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. Jay

    Just so I'm clear....public opinion matters now to lefties? Is that why DOMA is in front of the Supreme Court? Are we now a majority rule nation or only when it comes to liberal issues?

    April 18, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  2. The Other Bob

    Fourleaf Tayback

    Gallup: Only 4% of Americans Think Gun Control is an Important Problem. What public opinion are you talking about CNN...your coffee room chit chat?
    Nope. Only 4% polled think gun control is the MOST important problem facing the country. That is NOT the same as only 4% thinking it is an important issue. If you are unable to understand the difference, you have a serious comprehension problem.

    April 18, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  3. Calcommuter

    Merriam Webster definition of Representative: serving to represent. standing or acting for another especially through delegated authority. of, based on, or constituting a government in which the many are represented by persons chosen from among them usually by election. Definition of Congress: serving to represent his or her own interest. standing or acting for another, especially a special interest through delegated authority based on the highest bidder. Chosen by election or scandal to represent many. Chooses to represent self. See NRA or Exxon for references..

    April 18, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  4. cdean

    Media paints this issue so slanted. As a high school government teacher we discussed this issue in class today during current events. My students have learned enough from me to ask really good questions like....."Other than background checks, what else is in the bill that would lead people to turn it down?" This is not a shameful day in Washington as our president says. Taking time to vet an issue and not rush headlong to poor legislation based on emotion is wise.

    April 18, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  5. Justin in Ohio

    All the Democrats had to do was present facts to back up their arguments on background checks, and they could have had so much more support. The NRA can beat emotion all day, facts are another matter.

    April 18, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  6. David L

    Public opinion got trumped in the Obamacare bill as well, but I didn't see CNN and the rest of the MSM whine about that. Hypocrites!

    April 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    i'm for protecting my civil rights.....you can make laws against everything and still you will have achieved nothing. the problem is not the guns its the people who have no hope....they have no hope because they have lived in a society that has no rules, only laws against owning guns for several generations. the emerging adults have no sense of hamily becauase many of them have never experienced the walls of a necular family...walls that protect and provide, walls of stability and the love of a family. people who are loved well and feel safe rarely want to hurt others. when are we really going to admit that we need real families in society to thrive?

    April 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  8. Jay of TX

    Why do people think these laws will help?!?!?!?! And more importantly, look at how people believe that "90% of people want more strict gun control"!!!! Just because they say that does not mean it is true. Which crimes have been committed by firearms that are due to the change of ownership not being documented? Because that's what it really all comes down to. Creating more laws will ultimately affect the tax payer. But of course, no one cares about that RIGHT NOW!

    April 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  9. Linda

    90% of who!!!! Does not pass the smell test. On Obamas payroll, too???

    April 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  10. bob wilson

    Public opinion was trumped in the passage of Obamacare.

    April 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  11. barbara

    We wish the media had a leftist bias. It has a corporate bias.

    April 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  12. MesaMax

    Public opinion gets CONFIRMED.

    April 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  13. Egotripped

    After th 2014 elections the Dems will control both houses...we just need to remain patient while the Republicans continue to dig an even deeper grave. Tick...tock....tick...tock...

    April 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  14. Fubarack

    The people spoke through their Senators. I'm surprised the bill did not go down by 90%. Obviously a lot of Dems voted against their peoples dislike of gun control.

    April 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  15. VegasRon

    I have no trust in the polls that portray opinion as being trumped. Much of the data spewed from the campaign to restrict guns is suspicious and pulled from reports from years ago. Misinformation relating to purchasing guns over the internet is one that really stands out. You can't buy online and have a gun shipped to your home. I could order one but it would have to be shipped to a FFL gun dealer which would be required to run a background check prior to handing over the weapon.

    April 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  16. Bill

    How would it hurt someone's chance of being reelected to vote for something that 90% of people support...

    April 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  17. callmecrazy

    So all those guns and ammo were bought up for nothing. The gun bubble has burst so sell your S&W stock and start buying stock in Kevlar.

    April 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  18. Roper

    Republicans & those who voted against yesterdays bill just put a gun to their own head. They will be voted out of office, & put on the street where they belong!

    April 18, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  19. bigwonder

    New: government of the politicians, by the people, and for the lobbyist

    April 18, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  20. Colleen

    Again, CNN, with the false, misleading titles and numbers in your article. Obviously, whatever poll you tried to skew in your favor isn't correct, because there are plenty of people in the US (definitely more that 14%!) who value our 2nd Amendment rights that "shall not be infringed upon" enough that we called our senators and asked then to oppose all this gun-grab legislation. We have background checks in place already, and it doesn't matter to criminals anyway (which are the ones who commit the crimes)- they don't usually care about background checks. If they want a gun, they'll get one, illegally if necessary. Poor little President Stompy-Foot didn't get his way and threw a little tantrum. I hope this becomes a pattern 🙂

    April 18, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  21. celtblood

    Obama and his henchmen have misused these tragedies to pursue their completely unrelated agenda to undermine the US Consitution. Yes, guns were used in the shootings, and none of their newly touted proposals would have done a thing to stop them. Cars have also been used as weapons, and how many bombings and attempted bombings have we had, not to mention recent stabbings? We did not have these heinous acts before the 1968 US Gun Control Act, when firearms were by far more easily accessible, so it's pretty obvious that guns are just one of the tools used by these perpetrators. What we do have now are the radical changes within our society which are, again rather obviously, the true cause behind all this insanity... little or no real discipline within homes and schools, grossly violent music and video games which basically indoctrinate our kids, little or no emphasis on personal responsibility, a blurring of the concepts of right and wrong, and most obviously, the huge trend to solve any learning or depression problems with dangerous psychotropic drugs. Obama and his cronies aren't even mentioning any of this. Why not? Going after guns in response to mass shootings is like going after auto manufacturers in response to drunk drivers. I am proud to say that both of my state senators had the intelligence and the fortitutde to stand up to Obama's political trickery, and his national treason.

    April 18, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  22. Pat Craven

    I agree completely with Irving McElroy. I also question the validity of the quoted polls. Evidently my family, friends and neighbors were not included in the polls.

    April 18, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  23. Greg

    90%, another Liberal poll. 90% of the people I know would vote the other way. Media liberal agenda at it's best here!!! MSN, CNN, ABC, NBC, ETC...All BS!

    April 18, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  24. MashaSobaka

    Resistance to background checks – a measure that PREVENTS CONVICTED CRIMINALS FROM ACQUIRING WEAPONS – is just unforgivably ridiculous. What on earth are these politicians thinking?!

    April 18, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  25. jim44

    If we all join the NRA could we vote the people in charge Out.!!!!

    April 18, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
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