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. Karla

    Election day 2014, voted no, re-election politics for those!!!!!!

    April 18, 2013 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  2. Connerls

    Since when is it okay to give up freedom for protection. I'm not a statist! I'll take my freedom!

    April 18, 2013 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  3. As-if

    This reminds me of the time CNN whipped up the American public into a media frenzy when Obama rammed thru Obamacare with backroom meetings against the will of the public. Oh wait.. that didnt happen, not a word actually. lol. CNN is a sham, but it makes for good infotainment.

    April 18, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  4. Steve- Illinois

    Funny when the Affordable Care Act was passed, CNN never mentioned anything about how "public opinion got trumped!"

    April 18, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  5. dorf

    The biggest problems with background checks are 1. The present system is broken and does not contain all the needed informatin to screen buyers. That needs to be fixed first. 2. How are you going to know? The only way to insure you know is register all guns. Well the Supreme Court already ruled that only those that can legally own a gun has to register them. Otherwise it a violatioin of the 5th Amendment for self incrimination. So if I cannot legally own a gun, I can never be prosecuted for not registering it. So what good would it do?

    April 18, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  6. Lawrence

    What an embarrassment...I tried to have some faith in the US, but now I find that to an unreasonable position. Is there anything more pathetic than a politician?..."I know this is wrong, but if I vote this way I may not get in next time. Yeah, I know our children are getting massacred, but I like my job!" The next time a massacre happens I am not going to shed a tear or say a prayer...apparently you care more for your guns than you do your children...no more need be said. On second thought keeping in mind the attended audience perhaps I better spell it out...that is an embarrassment to humanity...I don't even think Hitler was this nuts!

    April 18, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  7. Ken in MO

    This is sick and digusting! When 92% of the people want something and they do this they should be impeached. They are clearly NRA puppets and do not care at all about the welfare of their constituants. When they put the desires of the NRA above the safety of the people, they need to be impeached. I, for one and going to donate and campaign hard against my Senator that voted this down. I am so ashamed of our Senate! Sick, Sick, Sick!

    April 18, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  8. Sam

    Dont forget about your Dem Senators that didnt vote for your beloved proposal. If our government had any credibility then maybe the folks with guns would not be so worried about getting them taken away. I know you folks cant wrap your brains around the criminal mind but these laws do not impact criminals. Just as the war on drugs does not deter anybody from acquring them.

    April 18, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  9. emdub

    this is why i never get too upset when a republican is shot

    April 18, 2013 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  10. murphy

    we have no more say in r goverment than the people in north korea .its all about money and deep pockets politics shame on washington

    April 18, 2013 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  11. Jam.Nat

    The devil is always in the details. This bill was not about background checks it was about potential intrusiveness. There was language in the bill that concerned many. Language that could have been used as a loophole by antigun politicians and beaurocrats to put together a registry. After what the News Journal did, publishing the names and addresses of honest people, invading their privacy and potebtially endangering them using such a registry, what did you expect. CNN please do your homework and quit picking sides..

    April 18, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  12. Stephen

    How incredibly disingenuous to keep saying "90% supported this". No, they didn't. 86% percent said they supported some form of expanded background checks. Not that they supported this specific bill. I can get 90% of the people in my office to agree that they want to get lunch, that doesn't mean any two will agree on where to eat.

    April 18, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  13. Thomas More

    What CNN doesn't report is that only 4% of Americans think that this is an important issue...

    This is just another case of the liberal media trying to drive their agenda.

    April 18, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  14. TXBad1

    This explains all : and polls were not taken in States that support Guns :Obama quit lying yo People 90% of People were against gun control, you allow legal residents that are not citizens and can not Vote buy guns, Can you do Background checks in Mexico and other Countries? NO. so why discriminate against American Citizens.. You no Body else You Mr. Obama caused this defeat, you, Janet Napolitano, Holden, ATF all Hypocrites and Violated U.S.,Mexican and International Laws and caused Deaths of Civilians and Children with those guns, Remember operation Fast and Furious its not over your right it will be after your Impeached and those involved are prosecuted and removed..

    April 18, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  15. tony

    it was SHAMEFUL how the president stood at the news conference and whined and lied because the Senators voted the way the people would vote. Poor loser. And no , this is the last round, not the first round. The 90% poll was worded to be bogus just like obama

    April 18, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  16. Hola

    Look, if 90% of the American people truly supported this Bill, it would have passed. Somehow you're telling me that 90% of voters want background checks, yet in some strange way 46 Senators decided that the constituents in their states would not support them? The bottom line is that you can't get 90% of Americans to agree on anything, let alone something as controversial as gun control. I'm sure that, had the wording of the poll been different (better reflected the bill), you would get results closer to the 54-46 split in the Senate. The American Republic works, people.

    April 18, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  17. DN

    If background checks only punish the law abiding citizens, then why not do away with requiring ID in order to drink alcohol? The law breakers will find a way to get alcohol, so why require everyone else to show ID? Yep, same stupid logic.

    April 18, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  18. Carl

    These headlines are all BS. The polls show people support background checks in general. That does NOT necessarily mean that this was a good bill and I doubt that 90% of the country read it.

    This is standard political ignorance. The bill is judged by its title and what proponents say about it, not what the bill actually says.

    April 18, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  19. Kristi Wallace

    If the reality was that 90% of Americans favored this bill, it would have passed no matter how strong the gun lobby is because the people vote for senate, not the gun lobby. Even your own article is misleading because you say 86% of people are for "some type" of background checks–maybe the law was not in congruence with the will of the people-have you ever thought about that?
    President Obama constantly makes statements that have no basis in fact, yet he expects us to just believe him. We don't live in Venezuela!!! We have minds and will of our own. I am so tired of my President preaching to the American public like we are a bunch of dumb fools.

    April 18, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  20. K. in MS

    I don't understand why people are saying we need more background checks and griping because this bill didn't pass. Do you honestly think that criminals are going to be law abiding citizens? If they want a weapon to hurt either one person or 100 people, do you really think they are going to go buy one at a store and wait for a background check to clear?
    To Minnie Mouse- as far as I know, not everyone can go online and order a gun. You have to have something called an FFL (Federal Firearm License), which background checks are done for that, and you have to show proof of several things even when you have that just to get that gun shipped to you from an online purchase. My husband has his FFL and has weapons in our home. We also have 3 children with the oldest one being 7. From a young age we have been teaching them rights and wrongs of guns. My heart just broke when all those children were killed back in December. What that boy did was wrong, but he was so messed up in the head that he would have used ANYTHING to make what happened happen. Gun, Bomb, knife, ax, etc. Making stricter laws will NOT keep us safer. Criminals dont understand the concept of following laws! I believe our country needs better mental health rules in effect. I have a friend whos uncle is "mentally disabled" so much in a way that he shouldn't be left alone but no family will take him because of the problems he has caused, AND no hospital or mental ward will keep him. Will guns be to blame if he decides to shoot up a place???

    April 18, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  21. Ken in MO


    That is a copout! That is like saying that everyone does heroin so it is ok. That is a copout! It is not a matter of telling the truth...it is a matter of doing what is right. If we cant depend on our Congress to keep guns out of the hands of nutjobs then we are going to have more shootings like Sandyhook and the latest Texas prosecuter killings, etc. Dont fallback on that copout about lying. What the Senate did was just wrong...and sick.

    April 18, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  22. NorCalMojo

    I'm amazed at how many liberals are supporting a national database for the mentally ill.

    People would just avoid professional help and diagnosis. Then we'll just have crazy people with guns and no medication.

    April 18, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  23. Tim

    This is a fine example of government and democracy actually working the way it's designed. All of those legislators voted in a manner that reflected the views of their constituents. Given this, I'd like to know where that 90% statistic came from. For a few weeks now I've been talking to lots of friends with wildly varying opinions on most issues. But a majority agreed that this media and liberal blitz on gun rights addresses nothing.

    April 18, 2013 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  24. Ron in SC

    Any politician supported or recommended by the NRA should be voted out of office as soon as possible. These people don't work for us they work for their corporate paycheck.

    April 18, 2013 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  25. Irish

    Unfortunately, even with a mentally ill restriction in place, often times people are not to be determined to have mental health issues until they do something that makes everyone take notice. At that point, we as a society continue to ask "how could this have happened?" even if this legislation passed.

    April 18, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
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