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. Casey

    This should have passed. I own a gun and even I know we need more in the sense of background checks. Epic fail on Congress's end

    April 18, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  2. Cosmo

    Look this issue is so simple: You either believe that 1) it is important to check to make sure that an individual who wishes to purchase a firearm is not a felon or mentally ill, or 2) screw it who cares. Because if you are going to check the legal and mental status of an individual, it HAS to be done consistently, or else the process fails. As far as I'm concerned, congress has shown they are in camp 2. They WANT criminals and the mentally ill to get weapons, because they can easily, with no difficulty purchase them from gun shows or the internet. Great job congress – the next Newton will be an albatross around the neck of every NO vote...

    April 18, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  3. UDidntBuildThat

    What is stunning to me is we have a President that constantly lies to the American people and we have an American electorate and media, that not only accepts it but go thru great lengths even tripping over their own logic to justify it!

    April 18, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  4. b

    Poll taken a day before the vote was cast showed that more than 80% supports the bill in its present form. A govt of the people by the people for the people indeed.

    April 18, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  5. Dean


    When the next gun massacre happens in the US... and you ALL know it will... just remember you did nothing to stop it. Nothing at all
    ------------Joe can you tell us how the proposed background checks would have prevented the last massacres?

    April 18, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  6. yoda

    Shameful politicians fear the NRA more than they care about citizens. Keep those names in a file and make sure to repay their heartless stupidity in the next election!

    April 18, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  7. Henry Gonzalez

    We the people have no voice...so why vote.

    April 18, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  8. Howard33rd

    Public opinion doesn't say ban or confiscate weapons. Or register weapons, or ban assault weapons, or ban large magazines. It says background checks to stop criminals and the mentally ill from purchasing guns. CNN is playing the martyr, and claiming now somehow most Americans want "gun control". If ammendments would have protected gun owners rights from tracking this would be a non-issue. Just saying "government is not allowed to abuse the tracking of sales" is not enough, because it can still happen. There already are laws stipulating background checks for licensed gun dealers, both at gun shows and on the internet. Enforce the laws, increase the penalties, keep guns away from mentally ill, and look at better mental health treatment. Guns are not evil.

    April 18, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  9. Guest

    Internet Sales and Gun Shows do require background checks, bills like these are shot down because of how ignorant the American public is.. Anytime a person purchase a firearm from a dealer or manufacturer they are required to send a background form in, just because they don't do it in front of you doesn't mean they don't do it. The only time background checks arent performed are personal sales in which case you couldn't even enforce.

    Even with new background checks there is no new basis for disqualification. It's already illegal for people with felonies to purchase firearms so what else is there? Someone cant buy a gun because they have 6 parking tickets? Give me a break.

    April 18, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  10. Lord Toronaga

    If all you wanted was background checks... why was a gun ban list attached to it? NOBODY agreed to the left's ban on semi auto guns. Thank You NRA for helping us. You speak for me and my fellow gun owners. Keep up the good work.

    April 18, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  11. JoshO

    The comments about the top 1% killing this legislation in spite of public opinion are amusing. The top 1% like Bloomberg and Soros? Both of whom spent millions to try to convince the American people to trade in their freedom for illusory safety? And also, I suspect, to concoct fake poll numbers. The rich don't want to see an armed populace because they fear one day we'll get fed up with the inequality and take them down. This legislation failed because there are still people in this country that know what it means to be Americans.

    April 18, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  12. liamnc

    People know that this would do nothing to prevent gun violence. Maybe Obama will stop wasting time on this now.

    April 18, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  13. LauraP

    Ummm Public opinion gets trumped??? Not hardly. It is because WE THE PEOPLE worked hard to get our senators that hmmmm... represent US to vote the way their constituents wanted, that this law was rejected. WE THE PEOPLE will not stop the fight to remain a FREE people. Gun laws do NOTHING to stop evil men from harming others. In places like Chicago, which has very harsh gun laws, the violence is off the scales. Criminals will always obtain weapons to harm..ALWAYS!.. CNN , get your facts straight. You do not represent WE THE PEOPLE. You must poll a little circle of liberal minded people so you can claim such nonsense. Poll the South. We protect our own and you will NOT get our weapons. EVER.

    April 18, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  14. Brimstone

    Excessive gun violence is here to stay. Best thing you can do is just hope you or a loved one don't get shot.

    April 18, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  15. davey

    If I recall, the national opinion polls stated that most Americans were not in favor of Obamacare.

    April 18, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  16. Jerry

    Public opinion gets trumped in gun control defeat????? Public opinion does not want anymore gun laws. CNN poll, what a joke!!! My poll says 99% don't want more gun control laws.

    April 18, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  17. Larry L

    The "obscure" polling results that proved America's support for increased use of background checks for gun purchases can be found (with similar results) in each of the following polling services:

    ABC News/Washington Post Poll
    CBS Poll
    Pew Research Center Poll
    CNN ORC Poll
    NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll
    Gallup Poll
    University of Connecticut/Hartford Courant Poll
    Quinnipiac University Poll
    Morning Joe/Marist Poll

    And yes... even the Fox News Poll, the most dishonest and biased of all polls, showed between 70-80% support for background checks for private sales at gun shows.

    April 18, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  18. George Washington

    Absolutely DISGUSTING CNN Article!!, WOW! Talk about Bought and PAID NEW! "Public HAS SPOKEN DON"T TOUCH OUR GUNS! CNN is Not a reliable new media.

    April 18, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |

    The congress should be ashamed of itself. they are more worried about the next election than the
    safety of the country. They are more interested in defending the 2nd Amendment than worrying
    about guns getting into the wrong hands. You need a license to drive, why not one for owning a
    gun? do they want to have another Newtown, Aurora, columbine, and so on and so on on their
    hands. I don't. Enough is enough!

    April 18, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  20. Lord Toronaga

    If 90% of the American people wanted this idiot bill....the senators would have SIGNED it. But 90% of us did NOT. The poll probably took place in a gun hating area of the U.S. Go to Hell CNN and Paul Steinhauser. You are the liars.

    April 18, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  21. David

    Public opinion???? CNN needs to go read some REAL news sites so they can learn that only 4% of Americans think this is an important issue. Public opinion??? More like the TYRANTS got trampled!

    April 18, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  22. UDidntBuildThat

    Did Harry Reid voted NO? REally? Didn't POTUS came out and blame the Republicans for the defeat of the Bill?
    And the media and electorate say no big deal b/c GWB did it and its GWB's fault.

    April 18, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  23. liamnc

    I know it sounds immature, but all I have to say to gun control supporters is this


    April 18, 2013 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  24. jey

    mr.barden i feel your pain . the loss we saw was because of a drunk driver lets make a new law and stop this kind of muder also enforce the laws we have{ an eye for an eye} not pay to house crimals for life

    April 18, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  25. Andrew

    Please tell me how this bill to expand background checks would have stopped Sandy Hook from happening?

    April 18, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
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