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. K from AZ

    No legitimate poll could ever come up with an 80% agreement on the gun issue!

    April 18, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  2. Paul Brosam Jr

    I don't understand how the gun bill going down in defeat "trumped" public opinion. Public support for more gun control legislation showed more people against more legislation than those supporting tougher laws on guns. Your writer is not in line with their facts in regards to the American people. We supporters of the 2nd Ammendment of the U.S. Constitution are not against the background check per se. What wwe are against is the government thinking that they can trample the constitutional rights of the American people in order to get what they want. This administration tends to think that they can do anything they want, regardless of the wishes of the American people, even if it means violating their constitutional rights. This is incorrect. We gun owners will not tolerate this government trampling our rights to own and carry ANY semi automatic weapon or high capacity magazine. This bacground check system was the forerunner of a gun registry which would document every gun owner by name, address, phone # and list every weapon that individual owns. This would make it very convenient in the future for this administration to confiscate every weapon from every American citizen, which again would violate our 2nd Ammendment right to bear arms. As you may not realize, just this past weeek or so, Obama signed on to the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty. Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton stated that tthis would infringe on American's 2nd Ammendment right and should be rejected.
    The treaty requires domestic regulation of “small arms and light weapons.” It also requires countries “to regulate brokering” of conventional arms. “The treaty offers no guarantee for individual rights,” said Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley

    The gun-control advocates will turn to the treaty to argue the need for a national gun registry, for licenses for guns and ammunition sales, universal background checks, and even a ban of some weapons, the two men wrote. The treaty would let the White House bypass Congress to achieve these goals.

    April 18, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  3. stainpouch

    The will of the people–trumped again. Drive the GOP from office and NEVER let them back in again.

    April 18, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  4. Les

    about time Washington got it right. this is what people want not what a few want. And how come The president wants people from Sandy hook around him when he talks about gun control. it's sad what happen but how is this going to control the bad guys?

    April 18, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  5. Rick

    Quick question for all. Many of the same that want more gun control to "save lives" also support abortion. So let me figure this out, if guns kill 30000 people per year and abortion 300,000 why aren't you all pro life too?

    April 18, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  6. wildling

    "Public opinion gets trumped in gun control defeat" is what Barry H Obama would term an "intentional lie" ...those in the public willing to lay it on the line in the debate won. Citizens' Rights 1 vs. Nanny State 0

    April 18, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  7. darb27

    It wasn't 86% of the total public, it was 86% of certain areas and groups. The vast majority of America is what people heard when this got voted down. Tell me, did a background check stop the Aurora shootings? How about Columbine, the movie theater shootings etc. Gun laws only restrict law abiding citizens. The same with background checks. My friend went to buy a gun a few years ago and couldn't because something was screwed up in the system. He never even had as much as a speeding ticket. Besides until they start prosecuting people for fraudulent information put on the application forms whats the use of even having background checks?

    April 18, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  8. frank

    THE SILENT MAJORITY HAS SPOKEN and we remember as well.! The sword has 2 edges and we WILL vote in the next election as well !!!!!!!!!!

    April 18, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  9. Fed up.

    Have you checked how your Senator voted. How many of you that are complaining that the bill went down will remember this in November 2014. I will say probably very few. You keep voting the same people back in, and then complain about the way they vote. That is why our Reprensatives do not care what we think. They know most of us, just check the name we know, which is normally the incumbant. When we wake up, and start payin attention to who we vote for, then our country will return to "By the People and For the People" I know how my Senator voted, and I am not pleased, I do remember these things. (Just for the record, he voted yes)

    April 18, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  10. SeeThruIt2

    Obama is trying too hard to set his name in history as the Presidnet who created healthcare reform and who implemented gun control. With massive restructuring bills, his name goes into histroy (ie, Johnson and Medicare, Roosevelt and Social Security).

    He hasn't learned the small steps are more effective in preparing better laws. A better approach might be a bill to fix the shortcomings of the current background check data system, before another bll later expanding it's use elsewhere.

    April 18, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  11. Namekevin Rodgers

    90% of Americans want to be armed to protect themselves and their familys... This is a strait up lie, we the people know what we want and beleiving this crap isnt one of them

    April 18, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  12. Realityblowz

    No....Majority of us did not support this bill. There are over 20,000 gun laws already. The Senate voted the way that its constituents wanted it to vote. We did not want this to become law. Now...Time to remove those that voted YES from office...Giddyup!

    April 18, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  13. muri

    ITT: A bunch of people espousing their disbelief in polling accuracy.....until it is a poll that supports their cause. To be clear, I was, am, and will always be against slamming reactionary legislation through but please stop pretending like you won't parade the next group of numbers that support your arguments just as blindly.

    April 18, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  14. Cherianne

    It is just soooo funny how folks posting here are blaming the Republican Party when the majority of the Senate are Democrats.....do some research folks, don't look stupid.

    April 18, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  15. Judge

    Any one participating in making a gun or a weapon, whether your a lobbyist contributing to the sales of gums or weapons. Blood will be on your hands. God will judge you & yours accordingly in this life & in the next!

    April 18, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  16. Brian

    "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,

    That's because it did not have 90% support! My father foght in WWII because to many people were swayed by there goverment. I'm a lawabiding person, my father and brother were both ranking sheriff deputies, and I was a firefighter. I live and teach my kids to obey but question the law and authority. This is a topic that need indepth reseach and a year or better discussion, not three months.

    April 18, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  17. austen nhs

    "Public opinion ignored?" Really? Just because the conservative voters don't voice their opinions as much as the liberals doesn't mean that the squeaky wheel represents everyone - ever heard of "silent majority." Obviously the senators felt pressure from their constituents - who are the voters - therefore public opinion was represented.

    April 18, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  18. Jim

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

    We were thinking that the proposed laws are NOT just about background checks. Read the laws they were trying to pass, it was a mess that will affect the honest folks far more than the criminals, who simply bypass the system. Criminals don't follow laws. Laws exist to keep the honest people in line and punish the guilty, they do not stop evil people from committing crimes. It's already illegal to murder people, someone intent on doing that won't be stopped by the fact that illegally obtaining a gun is also illegal.

    April 18, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  19. corpsman

    Comparisons with the Affordable Care Act are ludicrous. The PPACA was supported by a large majority of Americans until the anti-Obama right wing extremists began their disinformation campaign (remember Palin's lies about "death panels"?), and even after the success of the teebagger lies, when individual provisions of the Act were polled, they STILL received majority support. Do a little research and get your facts straight.

    April 18, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  20. GI Joe


    Let's get a few facts straight... 54 United States Senators voted against the "Gun Bill" S.Amdt. 714 to S. 649 (Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of2013) and 46 voted in favor of it...
    Wrong. It was 54 FOR and 46 against.

    April 18, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  21. Rylock

    I don't get what everyone is crying about...no law that could possibly be put in place would have stopped the recent school shootings. Stop thinking with the wrong organs.

    April 18, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  22. Patrick Brown

    Leadership involves championing causes and efforts that you know are for the greater good, even when they may be counter to self interest. We saw with Sen. Rob Portman that he was unable to understand and support gay Americans seeking the right ot marry, even in the face of a majority of Americans supporting such a right. It was only after the most recent election cycle and after his son came out as gay, that he was able to support gay marrigage.

    The fear is that will take a similar personal impact of a Senator or their family member to get the Senate to lead on an issue most Americans agree with, namely some sensible background checks and limitations on assault weapons and multi round magazines. If Sandy Hook Elementary, Aurora Colorado, Virgiina Tech and Columbine arent enough to spur action, what is? Whether those tragedies or others like them would have been avoided is merely anecdotal at this point, we need to begin to effect change in our society and not rely on words written more than 200 years ago as a barrier to progress.

    The Forefather of this Nation were not infallable, they were only first. As time passes, we as a country and as a free society learn and need to apply those lessons. What was required in the 1700s for us as Americans and citizens of the world to live in a free society and enjoy the pursuit of happiness is not the same as today. We shoudl, in fact we must adapt and change our rules accordingly. If you want or feel you need firearms you should have them, but if I want or need some sensible safeguards in place to help keep me and my children safer, then we should have them as well.

    There has to be a path were Senators and members of the House can find strength within them to lead on an issue without first having personal experience, and now should be that time.

    April 18, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  23. donald whitten

    When is CNN going to admit that their agenda is not the agenda of the American Public. Yes we want to keep firearms out of the hands of the criminal and infirm, but congress has yet to come up with a workable plan that will do that. Just because we say no to bad legislation does not mean we would not be in favor of effective legislation that preserves the rights of free Americans. How about CNN start reporting the news and leaving their opinions outside the building.

    April 18, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  24. Lynda/Minnesota

    Johnny morgan

    Don't go home mad hippies.... just go home and play with your ipads or whatever it is scared people do with their spare time.

    From my perch on the fence, it seems the "scared" people are those running around demanding more guns.

    April 18, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  25. Stephan

    The government isn't suppose to traffic weapons into Mexico either , but, they did !
    The polls that show these 80% numbers are bogus...anyone can ask a question to get the answer they want.
    This bill failed because the "people" stood against it, ask the senators how many calls and emails they received.

    April 18, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
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