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. Matt

    Maybe it's because I'm Canadian or something, but I don't understand America's fascination with Guns. Why do your citizens need to be armed or have guns in your home? Hunting rifles and other stuff like that is understandable, but automatic rifles, or rediculously high caliber hand guns, Why? It seems more like you're perpetuating the problem by making it easier for anyone to get a hold of these almost military grade weapons. Sure, you may be a normal person who is a responsible gun owner, but what about the guy who breaks into your house when you're not home one day. What if he finds your firearms? Now hes got your guns that you bought legally and is now using them illegally. The problem isn't gun regulations, it's your entire nations paranoia. Since when do guns equal safety. Oh whoops, I didn't realize America was a war torn country, where you're in and out of firefights on your way to work. Wait, you're not a war torn country? So it's just your majority of citizens are poorly educated and think guns and violence will their solve problems.

    It's sad to watch yourselves metaphorically shoot yourself in the foot over and over again. The Sandy Hook shooting should have been a huge eye opener, but apparently you think more guns will fix your gun problem. It's like every year you have innocent people killed because it was too easy for some random dude to get a hold of a gun. Maybe if all of you had less guns in general you wouldn't have annual school shootings like it's the superbowl. They get equal amounts of news and publicity when you think about it, but I'll save that for another post.

    Yours truly,

    Matt from Canada AKA Hyp3n0t1k The Enchanter

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

    If the majority of the public wanted the bill passed then who exactly did the NRA lie to....the politicians??? maybe they should read the bill before voting on it, instead of relying on opinions...OR maybe they did read the bill and didn't like it

    April 18, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  3. ron dusenberry

    Dan 5404 let me guess, you are not an avid hunter or gun owner. What makes you think that passing this bill would prevent someone from killing someone. The folks that do this arenot buying their guns at the store or at gun shows.... this bill just keeps track of the decent human being that owns a gun. I have yet to know anyone that supports this bill. I wonder where they did this poll? Most likey in Conn or some other northern state within a city.

    April 18, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  4. MickAlean23112VA

    Given the ease of manipulating polling questions and statistics, it's amazing that CNN thinks they have the moral high ground to tout polls. I don't trust them, VT, Aurora, and Newtown would not have been prevented by any of the legislaton being proposed. That's a FACT!! Criminals don't buy guns legally, they steal them. And where carry laws were improved, violent crime went down. I'm all for enforcing the laws we have and making sure that lawenforcement has the information they need to deny ineligible people from getting firearms. Senator Kaine learned that the hard way after VT.

    April 18, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  5. cagekicker

    How many people were actually asked for their opinion? I know I wasn't. Guaranteed that 99% of you weren't either.

    April 18, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  6. fuzzback

    Welcome to America, where your guns are safer than your kids.

    April 18, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    I don't believe the "polls" either. The people have spoken through the Senate vote.

    April 18, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  8. sengfeng

    No one is afraid of background checks. They're already done: FOR LAW ABIDING CITIZENS! Criminals do not care about laws. They trade a bag of coke for a 9mm, go shoot someone, and it's all outside of the system. If the person the gun was stolen from passed a background check, does it matter to the criminal?

    April 18, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  9. jharry

    We don't live in a democracy, but thankfully a Republic where the legitimate rights of the minority are protected.

    April 18, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  10. Archer

    Yeay freedom!!!!

    April 18, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  11. david of ohio

    If you don't like guns your entitled to your opinion but your not entitled to infringe on my constitution. Thanks for lighting a fire under the liberty movement though many progressives are awake and they see the similarities between bush and Obama and they are joining. Want to change core values of a nation without a fight don't think so.

    April 18, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  12. Alex

    I think 90% are for background checks on all sales, but that's being misconstrued by the media and the left as a mandate to also ban certain weapons which I disagree with.

    April 18, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  13. Charles

    A very loud minority of leftist politicians and Hollywood script reciters does not = majority public opinion.

    April 18, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    You have that wrong sir, public opinion was not trumped. It's a case of SOME senators actually listening to the people! It's that simple.

    April 18, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  15. OKC

    The back ground check isn't the issue the registration of weapons is......this president has set a pressident that he will tell the Justice Department to not enforce certain laws......so I don't trust that they will be disstroyed

    April 18, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  16. nevinsanli

    Let's not re-elect anyone that voted against this bill. Let's organize and defeat these corrupt politicians on NRA payroll.

    April 18, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  17. RDH

    These people saying that the vast majority of Americans want stricter gun legislation obviously haven't been to a gun store or a gun show recently, everything is sold out the shelves are almost completely empty. Actions always speak louder than words and Americans actions have been to purchase firearms.

    April 18, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  18. NV?

    Tunnel visionaries!

    April 18, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  19. massconn72

    I am so glad that we keep voting for these losers. At least here in CT they voted the right way. I thought they were supposed to REPRESENT" us not themselves and their lousy attempt at keeping their jobs. Maybe it is time for another revolution. We are getting awful close to "taxation without representation" all over again.

    April 18, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  20. Michael


    You scare me if you are truly a parent. Get the facts before you write or say things you obviously know nothing about and only hear what the media wants you to hear. I belong to a gun club, EVERY single law-abiding gun owner has gone through a background check. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US = 53. Criminals DON'T. People are required in my state to get background checks but AGAIN CRIMINALS don't because why:, THEY DON"T OBEY LAWS.

    April 18, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  21. DougJ

    The real reason something this popular could be defeated is that we do not have representational government. 1/4 of the population is represented by 63 senators and another 1/4 is represented by 6 senators. Because of gerrymandering, the GOP controls the house even though over 1million more people voted for the Dems. Our constitution needs a page one rewrite.

    April 18, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  22. Frank

    If you the fight over gun control an all or nothing fight you better be prepared to address gun violence in some manner otherwise you will eventually be left with nothing.

    April 18, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  23. Jane Hynes

    Look at Japan. They have strict gun laws and virtually no gun violence.

    April 18, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  24. Commenter

    The so-called "polls" were ridiculous, and the liberals and prez have the nerve to state that they will continue to attempt to pass laws that obviously the constituants of the congressmen do not want. The feds need to leave a lot more decisions up to the states – including this – and stay out of and wasting time and money on things that shouldn't be on their personal agendas.
    One law should be passed that will charge any federal elected official or appointee from the state with a felony and property confiscation if they do not uphold the US constitution as written, not as interpreted to suit one's own personal beliefs – twisted or not.

    April 18, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  25. Oh well

    Let me see, majority of Americans didn't want affordable healthcare act to pass but democrats(progressives) did any way but people are ore passionate about their 2nd adm right in constitution. They rather pass a law then abide by the laws of US constitution, can't have federal registry anyways, as the 4 th graders know learning in their history books this year, they need to admend the constitution but progressives and there is some in Replician side as well and they showed their colors in vote. But more people die from drunk driving then guns. Those are facts so it's done let's focus on taxes, debt and inflation but same time we'll never forget those 26 people in CT. But that has to start in the home of bringing up people right not laws

    April 18, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
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