking names & be ready w/our votes next year! Make a comparison list, who works for the citizens & who works for lobbyists, special interest & their own sorry butts! 87% was just kicked to the curb like we're all the 47%! Thanx for that civics class lesson, congress! We'll remember at the voting booths, even if we have to wait all day!!

    April 17, 2013 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  17. Bulldog78

    Public opinion also got trumped when Obamacare was rammed down our throats. The public has also wanted simplified taxes and a balanced budget. The public doesn't seem to get much of anything they want from their elected officials. Hypocrisy rules in D.C.

    April 17, 2013 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  18. Alex

    Yes but according to another Gallop Poll, only 4% of Americans consider gun control to be an important issue. Additionally, this DID allow for the Dept. of Justice currently run by fanatical anti-Second Amendment nut Eric Holder to create a national gun registry. I read the bill, so actually, Obama lied, or maybe he just didn't read the bill. Even the ACLU had serious objections to this bill, actually on Fourth Amendment privacy grounds. Finally, public opinion doesn't matter when it comes to the Bill of Rights. That's the whole point of the Bill of Rights. It's a law that protects certain rights that the majority can't violate. So however many Americans supported this bill, is irrelevant.

    April 17, 2013 11:49 pm at 11:49 pm |
  19. mojave45

    I will tell you how it happens. The congressmen and senators listened to who vote for them in their home states. If there was a 90 percent approval rate the polls must have n=been taken in big cities. I would like to see poll results for the 33 red states.

    April 17, 2013 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  20. Rob

    Uh the problem here is that simply stated THERE ARE ALREADY BACKGROUND CHECKS REQUIRED AT GUN SHOWS AND ONLINE!
    Any gun purchase at a show or online must go through an FFL dealer. If the gun requires a background check, then the chek must be done.

    If the check isn't done the buyer and seller have violated federal law. So what did this bill do, make it "Illeagaler?"

    April 17, 2013 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  21. Thomas More

    only 4% say this is an important issue.....when is Obama going to do something about jobs? 48 million on food stamps and 37% of adults not even looking for a job....Obama has the wrong focus of limiting rights

    April 18, 2013 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  22. Nate

    Didn't public opinion also get trumped with Obamacare? I don't recall a similar storyline. I didn't know a single person in favor of this gun legislation.

    April 18, 2013 12:30 am at 12:30 am |
  23. ron

    public opinion was not trumped, liberal cooks.

    April 18, 2013 12:30 am at 12:30 am |
  24. Dejavu65

    Its funny how many GOP senators can fool enough simple minded Americans to believe they care for them..The Republicans only represent Filthy Rich lobbyist period!!!!

    April 18, 2013 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  25. DTurner

    "The American people are trying to figure out: How can something have 85% opposition [Obamacare] and still be enacted?"

    April 18, 2013 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
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