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. BLE7481

    "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.

    Perhaps the polls are wrong.

    April 17, 2013 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  2. Kris

    I don't know where they get their poll numbers , almost everyone I know is against the bill and wants the government to focus on the laws already on the books that don't get enforce.

    April 17, 2013 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  3. chad

    "this bill would of prevented another tragedy like newton.." which part of universal backround checks would prevent someone from murdering his mother(already against the law), stealing her firearms(already against the law), bringing firearms on school grounds (already against the law) and murdering 20+ men women and children(already against the law) and then committing suicide (already against the law). Which part of the bill would prevent any of that?

    April 17, 2013 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  4. e

    "it came down to politics"? just like health care one might say......

    April 17, 2013 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  5. Bob

    Come on this is absolutely NO surprise because our politicians have not cared what we want for years. Here you are talking over 90 in favor and 10 percent gun nuts. Best answer is to vote them OUT of office come election time. DO NOT vote because this person is a GOP or DEM vote both out.

    April 17, 2013 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  6. fernace

    So in the end it comes down to fear of the gun lobby & saving their own reelections! Never mind that 187,000 Americans have died due to gun violence, in the past 6 years! These people have no shame! Pathetic!!

    April 17, 2013 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  7. joe

    Didn't Obama Care get voted through without public support?

    April 17, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  8. Donnie the Lion

    Just going to get more Democrats mobilized for the next round of elections......the inevitable next mass shooting sadly will be here before we know it.

    April 17, 2013 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  9. JustAGunOwner

    Why are we really surprised that "politics trumped public opinion"? No one was saying this when Congress forced Obamacare on us with its unpopular personal mandate.

    Frankly, I am glad it failed. All this legislation would do is punish the average gun-owning law-abiding citizen, not do anything meaningful to curb gun violence. Criminals don't obey laws, that's why they are called criminals, and no amount of legislation is going to change that.

    And while we are at it, why is no one proposing background checks for pencils and knives, or anything else that can be used to stab a person? Why not on pressure cookers, ball-bearings, nails and matches? I could go on, but my point is, no amount of background checks is going to stop a persons intent. If you make the guns harder to get, people will just find new ways to kill each other.

    April 17, 2013 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  10. Daniel Cayman

    Nothing will change until some misguided soul takes out the children of the high ranking members of the NRA...

    April 17, 2013 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  11. Steve

    This is no longer a government of, by, and for the people.

    April 17, 2013 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
  12. Michael Bretz

    This shows who rules the US

    90% of the USA is in favor of background checks, This should have passed through, but was voted down in the Semate. by the influence of the Gun Lobby. This tells the world that the USA is not a democratic Nation, it is ruled by the wealthy that don't care about what the majority want; they just want to profit from the rest of the worlds misery.


    90% of the population is in favor of restricting gun ownership to those that have a

    April 17, 2013 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  13. sonnie3

    That opinion poll was not taken in Montana or South Dakota or Iowa or Missouri
    I find little support around this area for treading on the 2nd Amendment.

    April 17, 2013 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  14. Scott

    The vote didn't trump public opinion. Only liberal lunatic opinions.

    April 17, 2013 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  15. B

    Maybe these polls should be done as well --

    Do you trust the media to be unbiased?

    Do you believe politicians on anything? (Examples – it's only a cold sore, the checks in the mail)

    April 17, 2013 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  16. David Hester

    Is it time to start recall campaigns for the senators that have chosen to follow the NRA and not the wishes of the majority of the American public.

    April 17, 2013 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  17. Body Electric 1001

    We the people lost today to the gun manufactures today. We live in Wayne's World now. We are slaves to the NRA our senate now serves the gun makers. Yes it is a sad day I am a gun owner I want background Checks. The people have lost our way and our government. So many second amendment advocates were afraid that registration would lead to confiscation. They are wrong Now they have control of our senate, what will they do with it...

    April 17, 2013 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  18. Ron

    Seriously??? A CNN and NBC poll is you source reference to support your biased opinion on the defeated gun bill?? Really,??? How about Pew or Gallup or another unbiased, reputable polling organization that is not so apparently in the Obama tank.Only 4% of amercans view the current gun control ordinance as an issue worth addressing.

    April 17, 2013 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |

    The public opinon of the ever shrinking ccn followers? Good thing we dont live in a Democracy.

    April 17, 2013 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  20. Christian

    It is sad to see how politicians are intimidated by lobbyist. I will consider this next time I vote.

    April 17, 2013 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  21. K. D. Voegek

    Dubious comment that it has 90% public support. NAY.

    April 17, 2013 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  22. Penny Wright

    The Republicans in Congress represent the Forces of Darkness.

    April 17, 2013 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  23. James Foley

    And people are shocked by this turn of events... Whyyyyy exactly?

    April 17, 2013 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  24. guest of the guest

    since when has 'public opinion' mattered in a representative democracy?

    April 17, 2013 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  25. James Foley

    In some cases the people in congress act like either Jenner from 'The Secret of NIHM' or Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter films. I ask again; Why? Why is anyone shocked by this?

    April 17, 2013 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
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