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. Dylan Smith

    This is a complete joke. Americans that oppose this are the same Americans who will be the first to call for action when a foreign country threatens our freedom or our daily livelihood(action, action, action!!), but when a massacre happens here in our own country everything is fine, don't you dare touch our 2nd amendment! The ignorance and stupidity in this country is overwhelming and some how we let it overpower blatently obvious logic. As a country, we should be absolutely embarrassed.

    April 18, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  2. adamc1972

    Because we all know everyone that massacres, kills, maims, slaughters people always follow the laws that we made made to keep them from doing it. That's why drug dealers aren't breaking the law, there are loopholes that allow them to keep selling and using drugs.
    How odd that the President has a small room full of "Americans" that he can always refer to as "ALL Americans" whenever he wants to infer that "Americans want" and now CNN pulls out their small room of folks that agree with them; and now refer to them as "THE Public" whenever they want to impress their point of view as being the popular and correct one.. Good Grief.

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

    RickV is exactly right. The majority won. The losers are the noncredible Obama media – including CNN – and those who follow Obama and hate everything America stands for.

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


    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)
    You clearly have no idea what you're talking about when you post this glib nonsense. The 90% figure doesn't come from CNN polls alone. Even Fox News caqme up with almost the same results.

    April 18, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  5. jonnyg

    Latest Gallup poll:

    Only 4% of the public thinks gun control is a top issue...economy, jobs, national security, a secure border and the wars and most other things are considered way more important

    April 18, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  6. Coo

    What happened in Benghazi, Obama?

    April 18, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  7. Elmer

    Tyrany will always lose as long as free people know what is being voted on, The 20 Million IRA members and the 78 Million firearm owners instructed our elected representives to put no more restictions on law abidding people when the problem are criminals. We the people defeated that bill. And any senator who voted for it will be voted out of office regardless of how many time the president congress or the media try to enslave us. We will not accept slavery for safety.

    April 18, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  8. David

    86% of what you read on the internet is true according to a poll I took.

    April 18, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  9. Chuck

    I'm always curious when I read these articles... did the author have a problem when public opinion was rejected over the health care overhaul? Or is it just a problem, when it's an issue they can use against Republicans?

    April 18, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  10. Ted

    Mr. Editor: The bill did not fall short on votes. It PASSED – and is now being BLOCKED – by the abuse of the Filibuster. Goddamn do your JOB and REPORT IT!

    April 18, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  11. NaotaChanel

    Thousands of guns come into the United States from south of the border, every week.

    You can buy these guns (and other weapons), from the backs of vans, in San Diego, LA, Oakland, etc.. The illegals selling these guns don't have paperwork for you to fill out.

    Gun control laws would do NOTHING to stop that.

    The only way to prevent cross border gun sales, is to close the border with a wall,

    and since liberals don't want that

    - they must be lying when they say they want gun control.

    April 18, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  12. Irving McElroy

    First, the constitution states two things that apply here, we are all aware of the 2and and I see that as standing on its own merits. the right to keep and bear arms. Another artical specifically states the powers granted to the Federal Government, and those not so designated, remain with the States and the People. The States are each soveriegn in their own right, as are the people, the constitution was drafted with the intent to keep the Federal Government from having to much, or absolute power over "We the People". Past Federal gun legislation, the expansion or more restrictive measures of gun control initially proposed, is an overreach of the constitutional authority granted, and the amendments finally voted on would have done nothing to have stopped, or prevent the shootings that have occurred. Any gun control measures are State issues and should be dealt with state by state, voted on by the people of that respective state. If the Federal Government and the people of this soveriegn Constitutional Republic want to vest all that power to the Federal Government, there are procedures to amend the constitution and they should be followed. Otherwise, each State and it's citizens have the right presently to dictate what htey want and don't want.

    April 18, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  13. Tara

    I too question the validity of the quoted polls, but that issue aside, this was really not a vote on background checks. We all know what the ultimate goal of this administration is. It is to disarm the American public and put us in a position that we can't defend ourselves against tyranny. This obviously can't happen all at once, people wouldn't stand for it. So the goal, as it always is with the left, is to slowly chip away at an issue until they get what they want. This time it is about background checks but then the next time it is a little more. And so on it goes until they get what they wanted in the first place. No one likes to fear for their safety but the only way to achieve total safety is at the expense of freedom and liberty...or so it seems, because that is not even true. You will think you are safe for awhile until you figure out you are the chickens who gave up your protections to the foxes. Then you are in more danger than before and you are helpless.

    April 18, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  14. dee

    Right ON, JCMARS, RIght ON !!!

    April 18, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  15. obama is Out Of Touch with reality

    The public opinion was not trumped, if you look at real polls instead of the made up polls of the liberal media and the obama administration you shall see the truth, people know that gun control is ploy to disarm America so obama can call himself dictator. The british tried it caused the American Revolution, Hitler trtied it and caused 2nd world war, does obama and the dems want to see what happens, history can repeat itself.

    April 18, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  16. commonsense

    U used a CNN and ABC "poll" as accurately predicting what the "majority of Americans" want.....HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! How's life in Obamaville?

    April 18, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  17. Sam

    Did you have a similar headline about public opinion being trumped when Obamacare was passed?

    April 18, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  18. Greg Cox of Bremerton, WA

    If the President and his ilk wanted to get this "gun-control" legislation passed, they should have addressed ONLY background checks, especially for those with mental deficiences. But no, they wanted to limit ammo, sales, ammo clips and more. Regardless, who can trust President Obama and his "gun-control" supporters. So, hooray. You lost. Now get busy with more important issues rather than emotional responses that would, undoubtedly, have had the most minimal effect on crime. Oh, 'trumped by politics'? What else is new in our Capitol?

    April 18, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  19. Darrell

    -Sir, the peasants are revolting!
    -What do they want now?
    -They want you to take their guns away!

    April 18, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  20. Name

    R.i.p gop party..... go against 90 pct lose in 2014. Embarassing. 8 pct control ure party lol

    April 18, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  21. ar owner

    The problem with the background check bills is that there were a bunch of other sneaky rules in them that would have been unconstitutional. There was no bare bones background check.

    April 18, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  22. Steve Giles

    Public opinion polls and their results are at the mercy of those taking the poll. Statistics is too easily manipulated for polls conducted by those with an agenda to be taken too seriously. There is a reason the three big lies are, lies, damned lies and statistics.

    Why do those who live in non-rural area not understand that their arguments for firearms control sound as foreign to those who live in rural areas as our arguments against firearms control sound to them?

    This bill was a poor crafted knee jerk reaction and/or continuation of an agenda rather than a well thought out response to a tragedy which was more to do with holes in our mental health laws than problems with firearms laws.

    It is really a shame that the supposedly "unbiased" media took sides. Shame on them.

    April 18, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  23. Jon

    The full text of the Toomey-Manchin amended bill was published on 4/11, voted on 4/17. I wonder how many people actually read it. Or is this another one of those bills we were supposed to pass to find out what's in it?

    April 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  24. ratickle

    When Senators vote against additional gun control in accordance to the majority opinion in their states, they are accused of being pawns of the NRA. But when Senators vote for Obama Care when the majority of the citizens in their states did NOT want it, they are hailed as great statesmen. I think I've figured this out... When Senators support the liberal agenda they are doing their jobs. When they oppose the liberal agenda they are dirt.

    April 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  25. Chris

    People lack patience. I am an avid hunter and I feel that a background check should definitely be required to purchase a weapon. Who, besides someone who is mental, needs a gun NOW, and can't wait the extra week or so for the process to go down? Also, semi-automatic weapons should be completely banned from the public. If you miss the deer on the first shot, it wasn't meant to be. The other 4+ shots will most likely only mame the animal as it flees. Don't worry, through, you crazy little hunter guy you. You'll get another chance if you're patient. Nobody needs a semi-automatic. People who think they do, are trying to compensate for other shortcomings.

    April 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
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