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. Amazed At How The Statement "Most Americans" Doesn't Include Half of America

    Apparently the statement "Most Americans" only includes those people whom the President speaks to personally. Perhaps a more accurate statement might have been "How can something have 90% support amongst liberals, and yet not happen?"

    @ Lead Headache : No, it won't.

    April 18, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  2. donutplz

    86%? who did you interview? It certainly wasnt the residents of the USA, maybe Newtown exclusively? 86% is no where near what legal and natural born US citizens actually think or want.

    April 18, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  3. BeckiB

    Public opinion was not "trumped" public opinion was followed in voting this down. Wake up!!

    April 18, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  4. Jim

    This whole bill was just Bs because of Sandy, nothing in this bill would of prevented it or stopped anymore like it in the future. Politicians need to grow a pair and work on Mental illness to prevent events like Sandy

    April 18, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  5. Chamberlain

    Background check are already required for Gun Shows and Internet Sales. There is no need to pass a new bill, they just need to enforce the laws that are already there. I wouldn't be surprised if there was something hidden in that bill that "We the people" haven't heard about that further infringed upon our rights. You have to wonder why someone is trying to pass a law that already exist. Maybe it's because there is more to it than what is being presented to the public. Maybe, Just Maybe these Senators actually "READ" what was in this bill "BEFORE" they voted on it. A novel idea in the recent political atmosphere I know.

    April 18, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  6. JCMars

    I wonder how "bomb control" laws have worked in Boston. People who want to kill other people will find a way to do so. Liberals just can't figure this out. They only want to put more laws and rules on law abiding people. This "gun-control proposal" was political showmanship at it finest with a sympathetic media doing all the promotion. I 'm glad 46 Senators (of both parties) had the guts to take the soon unrelenting media heat to defeat this ill-advised law. When Obama proposes making the White House a gun free zone and CNN and NBC does the same, then I will listen to this propagandists.

    April 18, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  7. What?

    No one is stepping on anyone's rights!!! If you have nothing to hide, then you shouldn't have a problem with background checks, period!!!! It the selfish gutless senators that caused this. They consider their NRA payoff more important than the people that they work for, the American people!!!! Vote their gutless butts out next election!!

    April 18, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  8. bob_lawbla

    CNN lies like a rug. Public opinion was and has been skewed to meet the agenda of the liberal elitists who follow the "do as I say, not as I do" mantra.

    People do not want to curtail their constitutional rights, plain and simple.

    April 18, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  9. RGO

    first of all this atricle is false. The public opinion for background checks is down to 49%. That was from last week, it's probably lower now. Secondly, we already have background checks to buy guns. more checks are NOT the answer.

    April 18, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  10. Father of 5

    I am a father of 5 children ages ranging from 17 to 16 months. The events in New Town made me physically ill. My family and I love going to the movies, and I am an armature runner. I am frustrated by the knee-jerk reactions this administration is taking in the wake of recent events. Maybe the polls weren’t right, maybe the majority of Americans (the same ones that Voted for this administration) are speaking, maybe the majority of eligible voters know what the existing gun laws are, maybe the majority of voters know that the recently proposed legislation would have nearly zero impact on preventing such acts from occurring, maybe more people are reading the most recent crime statistics reported by the FBI than The Whitehouse is… I am 100% in favor of doing something to prevent Violence. Violence as a whole, because if you read the FBI statistics, I have far more reason to fear hammers, feet and fists than I do a nut job with a firearm. Changing something, so you can say you did something, is as meaningless as a broken promise. If this Administration actually went after the cause of these problems, and not the manifestation of the problems symptoms, then… you might really have something. There are always going to be bad people who will do bad things. Hindering the sheepdogs only makes the wolves stronger.

    April 18, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  11. barleywheets

    Are you telling us that 86% of Americans are that STUPID... and are wanting to go against the 2nd Amendment which will cause us to lose many many more Freedoms? I just can't believe there are that many Americans that really desire to become socialist. Don't they realize and rememeber what happened to Russia and Germany?If you allow the government to dilute or delete the 2nd Amendment in will very soon... make us lose ALL are Freedoms.. and become SLAVES to the government. obama is a liar, a crook, and a muslim/socialist/communist.WE do not want to go down that road. STAND UP America for the United States Consitution and the Bill of Rights... and insist our congress and so called President enforce & obey the Consitution as our forefathers intended. Anything less in unAmerican and shows your disrespect for our great Nation.

    April 18, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  12. Daryl Wanttie

    Where do these people get their data? He actually has the audacity to headline his story with Public Opinion gets trumped? Who are these people giving their opinion? I am truly amazed every day by how far out of touch the Liberal media and politicians really are.

    April 18, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  13. JenniferK8

    Last night, our President whined like a petulant child on national television because he didn't get his way. The Senate vote was not "shameful," but rather patriotic as it upheld our Constitution. Before people try to blame Republicans, please let me remind you that the Senate is controlled by Democrats. Like it or not, I believe, for once, they voted with their heads and did not let their emotions sway them. If you don't agree with it, be sure to vote during the next election.

    April 18, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  14. What?

    NRA – Not Relavent Anymore

    April 18, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  15. Realist

    CNN's "poll": Do you think Newtown was a tragedy?
    __ Yes (we'll count that as you supporting gun control)
    __ No (you're obviously evil and want everyone to have guns)

    April 18, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  16. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Hey folkes, don't be upset! Just go do what your government wants you to do which is to arm yourself like Rambo and take the law into your own hands. And I thought North Korea was the militarized state. Gee I was wrong.

    April 18, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  17. Hatchm

    Funny, I can't remember CNN's tearful concern over legislation trumping public opinion when Obamacare was shoved down America's collective throat dispute overwhelming opposition. Did I miss something?

    April 18, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  18. The Other Bob


    "Public opinion gets trumped in gun control defeat"

    But the Constitution won.

    If all you anti-gunners want to take away America's guns, at least be honest enough to try to do it legally and properly by repealing the Second Amendment.
    A sad, hackneyed argument. The current background check laws have passed muster in the courts, so in what way would closing the gaping loopholes in those laws be unconstitutional? Answer: The proposed bill would also pass such tests.

    April 18, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  19. rodrodrodrod5

    But for this President, our health care system would not have been forced to change in any way. Thank God he got that done. Although it may not be perfect, it is a start on the road to insanity. How in anyone's mind can they be proud of American and yet not want its citizens to have access to quality healthcare on par with our European, Aussie, and Southeast Asian counterparts?

    April 18, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  20. MidLifeCrisis


    Really? You want to kill Gun owners? Wow, just incredible. Since you said "We pry them from your cold dead hands" I take it you'll be there doing the dirty deed. By the way, will you be using a gun to kill all of these gun owners that you hope resist or just following your Gestapo buddies after the fact?

    April 18, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  21. Ruth

    Bad people with guns do not register or bother with a background check,they can get a gun faster than you get served at starbucks....and when the democrats wanted the nra vote they wined and dined them at election time,now they want them to favor gun control....democrats ,you can not have it both ways,the American people will never change anything about the second amendment or their constitutuinal rights...go after the drug dealers,for more go after Eric Holder ,he and whoever else works with him gave Mexicans guns ,and our border patrolmen are killed with our own guns....who is calling the kettle black ?Mr. Holder has to quit giving guns to the bad people!

    April 18, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  22. dialogos68

    CNN lies!!!!!!!! Public opinion IN REALITY is against gun legislation. Even gallop admitted this week tha only 4% consider gun legislation important. ONCE AGAIN THAT IS 4%!!!!

    April 18, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  23. Crocker

    Polls. I don't give them much credence and neither should any of you. Ask yourself, when was the last time YOU were invited to participate in one of these polls.

    April 18, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  24. John

    Good post Carl peterson

    April 18, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  25. Eric

    As the old saying goes..."Statistics don't lie, but liars do make statistics". Lets see...at least 200 million weapons in the US and perhaps 3X that amount, but 90% support more government regulation. That just doesn't add up. Its the same manipulation most mainstream media uses. How much coverage do you see about advocates of gun control and how little you see about pro-gun advocacy from a positive, constitutional and lawful perspective. I just ain't buying the 80-90% schtick.

    April 18, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
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