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. Philip

    So...let's say we believe the polls. How is this different than the vote for Healthcare for America Plan (Obamacare)? The polls also showed that the majority of Americans were against its passage, but it was voted in against the will of the people. By the way kudos to the two Senators from Texas, they listened to their constituents and voted no to a slippery slope bill.

    April 18, 2013 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  2. mike

    Maybe the real politicians are the ones that voted for the bill. Just maybe the ones that voted against it realized that the bill will do nothing to prevent what happened in Conneticut. Congress shouldn't create bills just for the sake of doing so. The truth is that the answer is tighter security in schools and other public places, not making it harder for honest citizens to get guns (i.e. that's what they do at the white house; tighten security). The supporters of this bill talk about how much they care about the lives of young children when millions of babies have been legally murdered by their mothers since one vote in the supreme court made abortion legal in this country. Where is the bill for their voice? Where is the common sense on the value of those lives. The only logical answer is that everything Washington does is political.

    April 18, 2013 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  3. Minnie Mouse

    I think it's a shame for our country for all of the elected officials in the political offices who voted no, and don't want to do something to make our country safe for the American people. If it wasn't for the American people all of you would not have your jobs. I don't feel that having background checks on the inter-net would have done any good because there's to much fraud, abuse, hackers and impersonators but in the public background checks are 100% needed. Online sales of guns and ammunition, just need to be banned because we need to know who we are physically selling to and put limitations on everything.

    I have a small child in elementary school. I thank God everyday for my child. There are many who are not so lucky, because they have lost numerous loved ones (at various ages) due to the uncalled for gun violence in our country. My heart goes out to these families. If something was done in our country, I feel we would have less vilolence. As elected officals in our government, you can't just do nothing and have an opinion of NO! If you are saying no to the safety of our country, then how about stepping up and giving your plans to how you feel we can make our country safe so we can all enjoy the presence of a safe country and live in safe communities/states.

    April 18, 2013 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  4. freethinker12

    Thankful for senate republicans doing their job. That's why they are there. Polls reflect a knee jerk reaction from a scared, uninformed public.

    April 18, 2013 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  5. K. in Miami

    This is prime example of how the Republican party is equivalent to or more of a threat to the security of this country than any Al Queda or Taliban militant.

    Even though a handful of Democrats voted against this measure I think it clear the Republicans who are advocates of the NRA are the main reasons why tougher gun control cannot be enacted, shameful......

    April 18, 2013 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  6. Lawrence Little

    This was just another dumb feel good bill, written by people who hate this country. The most shameful day in Washington was when Obama got elected in the first place.

    April 18, 2013 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  7. snowskiman

    Most people didn't support the healthcare bill (Obamacare) but it still got shoved down our throats!

    April 18, 2013 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  8. al

    Actually it did pass but since the Senate does not operate as the Constitution intended it failed to get the 60 votes it needed. None the less it came up for a vote as it should have and failed and that is the way things work. If the House wants to draft a bill and try again they are certainly free to do so.

    April 18, 2013 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  9. Bugs

    What a whiner. Mr. Grumpy needs to put on his happy face, suck it up, and try again later.

    April 18, 2013 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  10. Getoverit

    " Senate trumps public opinion in gun control vote"
    Just like Obamacare....

    April 18, 2013 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  11. Juan in a 1,000,000

    YES!!!!!!! Thank God~ Democracy in Action! Love it!

    April 18, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  12. Willie C Fields Jr

    Shame on those Senator's who voted against this gun control legislation.
    I hope and pray that every one of those senator's lose their seats when they are up for re-election.
    Sandy Hook families, Don't Give Up. Keep the fight going. I'am with you.

    April 18, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  13. wade

    You lie you say public opinion was for it it was not. You ask the question in the surveys to give you CNN the answer you CNN want to hear. The real public opinion is the CONGRESS who is elected by the people and they knew from their people they would looses if they supported this measure. THAT IS PUBLIC opinion in a democracy. The Public got what it wanted the LIBERAL PRESS and the LYING Obama lost. Try to enforce current gun laws which Obama refuses to do DOWN 46 % under his watch before trying to take away our rights.

    April 18, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  14. lash1943

    CNN..Now ask the question. "America, is it time to take back our country and vote both houses of Congress out?"
    Let's see how that vote comes out.

    April 18, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  15. Jim

    There is no such animal as a conservative Democrat nor is there such an animal as a liberal Republican. Just right-wing prostiticians.

    April 18, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  16. Jaba

    To be expected.

    April 18, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  17. Tony

    46 Nay voters will be remembered in 2014 elections.

    April 18, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  18. Dan Clayton

    Thank goodness that the President cant remake everything in this country. I am not opposed to reasonable gun control, however I am offended by the lack of attention given to the family life of the boy responsible for Sandy Hook. Shouldn't we be talking about weather parents are too self absorbed these days, outreach for troubled individuals, and our general public endorsement of self over citizenship. I think all these elements are much more important from a public policy perspective than the tool used...

    April 18, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  19. scott shields

    CCN's biased reporting comes through again in the headline

    April 18, 2013 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  20. realist512

    Congress persons have to be more courageous. I wonder how many of them in their heart would like to see gun safety laws enacted. I bet it is similar to the American public.

    The electorate has to be smarter and more informed. Special interest groups with targeted advertising should not sway congressional elections.

    minorities with money can target persons.
    y has more sway.

    April 18, 2013 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  21. Love God with all your heart

    Remember when Obama was campaigning in 2007/2008 and he said "I'm not going to take your guns". LOL.

    April 18, 2013 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  22. Anonymous

    This is great vote in the face of an irrational response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook. The misleading polls and the useless “90%” results are indicative of what’s wrong with politics in Washington.

    Sandy Hook was a Gun Safety issue. An otherwise lawful and responsible gun owner failed to ensure the safe storage of her guns and an individual that had no business having access to those guns exploited that. Nationwide background checks and senseless restrictions were never going to address the problem, but without a doubt, would lay the foundation for future restrictions after the next inevitable incident – a result of misguided and ineffective efforts to date…

    April 18, 2013 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  23. APO_AE_09173

    Congratulations America, the Constution was upheld.
    Now, enforce the laws in the books. Our current Background checks law had over 10k rejections last year and only 44 were investigated to actually stop the purchase.
    Citizens, make yourself part of the solution, become familiar with guns. Become familiar with your neighbors and lend a hand before your neighbor gets to the point he is a dnager to you or himself.

    Demand that the laws on thuggary and drugs and criminal behavior in your community are upheld.

    DO NOT allow prohibition like laws to create bigger more sophisticated criminal networks as thye have done with Narcotics and did with alcohol in the 1920s.

    Cherish your Liberties and be willing to defend them with your life.

    April 18, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  24. americanrage

    Since when do Democrats care what the majority of Americans want? They don't care when the majority wants illegal aliens deported. They don't care when the majority doesn't want gay marriage. They don't care when the majority wants the death penalty in my state. And they certainly don't care when the majority doesn't want a tax hike.

    April 18, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  25. The Location Station

    I must say, can only say, that I have just about given up on the United States as a land of sense and reason. In line with all the other touchstone issues of these times - health care, tax reform, campaign finance, the environment, fossil fuel, and so on - there was once again lot of sturm and drang and noise and rhetoric with no good result FOR THE MAJORITY OF PEOPLE WHO EXPECTED AND DESIRED THAT RESULT. We have once again done absolutely NOTHING to rectify or redress a VERY SERIOUS problem.
    I hate to say it, and am not advocating it, but I think the most direct or the most effective method of finally gaining a semblance of control over guns is for someone in the anti-gun control power structure or the hierarchy of obstreperous, insensitive, gutless do-nothing incompetents to be blown away by a felon or a psycho with an unregistered weapon. This vote is proof positive that people and parties whom WE HAVE NOT ELECTED AND WHO HAVE NOT BEEN APPOINTED BY THOSE WE HAVE ELECTED - i.e., the NRA, ALEC, the Chamber of Commerce, et al - have so insinuated themselves into our process that, like a killer viral mutation or a massive oil spill, WE CANNOT RID OURSELVES OF THE TOXIC EFFECTS.
    SHAME on all those who voted NO. Republicans, I expect them to be gutless, shameless dupes and floozies for the gun lobby benefactor dictators. But Democrats? Sorry, gents and ladies, you are on notice - don't BOTHER SENDING ME EMAILS ASKING FOR A DIME IN 2014. YOU JUST LOST MY CONTRIBUTION. Why have legislators when they are little more than agents for parties outside government who exist only for the profits that come from contravening public will?!

    April 18, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
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