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. PaulG

    "Vote trumps public opinion" Yeah we shall see about that. CNN and this despicable administration has railed hard against gun owners and the 2A for the last 4 month, running nearly constant anti-firearms articles with the president in full campaign mode for his agenda. Dems will deserve what they get next mid term elections. My hope, they get decimated.

    April 18, 2013 06:12 am at 6:12 am |
  2. Tony

    I don't think CNN has ANY idea (or is typically myopic) about the *OTHER HALF* of he gun holders who have MONEY and other MEANS to defeat your liberal agenda. Never thought that they'd SPEAK UP, did you, liberal elitists? You're DONE with "gun control." NO amount of your vitriol shall REVERSE the decision, because you refuse to see *THAT* the "loyal opposition" EXISTS and PAYS for the NRA *AS WELL AS THEIR NEMESES*–namely, "grass roots" open-carry organizations in each state like Michiagn and Texas (i.e. Michigan Open Carry, inc.). Criticize, condemn and complain, you're DONE. Life won't LAST any longer, it'll just SEEM to last longer.

    April 18, 2013 06:18 am at 6:18 am |
  3. Nicholas Smith

    The vote only trumps the lying polls that those people who want to overthrow the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, tried to foist off onto us.

    These votes were victories for the American People, and sadly my rotten Senators from Oregon, Merkley and Wyden, did not support, to their eternal shame.

    April 18, 2013 06:20 am at 6:20 am |
  4. Nicholas Smith

    Public Opinion did NOT lose out, only the lying polls that the people wanting to overthrow the American Constitution wanted to foist onto the Public.

    The Senate rightfully supported the Constitution in their voting.

    I regret that my two Senators from Oregon, Wyden and Merkley, did not support the Constitution, to their eternal shame.

    April 18, 2013 06:23 am at 6:23 am |
  5. Henry

    I rather see Congress to legislate bill to mandate every government official, including our dear leader in the White House, to take lessons and pass tests in American Study and the US Constitution. Whoever fails the tests must have to retake the courses within a reasonable time or resigns.

    April 18, 2013 06:35 am at 6:35 am |
  6. David

    The vote trumps public opinion because republicans in the senate have no balls and are afraid of the neo-nazi organization called the NRA. May each person who voted against this common sense legislation take one between the eyes from a gun purchased online by a mentally ill person!

    April 18, 2013 06:39 am at 6:39 am |
  7. Mark

    Polls are useless unless conducted by a totally impartial party. I highly doubt that most people wanted this to pass.

    April 18, 2013 06:45 am at 6:45 am |
  8. TomInRochNY

    Once again big money wins in American politics. Move along. Nothing to see here.

    April 18, 2013 06:48 am at 6:48 am |
  9. James O

    The "86% of the public supports" claims evaporate once people start hearing just what the "expanded background checks" would actually check and how they would be implemented and enforced.

    April 18, 2013 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  10. Guest

    Wrong again CNN, the constitution and bill of rights trumps your liberal expoitation of a tragedy. We are not simply a majority rules nation, if we were, there wouldnt be liberals.

    April 18, 2013 06:55 am at 6:55 am |
  11. Rodney

    I don't know anyone personally that wants to change the gun laws. Only to enforce the ones on the books now.

    April 18, 2013 06:58 am at 6:58 am |
  12. Mike

    It is sickening to note that when 86% Americans wanted some sort of gun control, the Senators representing those 86% voted against their constituants wishes. The American voters should never forget this betrayal when they go to the ballot boxes in 2014. These Senators were only representing their selfish interests by not supporting this law.

    April 18, 2013 06:59 am at 6:59 am |
  13. Tony in Maine

    We, the voters, need to remember and vote a single issue in 2014 and for the foreseeable future. The single issue is background checks for all gun purchases in a commercial setting. THose who voted know, must be given a ticket home if our democracy is not to become a tyranny of a tiny minority led by a bit of detritous named Wayne LaPierre.

    April 18, 2013 07:07 am at 7:07 am |
  14. Guest

    Criminal control not gun control.

    April 18, 2013 07:10 am at 7:10 am |
  15. Reddog

    I wonder if "Public Opinion Gets Trumped" would be CNN's headline if polls showed the majority of Americans believed that the entire Bill of Rights should be nullified and some of our elected officials felt otherwise. I thank the Senators who had the courage to "Protect the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic", over the media who use their anti-gun propaganda machine to deny Americans their 2nd Amendment Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

    April 18, 2013 07:14 am at 7:14 am |
  16. objectivist51

    Who the hell are they kidding? This was never about public opinion at all, never was. It's about MONEY, plain and simple. Do you really think the NRA and gun manufactures care about how many people, innocent or otherwise get killed in this country daily, weekly, monthly or yearly? Hell no! I am not discounting those that are passionate about protecting the innocent but they are simply an expendable commodity for the sake of billion dollar profits. This Government is nothing more than a bunch of sellouts to the highest bidder.

    April 18, 2013 07:14 am at 7:14 am |
  17. Lance

    Surpise! Surprise! Public opinion got trumped with the Affordable Care Act too.

    Congresspeople couldn't care less about public opinion until it's time to get re-elected. Most of them are just there to make their money.....6 figure salary, golden health care coverage, the general public pays for your retirement, and you only have to work 74 days a year.......

    April 18, 2013 07:19 am at 7:19 am |
  18. BigBearCarolina

    Maybe you slept through civics class. This country was not created to be governed by public opinion. We are a country of laws, not men. Democracy is two wolves and a sheep discussing what to have for lunch. Public opinion equated African Americans with property. "To allay such concerns, the Manchin-Toomey proposal included language to bar the creation of such a federal registry." And we all know that the federal Government always follows the rules. Maybe that sheep is in the majority after all.

    April 18, 2013 07:22 am at 7:22 am |
  19. adlass

    How is this a shining example of democracy that the US wants to impose on all other countries? When the representatives of the people do not even vote according to the will of the people?

    April 18, 2013 07:23 am at 7:23 am |
  20. Joel

    It is unfortunate that we can't deal with issues because of our political process. I believe that if there were just a vote on background checks, the bill would pass as long as there were not additional amendments that go way beyond what the public has expressed. It is those unknowns that undermine support for a single issue. It is also intellectually dishonest to portray our elected officials as rejecting the will of the people unless all issues to be voted upon are vetted to the public. Supporting one issue doesn't mean supporting all the additional amendments

    April 18, 2013 07:36 am at 7:36 am |
  21. 82nd ABN VET

    Despite the Obama administration’s strong push for more gun control legislation, few Americans are concerned about the issue.

    As Gallup reports, “Few Americans mention guns or immigration as the most important problems facing the nation today, despite the current attention lawmakers in Washington are giving to these issues. The economy still dominates as the top concern, followed by jobs and dissatisfaction with the general way in which Congress and the government work.”

    These data “underscore the prominence of economic issues in Americans’ minds,” said Gallup.

    April 18, 2013 07:37 am at 7:37 am |
  22. Rob

    Funny how you forgot that only 4% of Americans think Gun control is important topic when we have so many other problems facing us. NK, terrorist attacks, unsecured borders, Iran and the economy.

    April 18, 2013 07:43 am at 7:43 am |
  23. Richard

    No, public opinion was actually heard today. The issue today was the Rights of all states to be equal regardless of the population counts. Utah had as many votes as New York and etc. While gun control is a big political deal in huge northeast cities fighting crime and gang murders in the street, that is not the norm for the rest of America. Five gun control states (Cal., N.Y., Ill., Mass., and Maryland ) make up about 25% of the pop. Yet those same states have most of the crime. Those 5 states also only represent 5% of the 50 states. Today all the states voted as their citizens wanted.
    Today the States got a say.

    April 18, 2013 07:44 am at 7:44 am |
  24. kevin

    A win for gun owners. If you dont like guns dont get one but stay out of my buisness.Stricter guns laws will not stop idoits. Its like saying making pressure cookers illegal would have stop the bomb in boston or maby we should make envelopes illegal because an idiot sends ricin in them. Talking and driving kill alot more people than guns do but I dont see anybody wanting phones to become illegal because most people use them including most of the people wanting more gun laws. Stay the hell out of my life you two face jokers.

    April 18, 2013 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  25. Ronnie Jackson

    The Gun Lobby Trumps all and the argument i keep hear from people is they don't feel like having to do a background check, I find that to be lazy and irresponsible nature.

    April 18, 2013 07:52 am at 7:52 am |
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