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. Kinjite64

    Public opinion and Congress do not trump the COTUS. If you do not like what the 2nd Amendment says then repeal or modify it through the process as prescribed in the COTUS. What I find amazing is Obama, the Democrats and people supporting this are almost universally the same ones who supported Obama care (including CNN). Now you whine and carry on because supposedly public opinion says the people want this bill passed yet when Obama care was up for vote the majority of people were against it. Every single politician in Congress voting for anything the limits my rights or expands government power at the expense of my rights without following the COTUS is a traitor to the US and the Oath taken when he or she was elected. Voting for this or any law that infringes on rights and liberties is akin to the majority voting to make African Americans slaves again because majority says....blacks will be slaves again in violation of COTUS. Now do you get it???

    April 18, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  2. pliny

    Congress is filled with gutless cowards.

    Afraid to stand up to the NRA, and the freaks who confuse their guns with their genitals.

    In the long-run, history will work against the NRA and the gun-freaks.

    And we WILL CONFISCATE your precious metal penises.

    And it is my hope that you resist, and that we pry them from your cold dead hands.

    April 18, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  3. Truthteller

    Now... if we can just stop government from infringing on Christians rights in favor of other religions.

    April 18, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  4. Carol Peteson

    I don't disagree – but I question. I don't remember there ever being a vote on how "the American people" feel on this issue. What I do know, is that some well-known biased news sources published polls – btw, none of which I was a part of – or anyone I know. So, I question the validity of polls. they're a nice read, but are they the ABSOLUTE truth? Probably not. Clearly this country is evenly divided on a number of issues, just look at the election numbers and how close those are. The fact is, nothing is this bill would have prevented the Sandy Hook massacre. In order to prevent a perceived fear – you need to step on other peoples' rights, is an issue for me. And I am not a gun-toting, pro-lifer either. Be careful about whose rights you step on – each time we enact restrictions – that is what they are – restricting, and controlling. Be sure that you haven't opened the flood gates to your OWN rights being restricted. Until we can have an intelligent conversation without name-calling and accusations, I really don't think we should be allowing hysteria to legislate us. It's ALWAYS a mistake.

    April 18, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  5. yogi

    It is amazing that all of the sudden the righties come out here to tell "see the polls were bogus, we are the majority after all". How did the polls work out for you when you got defeated in the last elections? They now all of the sudden think they are representing the majority of the American people because a bunch of cowardly Republican senators voted against the bill. The self serving Republicans will be defeated even more in the next elections, but you will keep screaming about your rights, your freedom, your guns, your 2nd amendment. It is only a matter of time that the GOP will be only representing the dumb electorate, the uneducated, the intolerant. May God bless them all.

    April 18, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  6. The Other Bob


    Thank you to all those senators out there that voted this bill down...Just another attempt by Obama and his liberal agenda to deny the rights of its citizens... I congratulate them for standing up against his tyranny
    Please tell us whose rights were going to be denied, and which rights those were. The rights of criminals and adjudicated mentally ill people to have access to firearms?

    April 18, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  7. dokkou

    I don't why you would vote for something that is already in place to begin with. It is already law that the person who purchase a gun has to go through background checks before they could legal receive the gun. The purchased gun goes straight to their local Firearms dealer and they do the background checks for them. Also in gun shows, you have to be a member in order to purchase a gun in which you have to have a background check in order to be a member to buy guns. The bypass to this is the concealed weapons license or permit which you have to have a background check to pass that. So I don't know why you want to pass something that is already would make things more redundant than it already is. As for any gun sales, background checks violate the 4th amendment for privacy since you would pretty much be accusing someone of buying a gun as a crime. Makes no sense for people who want to give up their rights in order to trade for security when you really wont be secured from anything. The best person who will protect you is yourself.

    April 18, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  8. Pressure.

    Ban fertilizer! It has a propensity to explode and it is not protected by the Bill of Rights!

    April 18, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  9. Dorothy Merritt MD

    Please do a cnn investigative report and publish the names of these senators that were afraid their $ from the NRA would dry up.

    April 18, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  10. Bill Killion

    "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."

    HINT: It cannot happen. Obviously the figures have been bloated to support a faulty bill

    April 18, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  11. idb

    The public opinion is that no new laws are needed, but that enforcement of the present ones is. CNN and other media outlets forged polls to make them reflect their own opinion. fortunately the Senate has seen through that plan.

    April 18, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  12. Daisy

    White Conservative Chistians are extreme people, with guns, are bad for America . We need gun controle now .

    April 18, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  13. TheObserver

    I'm so embarrassed to be an American right now. I usually write super-long posts. This is a tough day for democracy.

    They need to go. The whole Congress. Everyone in Washington. All of them.

    TERM LIMITS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 18, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  14. rodrodrodrod5

    Its not about whether they would have stopped Newtown. This is about making it more difficult for someone who should not have a firearm, especially one with large magazine ammunitions count with no hunting purpose whatsoever, from acquiring their weapon of choice so easily. The people opposed to this seem to endorse an America that very few could be proud of, one that is without a sense of community and community responsibility and the very real Christian value of the good Samaritan. Place your fellow man's welfare above your own, have faith, and better our society instead of declaring disdain for humanity.

    April 18, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  15. Alex Fischer

    As much as I support the added background checks I can’t help but feel like we had this discussion before... maybe when there was a health care bill being pushed through congress even though the majority of American’s where against it... but that can’t be because Obama is saying we should always do what the majority of American’s want, right?

    April 18, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  16. Kd5hqs

    I can take a poll on any subject and get the results i wish to receive.And i should beleive a poll taker with an agenda,HaHa.

    April 18, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  17. Big John

    Public opinion is what got it defeated. CNN can not tell the truth just like Hussein Nobama. Just another mouth piece for the scum. "If you repeat it enough some will start to believe it true."

    April 18, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  18. Jim Ludgate

    We are also trying to figure out how we got stuck with Obama care when public opinion was, and still is overwhelmingly against there Mr Prez...

    April 18, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  19. William

    nobama and the dems go against public opinion every day. We should be used to it.

    April 18, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  20. 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 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  21. Erothy

    Can someone give me a reason why a civilian needs access to a gun that fires multiple rounds of ammunition? (AKA Weapons Of Mass Destruction!) If arming ourselves, neighbors, schools and criminals like Rambo makes us feel like we live in the land of the free then so be it but don't dare send your worthless condolences to the families of innocent victims of gun violence when you've perpetuated the NRA obsession! Stop being sheep and think for yourselves people, it won't hurt you!!!

    April 18, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  22. Mike

    I don't believe the 90% for a second. Matter of fact, I would state that 90% of the American people support the 2nd Amendment! This was a case of the politicians doing exactly what they have been paid to do, represent the will of the people. No thinking, intelligent person will ever believe that weapon bans or increased legal 'hoops' will prevent criminals from obtaining and using guns. The only realistic solution is to keep the criminals worried about who might be protecting themselves.

    April 18, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  23. Jay

    "The most recent surveys included a CNN/ORC International poll released", I don't care what the international community thinks, the survey is skewed. Public opinion rang true and the bill was defeated. It wasn't politics it was the majority who called their Senators and demanded they not infringe on our Constitutional rights. Laws do not prevent crimes. You can legislate law abiding citizens all day long and it will not prevent crime. Yes tragedies happen and they are sad but laws do not prevent them.

    April 18, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  24. Michael

    "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."–Benjamin Franklin, 1775. If a majority of Americans in some CNN poll say they want the Congress to restrict their rights so that they can "feel better," then shame on them. My father and millions of other Americans went to war against Germany and Japan to defend our country and keep us free; they DIDN'T go so that our generation could fritter away rights "endowed by our Creator" (T. Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, 1776). The problem with the Newtown and Aurora and Columbine and Virginia Tech and Ft. Hood shootings, the Houston stabbings, the Boston bombing, and even the September 11 attacks IS NOT THE "WEAPON"; the PROBLEM is the EVIL, CORRUPT HEART of the PERPETRATOR(S). You may take away the weapon (gun/knife/pressure cooker/fertilizer/etc.) from the regular, law-abiding person, but the CRIMINAL will get his/her weapon from the BLACK MARKET like he ALREADY does. Surrendering rights solves NOTHING. "A great Empire, like a great Cake, is most easily diminished at the Edges."–Benjamin Franklin, 1773.

    April 18, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  25. Jay

    Wake up! None of the legislation proposed would have prevented anything. Get tougher on sentencing and investigate those who fail the current background check. The government can't fund and enforce what we have now and some want more. Leave the 2nd Amendment alone. It is bad enough that this is one nation yet as a gun owner our rights end at the state line.

    April 18, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
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