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. chip

    This Bill would not have prevented Sandy Hook. It's never been about protecting kids.

    April 18, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  2. Guest

    I'm so thankful that common sense prevailed. I don't believe for one minute that 90% of America wants tighter gun control, but I do believe that 90% of America has no idea what they are talking about. This bill would have done nothing to prevent the insane from acting out, but it would have opened the door to having the Bill of Rights challenged. Don't think for one minute that once one right falls, others won't be far behind. WAKE UP PEOPLE!

    April 18, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  3. Donald N. Mei

    Public opinion got trumped by Obamacare. I didnt notice the hand wringing then.

    April 18, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  4. The Other Bob

    D. Turner

    "The American people are still trying to figure out: How can something have 85 percent opposition (Obamacare) and yet still be enacted?"
    Did you just make up that number or did you get it from Rush Limbaugh?

    April 18, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  5. barry

    The NRA has it right from the start.Arm the teachers and staff in the cafeteria and the janitors.This way if something stupid happens like a staffer goes crazy and starts killing people other staffers can take them out.But were missing the point it was little children that were mostly attacked so lets be smart here and arm the 5and 6 year olds. you bunch of cavemen

    April 18, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  6. Alan

    I am deeply ashamed by and furious with these senators. Do they need their firearms to make up for the spine and courage they lack?

    April 18, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  7. RINO Bill

    Obama's plan was for these crappy amendments to barely pass the Senate and then get shot down by House Republicans. He and the Dems could then make a campaign issue out of it during the '14 elections. Gun Control is merely a political tool for the Dems. Look at how fast these ghouls started showing off the distraught families.

    April 18, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  8. Mike from Seattle

    Background checks are only as effective as the people who actually give a damn about initiating one.

    April 18, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  9. Pro Gun

    With all of this stink about guns sales at gun shows and the internet, everything the news outlets are putting out is FALSE. The ONLY way a gun is sold in this country without a background check is through private sales, and that was exempt in the proposed bill. People that want to sell a gun, go to gun shows to sell it because people that want to buy a gun go to gun shows. The sale is no different if the sale was in my living room. Try to go and buy a gun on the internet!!! The only way is through a FFL (AKA a gun dealer) and guess what a background check is done. So unless you are trying to restrict private sales this action was going to do nothing but make someone feel better.
    And remember someone that does not respect the law will get a gun anyway, the only thing the anti gun people are doing is trying to restrict the law abiding people.
    Quit calling a magazine a clip, that is Hollywood.
    Quit calling a 30 round magazine a high capacity magazine, it is really a standard capacity MAG
    Learn about guns before you talk about guns you will look smarter.

    April 18, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  10. Mike

    The public opinion is not the the same as the media's leftist opinion! If you took a vote of all American citizens you would see that we value the freedom awarded to us by our constitution. Our media tries to sway public opinion by only showing one side of the issue. Where is the coverage on all the muggings, robberies, home invasions etc.. stopped by citizens with firearms? Our press will not show these stories because they want to ensure the influence of our government and the press grows and grows. How about a fair and balanced coverage on this issue CNN?

    April 18, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  11. Scott Forster

    For all of senators and congressmen who were afraid of the NRA, they should be more afraid of their voting constituents. Shame on you.
    I'm all for upholding the right to bear arms but come on! It's time to stop with the fear mongering and face the reality that the right to bear arms doesn't need mean you should be allowed to have an assault rifle or a gun capable of holding anymore than 5 bullets. The framers of the constitution would never have approved such a measure had they known that weapons today would be capable of killing so many innocent vicitims.

    April 18, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  12. Chaerlotte

    Temporary setback. Ultimately the gunbillies will lose in so many, many ways.

    April 18, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  13. Rob

    So for the record, nothing proposed in ANY of this legislation would have prevented the Newtown shootings. Sadly, you think MORE laws would stop killers it never has, and never will. That's what criminals do...Don't obey the law. These "Military Style" incorrectly labeled "Assault Weapons" are not the problem less than 400 murders were committed with ALL Rifles. You better start banning Hands and Feet since they killed more people last year than the Evil Black Rifle you're so afraid of. I see you all clamoring for attention spouting the "Gun Show" Loophole guess what every gun sold at a Gun show from a Vendor required a Form 4473 to be filled out . A licensed dealer doing business at a gun show has to follow all of the same state and local laws as if they were doing business from their storefront including the use of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Furthermore, private parties must also follow the same laws at a gun show that apply at any other location.

    There is no gun show loophole. It doesn't exist. It is a myth at best and a lie at worst.

    If a person orders a firearm from an internet vendor, that firearm isn't simply shipped to said person's doorstep. It must be shipped to a licensed dealer who then must utilize NICS prior to transferring the firearm to the customer.

    And your party currently holds the Majority in the Senate and you can't get your legislation passed sounds like you have more to worry about than the Gun Lobby.

    April 18, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  14. Stump

    People get real –the public was once again sold a bill of goods - you have no idea what was in that bill – they only told you the part they wanted you to hear – sure it sounds good to have background checks – 1) that wouldn't have stopped anything 2) that is not all that was in the bill – that is just all you were told. For most of us who are opposed to most all " gun control " legislation – give us something that would stop the killings or greatly reduce them and we will be glad to listen - until then it is nothing but an opportunity for those opposed to guns to grab them.

    April 18, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  15. Jim

    The Senate did just what it was supposed to yesterday, reflect the opinion of the people. The people are deeply divided on this issue. The background bill had significant flaws, and as the expression goes, "The devil is in the details". Those bills were far more reaching, if even just in potential for misuse, than their summary description reflects.

    The Constitution guided this country through it's development to greatness, long before any of us were around. The Constitution will continue to do so, long after all of us are gone. It's tremendously irresponsible to make law that contradicts the Constitution, based on just 4 months of deliberation.

    Regarding the one sided reporting by CNN: "Public Opinion" lost? Where did you get that info? Considering there was not a nationwide vote, how can you possibly know what the public opinion is?

    Is it because a couple of polls, designed specifically to mislead the respondents, said so? The same question can be asked in different ways, and will receive different answers. Those polls were designed to solicit a specific answer to support gun control.

    Here's a newsflash for you: 90% of Americans wouldn't even agree on the weather if they were looking out the same window!!

    Or is it because the President, a career politician and anti-gun Democrat, told you so? No, a politician would never mislead you. Obama was so visibly upset in his shamefully unprofessional speech that he just about stomped his feet and held his breath. Talk about biased...

    April 18, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  16. Mona

    Congress had a chance to make things right by voting for a simple measure for background checks. What are they afraid of? Now, the people are pissed & will work their hardest to vote them out the next time they come up for re-election. I get it that these folks are in the back pockets of the NRA whose memebers were for a extended background check...what the hell is wrong with these nitwits? Ya know, "what goes around, comes around" & I'm a waitin!

    April 18, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  17. Truthteller

    Actually, out here in the real world NOBODY wanted this bill to pass. EVERYONE opposed it!

    April 18, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  18. Roger Grabinski

    If you really want to fix the problem and lessen the chance of massacres you need to make mental health treatment more accessible This is a mental health issue not a gun issue You must additionaly allow ccw and allow the many good gun owners to carry their weapons as a deterrent

    April 18, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  19. Jacqueline Utkin

    I DO NOT believe these "so called" polls.

    April 18, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  20. Nancy

    We the people DID voice our opinion and were heard. Enacting MORE background checks WILL NOT get the guns OUT OF THE HANDS OF CRIMINALS who break the laws & aquire their guns by burlarizing homes of LEGAL gun owners. Come up with a plan to get the guns away from the criminals, not the law-abiding legal gun owners. When's the last time you heard of a gang banger stealing a gun and then going to register it? Do you think criminals are going to follow the laws trying to be enacted? This is nothing more than a witch hunt to rid America of it's 2nd amendment rights.

    April 18, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  21. Tom

    So useless and it's a shame the politicians wasted so much of the tax-payer dollars to push this. This is larger than Obama and Biden. If they were as smart as they thought they were instead of being full of BS, then they would realize, this would not solve the problem.

    April 18, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  22. Be Sane


    Just because Senators voted against it doesn't mean that they voted against the will of the people. Many of the Senators that voted against it explicitly said that they didn't like the exact language in the bill. But you already knew that.

    Good try in trying to get the people riled up. You sound like a mouth piece for Harry Reid.


    April 18, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    Public opinion is trumped by significant political funders whose reign will continue until we once again strip large news media from those whose control poses flagrant conflict of interest.

    April 18, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  24. Marty Casada

    This FOLLOWED public opinion. Unless you really believe your own hype and lies about the 90% wanting more intrusion into our lives. Nothing in this bill would prevent any mass shooting. A criminal will just break this law too.

    April 18, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  25. Joseph

    I love how the liberal media twists stories. First of all they claim it was just background checks. The bill was much more than just background checks. Second mostly liberals watch CNN so their polls will be one sided. Also the senators tried to pass a law that didn't include them. They would have been exempt from the law which is unconstitutional!!

    April 18, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
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