Syria Debate Shows Some Senators Listen To Constituents, Just Not On Gun Control

09/09/2013 04:21 pm ET | Updated Sep 10, 2013

WASHINGTON -- In arguing against President Barack Obama's proposal to attack Syria over its use of chemical weapons, congressional lawmakers have cited poll after poll that shows the vast majority of their constituents oppose the United States' involvement in another Mideast conflict.

On his official Facebook page, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) posted, "During my recent town halls, it was clear that my constituents had many questions and concerns about military intervention in ‪#‎Syria‬. This week my office has received numerous phone calls, emails, and letters about this issue, and 1.7% of those contacting my office support military intervention. An astounding 98.3% of my constituents that are reaching out to me do not want to see the U.S. military involved in the Syrian conflict."

Congressional leaders do not always feel themselves so strongly bound to their constituents' opinions or poll numbers.

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting, support among the general public for expanded background checks on gun owners was widespread, even in the deepest red states. In fact, few policies have been as popular in recent memory; even before Newtown, CNN reported 94 percent of Americans supported background checks.

Yet those poll numbers did not compel lawmakers to act.

In the spring, the bipartisan compromise produced by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), which would have mandated checks at gun shows and for Internet sales (with exemptions for sales between family and friends), failed to gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

In April, Lee, for example, voted against Manchin-Toomey, even as some 82 percent of the states residents supported such background checks, according to a poll by the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) opposed the Manchin-Toomey amendment, complaining that there was "no unified voice on this issue," although polling data from Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that 84 percent of Arkansans supported expanded background checks on all gun owners.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also voted against the bill, despite a Quinnipiac poll indicating 91 percent of Florida voters supported universal background checks for gun buyers. And Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) came out against the Manchin-Toomey compromise when polling showed 88 percent of Iowa voters wanted expanded background checks.

After the Manchin-Toomey vote, Lee wrote in an op-ed in USA Today, "Gun-control advocates point to polls that show support for expanding background checks. But members of Congress do not get to vote on broad poll questions. They have to vote on specific legislation."

CORRECTION: Due to editor error, a previous version incorrectly located Newtown in Massachusetts; it is in Connecticut.

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