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. ddd

    IN ct they did not follow the law when the ram rodded us with the BS laws. I am tankful that it may be overturned and they will have to go thought the process all over again.

    April 18, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  2. Merkin

    Even if the poll were legitimate, which it can't possibly, you still can't "vote away the rights of a minority" even with 99% voting for it. That's why we call them rights. How about focus on the economy now and stop acting like goons?

    April 18, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  3. us_1776

    GOP now owns every single mass shooting going forward.


    April 18, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  4. Mel Brown

    Did CNN run those polls exclusivey east of Ohio and north of Maryland plus California? Infinging the rights of legal gun owners is in violation of the Second Amemndment. These measures would just limit the lrights of legal citizens and do nothing to people who illegally have weapons.

    April 18, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  5. ghostriter

    I love conservatives! They say a poll of a 1000 people isn't representative of the country and as proof? They offer that no one they know supported it. If 1000 people isn't representative, your 6 friends are not even close.

    April 18, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  6. Tiredofgovernment

    Drugs are banned, but drug uses by our children and adults is astronomical. Mentally I'll people and druggies are to blame for these killings. Not the Guns. There was the recent incidence of that crazy kid that STABBED 14 people at a Jr College. Are they yelling to ban knifes? Asking for background checks before a knife is purchased? NO. How many people are killed in auto accidents daily? Is there a ban on driving an auto? Back ground checks? NO. good people obey the law and are not the problem. Criminals and crazys DON't obey the law!!!! So why make more law? This is stupid and everyone needs to move on and protect themselves!!!

    April 18, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  7. Hurn

    I SERIOUSLY doubt 90% of America can agree ON ANYTHING! Much less on Background checks! Besides If 1 in 5 people own guns, wouldn't that be AT LEAST 20% AGAINST this bill? Plus, there HAS to be some faction of non gun owners who were against.

    April 18, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  8. Steve

    I am willing to concede that this bill was unlikely to make much difference, although I would argue that even if it saved just one life that would be worth it, but I am not hearing any better plan from the other side either. There is also a huge contradiction when it comes to the right on this issue, because often times the NRA and other gun advocates, suggest law enforcement is the answer, yet those same right wing organizations are in bed with the political party that constantly wants to have "smaller" government and cut the budget. How can you say the answer is more government enforecement and at the same time. oh yea lets cut the government. Do you ever stop and listen to yourselves??? And before someone opens their mouth and throws up all over themselves, Viginia Tech, Columbine, and Fort Hood all had armed guards and it did not stop the shootings. And before you say, well then we needed MORE armed guards, most Americans are not willing to turn all of our public places into police state's. Besides, do we really think having wild west style shootouts with gunmet in our public places is the best way to stop casualties? We need REAL solutions not right or left wing BS nonsense. There has to be a way to get gun violence under control, reduce the number of illegal weapons on our streets, and also protect the 2nd Amendments right to bear arms. At the same time, people on the right have to realize the 2nd amendment does not preclude regulations and limitations, in fact is says "well regulated" right in the Amendment. We already have regulations, you cannot buy a rocket launcher, so its all a matter of determining where the line is. Screaming that every gun regulation is a violation of the 2nd Amendment is intellectually dishonest and just an attempt to stop the discussion before it can get started. Both sides have to find a reasonable compromise.

    April 18, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  9. B Hancock

    It is a little like when Obama Care passed. The majority did not want it but it passed anyway.

    April 18, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  10. MTATL67

    The Republican Senators cannot explain how a back ground check prevents someone from owning a gun that is not legally allowed to own a gun. Just how out of step the Republican party is with the majority of Americans has never been more clear. This party chose an organizations agenda over the will of the people. If the GOP thinks of this as some sort of victory they are more delusional than they were during the 2012 campaign.

    April 18, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  11. Gary

    "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 that's why it failed. Favored "some form" of background checks? The "forms" that were proposed did not win over the organizations that had second amendment concerns. If those organizations were given proper consideration, rather than being discounted and minimized, the Bill might have passed. The fact is the NRA, the NAGR and other similar organizations represent millions of concerned members and they spoke stronger and louder than the other groups who were equally spending hundreds of millions of dollars pushing for passage of the now defeated Bill.

    April 18, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  12. ddd

    It is assumed that public opnion got trumped, ever think that the over 5 million NRA members and gun owners wanted it more?

    April 18, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  13. Sam

    Being an asian, I though corruption is in Asia only. NO! the politicians in the hill are way too corrupted, serving the special interest groups who can fill their pockets. They all don't seem to work for public good, instead seems to be working on what is good for their own self. As long as the paranoia persists, we benefit the people in the Hill, drawing existence.

    Unfortunately politics seems to trump the moral right every where!

    April 18, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  14. Techno Viking

    A bill with 86 % approval was derailed by 46 American's with no spine. Shame on them for being intimidated by the NRA and their vocal minority. Polls show that almost 80% of NRA members support universal background checks. The NRA leadership chose to disregard their members and oppose this bill. I'm taking note of my representatives and will remember this come 2014, Shameful

    April 18, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  15. Bob S.

    On behalf of gunshot victims everywhere..thank you G.O.P. You have, once again, shown your total indifference to the wishes of the American people and to your true masters, corporate America!

    April 18, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  16. whatguy

    OKC, that is pretty close to the question asked, it was more, "Should there be a law keeping people who are felons and those deemed a danger to themselves or others due to mental illness from being able to own a firearm." They then hung up on me when I replied, "There is already a law saying that they can't, why do we need a new one?" I guess they didn't like facts.

    April 18, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    How exactly do background checks subvert the second amendment?

    April 18, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  18. win486

    This bill would not have prevented any of the mass shootings that took place. Virginia Tech was done with legally bought and registered guns and so was Aurora theater, Gabby Gifford and Newtown. All but Newtown had background checks and bought them over a period of time. Gabby Gifford was shot with a pistol. Columbine was kids with their grandfather's guns. Gun show and internet background checks would not have stopped them. Crazy is crazy.

    April 18, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  19. GD

    all of the sudden everyone wants to jump on republicans. Same thing happened when dems pushed healthcare reform through despite public opinion. all of these partisan politics... when are people going to realize we are one nation, not two groups that hate everything about eachother. crap like this affirms my choice to be independent.

    April 18, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  20. RealTime


    Actually most people are in favor of the health-care law, except for the "here's-how-you-pay-for-it" part.

    April 18, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  21. fred

    75% of American public supported the war in Iraq. Public support doesn't make it right

    April 18, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  22. Abraham Adams

    The NRA doesn't elect politicians, the people do. If the American population felt as strongly about this bill as the news polls claim it did, then the politicians who voted against the measure will have more to fear come the next election cycle than the NRA. Sure, the NRA can spend money, but it can't "buy" votes. I think the will of the majority of the population was served, as much as certain segments of the population don't want to accept that.

    April 18, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  23. Guest-o-matic

    *6% of the people didn't want Obama as president for another term either, but "somehow" it just happened. I don't know ANYONE that voted for him, or at least that will admit it.
    When the courts stop allowing violent velons to have 15+ convictions before keeping them in for life, I'll start considering gun control. Start where the problem begins, with the criminals and the mental cases! Keep them away from law-abiding society!

    April 18, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  24. jkantor267

    Opinions don't trump rights.

    April 18, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  25. Kris

    Public opinion doesn't pay the bills or buy vacation homes

    April 18, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
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