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. Mark from West Allis

    What a spineless, craven, pack of jackals. I hope they choke on their 30 pieces of silver from their masters at the paranoid NRA and the gun manufacturers who have calculated that spilled blood = $$$$. This bill was a reasonable compromise. In fact it was watered down from the original compromise.

    April 18, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  2. km

    Shame on the cowards in Congress. The NRA bully wins again, but the tide will turn.

    April 18, 2013 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  3. tony

    The Road to Hell is paved with Gun Intentions

    April 18, 2013 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  4. Joan

    It is a sad day for america. The people who are put into office, can be taken out of office. All we need to do is look at the votes that said "no", then we can replace them with people who work for us and not against us. I feel so bad for all the people that have lost loved ones to gun violence.

    April 18, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  5. loverpoint

    The names of all the Senators that voted this down should be made public.

    I know it wasn't my Senator. The people of the US need to know the names of these boot lickers of NRA lobbyists. 90% of Americans wanted background checks. The only people against background checks are the criminals themselves.

    April 18, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  6. ProfS

    Not that many are willing to sacrifice their political career, even for something that could actually save lives....shame on these politicians!

    April 18, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  7. ru serious

    ....hope the 90% take it to the 2014 midterm elections. Clearly, the people who are supposed to represent us are not, they're beholden to the NRA thugs and their moronic supporters. Reap what you sow.

    April 18, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  8. margo

    The blood of the children of Newtown and all the other innocent children who have been shot to death is on the hands of those senators who voted again something as simple as background checks.

    April 18, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  9. Publius Novus

    The usual moral equivilancy baloney from CNN. No, Democrats from conservative states did NOT help sink the gun control legislation. Forty-one Republicans voted against the bill. In the cockeyed world of the U.S. Senate, that is enough to overcome the will of the majority, no matter what the 53 Democrats and 86% of the American people want.

    April 18, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  10. NorthVanCan

    Yah, I could see how checking the background of an owner of a deadly weapon could be a problem...............NOT!

    April 18, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  11. paul

    There is NO evidence that this bill would prevent any deaths. Law-abiding people don't commit these crimes, CRIMINALS do. Even if this bill had passed 20 years ago, it would have done NOTHING to prevent Columbine or Newtown since none of the shooters were required to pass a background check, then or now. The weapons used were bought by their parents!

    As a counterpoint to all the knee-jerk reactions, ask the President how well extremely restrictive gun laws are working in Chicago!

    April 18, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  12. Garrett

    I'm glad this failed? Why? Because the government ignores that at least 52% of America wants Marijuana to be Legalized, Taxed and regulated. I'm also glad this failed, because they are lying about the numbers.. They interviewed maybe only 1,000 to 3,000 people to get that 80-90% want more gun control. 3,000 people do not represent what the 300+ million people want. Almost 1/3 rd (88 Million) of Americans have a small arsenal of weaponry...

    Gun control IS NOT A PROBLEM! Government Control is the problem! They ignore the real problems and find fake ones to go after.

    April 18, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  13. Mark

    Shame on congress! So everyone has the right to vote, but are restricted and harassed, but we can't have background checks on people who buy weapons over the internet or gun shows? Where is the logic in THAT? Any emotionally disturbed person or felon can purchase whatever without being checked out, what are you smoking congress? I believe that people do have the right to own weapons for hunting and self defense, but come on, you are saying any gangster can walk into a gun show and buy what ever he wants with no check.

    It's time to look at who we are voting for, but then the popular vote doesn't mean anything in America any more, does it?

    April 18, 2013 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  14. Penarrow

    Who said lying does not pay? The GOP, NRA, and far right conservative groups have proven, for now, that it does pay, but not for long. I do not believe any of the people in these groups even read the bill, they are so frightened of the NRA and retribution from the far right that they just may find themselves looking for work soon.

    April 18, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  15. fastball

    Honestly, I just shake my head.
    Simple background checks...was that too much to ask? So that people that are certified crazy or convicted felons aren't able to get guns from shops (let's no kid ourselves, with 300M guns available in the USA, a background check wouldn't stop a guy who REALLY wanted to get a gun). I thought having some kind of brain or spine was necessary for human life...but I guess I haven't looked at the requirements for the average American politician.
    Honest to god, the rest of the world should just build a fence around the USA and charge admission to watch the lunacy.

    April 18, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  16. Dr Wilson

    I wish CNN would run a more accurate headline, it wasn't rejected, it was Filibustered, there was no vote.

    April 18, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  17. ifly2

    This bill was defeated because it was laden with language that open the door for future encroachments on our rights. When will these liberals learn that guns are not the problem. Guns did not stop the knife attack in Texas last week and it certainly didn't stop those who used bombs in Boston. Gun control is only politics, it's something Obama can focus on to take the country's attention off the economy, rising taxes and the cost of his health care. If he really wanted to do something to curb violent crimes, he'd push for stiffer penalties against criminals, fund research into why we've seen a staggering rise in autism among our young over the last 10 years, work with the entertainment industry to curb the violent, sexually explicit and gory graphics that serves only to desensitize our youth to the reality of these acts. Politics replaces common sense. Attacking law-abiding citizens' rights instead of focusing on the root of our problems is an all too common theme in Washington.

    April 18, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  18. Wonder Worm

    We have enough gun control. What we need is idi0t control.....

    April 18, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  19. Rob

    Bipartisan proposal and a bipartisan no vote. The media should be celebrating bipartisanship here. By the way, there was also a bipartisan yes vote. Bipartisanship working as it should.

    April 18, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  20. Jill-IN

    Shame on Indiana's Senator Dan Coats. Thank you Senator Donnelly for doing the right thing.

    April 18, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  21. jim

    Too bad so sad! Hahahahhaha!

    April 18, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  22. cnnlicksit

    Complete an utter failure of government. The people wanted it, but the wealthy businesses and powerful political lobbies didnt, and they always get what they want.

    April 18, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  23. Kevin

    Thes background checks need to be more secure. IT wasnt really the reason for all the shootings but it needs to be done

    April 18, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  24. jim

    Cherry picking comments to sway public opinion? Despicable.

    April 18, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  25. sftommy

    NRA wants muggers, rapists, crazies and murderers to get a gun without being asked any questions.

    NRA proves itself bad for America and bad for law abiding Americans.

    April 18, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
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