April 17th, 2013
06:15 PM ET
9 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.

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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. Peggy

    Never have I seen such a bunch of spineless and arrogant people in my life. They purport to represent the people and yet they vote against 90% of those of us who want sensible gun control. Why? For the money !

    People need to wake up and walk to those polls in 2014. We need people of courage and with common sense who are in it for the people not for their wallets.

    April 17, 2013 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  2. christhopher e. hogan

    We the people? Not for a long time....

    April 17, 2013 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  3. rs

    Republicans have just invited, perhaps even made certain that the Democrats will take away their right to filibuster with the "nuclear option". I hope Harry Reid rams it down their throatss. This bill would have passed but for the GOP's use of the filibuster to stop all action in Congress.

    The GOP isn't just working against the Democrats, no, no, they are working against America!

    April 17, 2013 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  4. roro

    SHAME SHAME SHAME on all the senators who voted against this compromise bill. SHAME SHAME SHAME!!! The citizens of this country will vote you out for this disgusting betrayal of 90% of the people.

    April 17, 2013 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  5. RINO Bill

    Public opinion did not get trumped, CNN is upset because the agenda they supported went down in flames.

    The amendments considered today, Democrat and Republican, were all simply BAD LEGISLATION and deserved to be defeated.

    Now maybe we can move on to legislation that will actually benefit the citizens of this country.

    April 17, 2013 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  6. Bill Curdie

    The president says the will of the people has been ignored. Kinda like the will of the people who voted for the decrimnalazation of marijuana. I truely dont believe the will of the people want all these laws and restrictions. Gun sales have soared just on the thought of all these new laws. Will we also want to ban pressurer cookers next. CRIMINALS DONT ABIDE BY LAWS. They will get what every they want somewhere. Put our tax dollars to where they can do some good. Like mental health. Promote family values once again. Get back to the basics.

    April 17, 2013 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  7. Jay in NC

    Yes, Senate vote does trump public opinion. Senators legislate on the people's behalf. Not to represent them. That is why they call the other house Representative. This is how the system was designed.

    April 17, 2013 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  8. Matt

    Senate vote trumps public opinion.... ya, kinda like it did when they voted to pass the "affordable" care act.

    April 17, 2013 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  9. nothing new here

    Since when do politicians care about what the American taxpayers think?
    Seriously, we are only the beasts of burden that pay their salaries.

    April 17, 2013 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  10. Spikemanlou

    Shouldn't this vote have been expected, I mean come on American public you haven't realized that Congress isn't there to represent us, they are there to represent the Corporations and Special Interest Groups that contribute to their reelections campaigns. This is exactly why we need to vote all of the dirt bags out of office and elect officials that realize that we voted them into office, not the NRA, not the Tobacco Companys, not Wall Street, but we, the American people.

    April 17, 2013 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  11. GI Joe

    When it happens to one of their own, maybe they will change their minds. NAH -- they love that NRA money more.

    April 17, 2013 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  12. sandy santore

    IT continues to be a disappointment that our elected representatives who are suppose to be our voice in government ignore almost 90% of Americans desire to have background checks. When we Americans wake up and realize that their voices are not being heard and vote them out!

    April 17, 2013 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  13. moxjox

    Just list the Dems that voted "NO" and the Repubs that voted "YES". We already know which way the bulk of each voted.

    April 17, 2013 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  14. Chipster

    But the NRA (gun manufacturer's lobby) will stop contributing to their campaigns if they vote for any background checks! It's all about the money. The only solution is to vote them OUT in the next election.

    April 17, 2013 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  15. MR_22

    Trumped public opinion? Hardly.

    The 90% poll claim is a sham, as evidenced by Senators from all across American following the wishes of the people who elected them. Today is a victory for America. My opinion of the Senate just jumped double digits today! It looks like reason prevails in Washington–finally. It's about time.

    April 17, 2013 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  16. reasonablebe

    when will the nra change its tune and tactics? only after people take back the power.

    April 17, 2013 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  17. Larry L

    Several Republicans changed their intended vote to "no" because they didn't want to waste their N.R.A. Report Card on something destined to die in the House – dominated by radicals from the right-wing Tea Party. What a dishonorable way to make decisions in the United States Senate. After the next school attack they will have trouble washing the blood stains from their hands.

    April 17, 2013 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  18. Peter Hagdorn

    The April 17 vote on Background Checks show how cowardly American Senators are. With 90% of the country supporting improved Gun Safety, the "cowards of April 17" voted against America and in favor of keeping themselves in power. The only way to change this is to replace the Senators, and Congressmen, who put their own personal gain ahead of the American public.

    April 17, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  19. R.Merrell

    46 cowards, shameless disgusting cowards. And thanks to Harry Reid, a majority is not.

    April 17, 2013 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  20. AnnS

    Too bad we don't live in a democracy.....oh wait. Yes, we're looking pretty ridiculous to the world....yet again.

    April 17, 2013 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  21. Russ

    I guess we should just conduct legislation through opinion polls. No way those could ever be manipulated.

    There's a reason we are a republic and not a democracy. A democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. A republic is the sheep having the ability to contest that vote.

    April 17, 2013 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  22. Gurgyl

    These senate thugs are sold out. Drive these animals out in next election.

    April 17, 2013 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  23. Bruning von Stauffen

    You mean the public opinion of people in .blue urban areas? Because that's where the 90% seems to be concentrated. The rest of us don't want what Obama is selling.

    April 17, 2013 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  24. whta

    Only in liberal polls, the majority was for background checks.

    April 17, 2013 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  25. Randy, San Francisco

    This is a day of Shame! The keys to government were shamelessly handed over to the NRA.

    April 17, 2013 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
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