Americans Aren't Nearly As Angry About the Gun Vote as You'd Expect

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 24 2013 11:04 AM

Americans Aren't Nearly As Angry About the Failed Background-Check Vote as the President Is

The Senate bill would have expanded background checks to include most purchases made at gun shows and over the Internet.
The Senate bill would have expanded background checks to include most purchases made at gun shows and over the Internet.

Photo by Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

Last Wednesday, shortly after Senate Republicans used a filibuster to derail an already watered-down compromise on extending background checks, President Obama walked to the Rose Garden and delivered a blistering speech that blasted the lawmakers behind the effort. "This was a pretty shameful day for Washington," he said, surrounded by several Newtown, Conn., families. The following day, Gabby Giffords, who still struggles with speaking aloud since being shot in the head in early 2011, had her say in an emotional op-ed in the New York Times, in which her disgust with Congress was even clearer: "[T]hese senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them."

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Both Obama and Giffords, along with their like-minded allies, have pledged to push on with their fight for stricter gun laws, but a new poll out today from the Pew Research Center and the Washington Post suggests that their window to do so—created largely by a spike in public support for the background check provision, seen as the best bet for bipartisan common ground—may be closing fast. Less than half of Americans surveyed suggested they were upset or unhappy about the Senate vote—a far cry from the 83 percent support for expanding background checks that the same pollster found as recently as February. Here's the breakdown from Pew:

47% express negative feelings about the vote while 39% have a positive reaction to the Senate’s rejection of gun control legislation that included background checks on gun purchases. Overall, 15% say they are angry this legislation was voted down and 32% say they are disappointed. On the other side, 20% say are very happy the legislation was blocked, while 19% say they are relieved.
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Politico, meanwhile, reports that Americans for Responsible Solutions, the advocacy group founded by Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, are set to begin attacking GOP Sens. Mitch McConnell and Kelly Ayotte this week with "gut-punch" radio ads highlighting their votes against the background check legislation. Presumably, it's the opening offensive in a larger effort targeting those who blocked the compromise measure. Here's a sample script:

“We watched. We listened. We felt it. Newtown,” the announcer says. “But Senator McConnell won’t listen to us. Eighty-two percent of Kentuckians support universal background checks. But Senator McConnell voted against them. McConnell opposed common sense checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Written by a Republican and a Democrat. Supported by law enforcement officers. It was a common sense plan that protected Second Amendment Rights. But Senator McConnell ignored the will of the people. Making our children and our families less safe. … And putting the Washington special interests ahead of Kentucky … AGAIN.”

Today's poll numbers, however, suggest those hearing the ads in Kentucky and New Hampshire may not be so easily outraged. Here's the Pew breakdown by how each state's senators voted:

Screen shot 2013-04-24 at 10.51.18 AM

McConnell was joined by fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul in voting no, suggesting that in his state the number of voters happy with the status quo outnumber those who wanted to see the bill pass (in hindsight, anyway). Ayotte, meanwhile, would appear more vulnerable—her fellow New Hampshire senator, Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, voted in favor of the bill—but Ayotte's not up for re-election until 2016. Gun control advocates will have to hope not only that they can fire up their base but also that they keep them angry for three long years.

***Read more on Slate about gun control, and follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

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