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. TImhoff

    Also if you have nothing to hide why is one afraid of a background check? Also times change and citizens do not need assault riffles. Most of these mass shootings the shooter has used these guns. They belong in military and police hands only. By the way I am not a liberal, was a registered republican until recently, not a democrat wither as they are too far the other way in their ideals. I am near as I can guess an independent.

    April 18, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  2. JIGS UP

    Yet again snubbing there nose at the American people Congress ur jig is up Americans wont tolerate being snubbed be prepared to be voted out in 2014

    April 18, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  3. Jakob

    Hurray! No backround checks!

    April 18, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  4. robert

    Sorry a lot of the problem that caused the bill to FAIL is the lies that were said. The main poll that showed 90 % of americans wanted gun control was done by a phone poll of only 3 states on the East coast and only 127 people were called for the poll. Yea right get your 90% from that. Also the presidents lie that NO gun registry would be allowed by the Dept. of Justice. That was not a lie but further in the bill it was stated that the Dept. of Health and Human Services could form a registry of ALL guns. I will NOT tell the federal government what guns i own. I passed the back ground checks to get mine but that check just tells the dealer that i have no felony arrests and no issues that would cause me not to buy a gun. The check does not show them what gun i am buying and they do NOT need to know what i have so later they would know what to confiscate when it gets to that point. Due to Liberal beliefs.

    April 18, 2013 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  5. that guy

    In the mid west a poll was reasently taken of over 100,000 people, the poll showed only around 3,000 to 4,000 approvied of new gun laws or even of obama. My sorces belive obama and other figures are manufacureing poll figures just as they did when they were caught illeagly supplying arms to drug cartles to attempt to rouse more gun laws in the fast and furious scandle.

    April 18, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |

    Just a matter of time. Patience my liberal friends, it's just a matter of time. There will be Gun Control measures passed very shortly. Remember 2008 and 2012. The repbulicants said no you can't but, yes we did! Fear Not! Our record is better than theirs and getting better everyday.

    April 18, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  7. Greg

    I guess i'm in the 10%! Liberal judges are letting gun totting thugs go free everyday, so sorry, Im not buying this BS!

    April 18, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  8. s b

    The entire gun control debate only addresses a symptom of a larger problem. We should be focused on crime control and not gun control. Knives, bats, car irons, and other blunt objects kill, by far, more Americans every year than guns. Our problem isn't guns it is criminals and crime. We should be addressing what has happened in the last 40 / 50 years that bad people control the streets. Why is that? Our police forces used to be a peace enforcement organization but are now just first responders and investigators attempting to figure out how the crime occurred. Why are we more pro-active in preventing crime in the first place? If you are truthful you'll recognize that in doing so we would have to lose some freedoms and we haven't gotten to that point yet. There is a tipping point somewhere and the American people will decide where that tipping point is, but when we do we'll begin to address criminal and crime issues rather than gun control.

    April 18, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  9. Mike

    Hey captainclarity – the government isn't infringing on your rights with this law, it's keeping people like your neighbor FROM OWNING WEAPONS!!! But guess what, now he can, no matter what his record or mental health status is. Do you feel safer now?? The only reason this didn't go through is pure politics, they want to get re-elected and the NRA has the power to help make that happen. The NRA thinks it's better if every American owns a gun, rather than only those without arrest records, documented mental illness, etc.

    April 18, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  10. BA12

    The only thing I find more humorous than this outcome are the misguided comments in this section.

    Its a win/win in my eyes. More "Background checks" aren't actually going to help anything and the Republican party is made out to be corrupt, gun toting crazies.

    I can't wait to see how the next Conservative Presidential candidate tries to spin this to avoid another loss.

    April 18, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  11. Anonymous

    I'm glad they knocked it down. It was pointless ineffective and a waste of time when there's no genuine effect on the crime rate or the chances of a mass murder like that seen in CT. The crime rate has been dropping for years without a change in law...why issue a new law just for the sake of a new law? The answer?...control.

    April 18, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  12. athefarm

    Our Constitutional Republic form of Governing worked just like it's supposed to.. A bill was drafted and sent to committee. A filibuster was threatend so no back room deals could be made. To block the filibuster it needed a 2/3's vote to come out of committee when that happened. It was then sent to the Senate as a bill to be voted on for an up or down inorder for it to become a law, again needing a 2/3's vote to become law. Because our form of government is Constitutional Republic and not a Democracy the constitutionality of the bill has to be the utmost consideration not the number of people poled that want the bill passed. Because most of the Republicans and a few Democrats understand this and Gun Bill S 649 and it's nine attached amendments violated the 2nd amendment of the Bill of Rights it was defeated. I guess if you don't like our form of government and the freedoms it offers you can always relocate to another country of your choice, another Freedom we Americans have the Liberty of enjoying. Have a nice day !!

    April 18, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  13. terlynn_1370

    How did Obamacare get passed when the majority of Americans didn't want it passed? Same question different topic 😛

    April 18, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  14. markfromdover

    It amazes me that the NRA says background checks will not prevent one murder. How do they know that? Who is LaPierre- Kreskin? 4 million members sounds like alot, but there are many more millions that want sensible background checks. Politicians are too weak and self serving to do what's right. It's time for ordinary families to organize and change these laws. It wasn't too long ago MADD was formed. and look at how they changed the mind set of law enforcement and every day stiffs like us about drinking and driving. Time for a new organization to be formed to fight this plague!

    April 18, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  15. Animal

    Public opinion didn't lose out on this legislation. It was bad legislation. All it did was target law abiding firearm owners. We should enforce the laws we have now and give law enforcement the tools they need to do so.

    April 18, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  16. DC

    Paul, we all know you can play with data, which you did here. The ignorant might think you were being honest. Unfortunately, the majority of people who actually know the current policy are just fine with what happened in Washington. The MAJORITY were well-represented by those they elected. Please tell the Paul Harvey version, would you?

    April 18, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  17. Gail

    What the Senate did yesterday, thanks to whimpy politicians and the NRA, is to not only vote against the will of the people but to discriminate against retail stores who are obligated to do background checks on their gun buyers. They are allowing gun shows and internet sales special treatment that's exempt of background checks. That is downright unfair and unequal policy! What is wrong with these people in Washington DC? Seriously, we all have the right to own a car and we may operate it if we meet physical, mental, and skillful requirements PLUS abide by the laws. And, we even have to go through a legal process if we sell or transfer a vehicle. What makes guns any less of a responsibility than a car? Enough said. I do know one thing for sure, this is not over. Common sense will eventually prevail.

    April 18, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  18. jimmy knight

    I haven't talked to a single person who is for gun control. Right now there are way more important things going on in this country than gun control. JOBS, ECONOMY, DO NOTHING administration. GUNS DON'T HAVE A MIND OF THERE OWN PEOPLE KILL.are we going to ban knives next??

    April 18, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  19. Patrick in Wisconsin

    Oh no, all the "big gubermint" doomsdayers saying the feds are going to register our guns, then take them away, then impose martial law, and then chop everyone's heads off.

    OK, enough with the sarcasm. Conservatives, does this argument sound stupid? Well it's a pretty good representation of yours!

    April 18, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  20. mike

    This article is complete double speak...
    If something has 90% popularity why would people not get reelected for voting for it?

    Answer: those polls are obviously done with demographics that do not apply to the whole U.S., this being so blatantly obvious says one thing they know the polls are bogus but they push them as a meter for public opinion, why is voting not a meter for public opinion?

    April 18, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  21. jakinak

    Pretty obvious that the widely circulated 90% figure is false, and that a whole bunch of Americans DID NOT want further restrictions on responsible gun owners.

    April 18, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  22. sengfeng

    So... You anti-gunners out there. Please explain to me exactly how new laws that mandate doing the same thing we already do for NICS checks will keep guns out of criminals' hands. Do you not understand the point that criminals don't care what laws are passed?

    April 18, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  23. Bill Michael

    It is a BALD-FACED LIE to suggest that 86% of Americans want MORE gun control.

    April 18, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  24. jeff

    Well now they don't have to worry about the gun Lobby coming after them. If people were smart, now use the 90% to go after them. Make them scared for their actions.

    April 18, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  25. Danise

    I've been a republican all my life & a life member of the NRA for 30 years. Although i have voted and promoted the 2nd amendment I have not actively participated in politics or donated regularly to the NRA-ILA, etc. Shame on Me! Our rights are slowly being chipped away and I won't stand by and passively watch it happen while hoping for the best. Clearly we have a fight on our hands to be able to defend ourselves from those who wish to strip us of our rights, along with the criminals who will harm us with whatever weapon they can get their hands on.

    April 18, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
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