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Senators Who Opposed Gun Background Checks Voted against Their Constituents

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Yesterday the U.S. Senate defeated a measure that would require background checks for individuals purchasing guns. Various senators who voted against it said their constituents told them to do so—despite nationwide surveys in the past few months indicating that roughly 90 percent of the nation favors background checks. President Barack Obama yesterday accused these senators of lying to Americans and caving to pressure from the National Rifle Association.

So who voted no, and how do the citizens of their states actually feel? The table below shows answers for 25 states. The data are culled from polls conducted in March by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns political action committee, and since January by Quinnipiac University.

Surprisingly, a number of the more prominent national survey organizations I contacted did not have breakdowns by state. If you have statistics for states not listed here, please add a citation in the Comments section below.


Senator voting no to background checks Voters in that state who support background checks Senator’s rating by National Rifle Association
Ayotte, Kelly (R-NH) 89% A
Baucus, Max (D-MT) 79% A+
Blunt, Roy (R-MO) 85% A
Boozman, John (R-AZ) 84% A
Burr, Richard (R-NC) 90% A
Chambliss, Saxby (R-GA) 91% A+
Coats, Daniel (R-IN) 89% C+
Coburn, Tom (R-OK) 87% A+
Flake, Jeff (R-AZ) 90% A
Grassley, Chuck (R-IA) 88% A
Hatch, Orrin (R-UT) 83% A+
Heitkamp, Heidi (D-ND) 94% A
Hoeven, John (R-ND) 94% A
Inhofe, James (R-OK) 87% A+
Isakson, Johnny (R-GA) 91% A
Lee, Mike (R-UT) 83% A
McConnell, Mitch (R-KY) 82% A
Paul, Rand (R-KY) 82% A
Portman, Rob (R-OH) 83% A
Pryor, Mark (D-AR) 84% C+
Reed, Harry (D-NV) 86% B
Rubio, Marco (R-FL) 94% B+
Thune, John (R-SD) 79% A+
Vitter, David (R-LA) 85% A
Other states polled; both senators voted yes CT, ME, NJ, NM, NY, PA, VA
States without poll results AK, AL, CA, CO, DE, HI, ID, IL, KS, MA, MD, MI, MN, MS, NE, OR, RI, SC, TN, TX, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY


Sources: Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Quinnipiac University

Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Mark Fischetti About the Author: Mark Fischetti is a senior editor at Scientific American who covers energy, environment and sustainability issues. Follow on Twitter @markfischetti.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Comments 22 Comments

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  1. 1. tuned 2:17 pm 04/18/2013

    Why is S-A going political?

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  2. 2. curiouswavefunction 2:18 pm 04/18/2013

    Unfortunately this does not surprise me. The political system in this country has long ceased to be a democracy. Politicians no longer listen to the voice of the majority but instead follow the wishes of the vocal minority with special interests and deep pockets. And this goes for all issues ranging from gun control to healthcare. What’s shameful is that the majority still continues to vote these politicians into power.

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  3. 3. RSchmidt 2:53 pm 04/18/2013

    The United States in not a democracy. It is a Plutocracy. The Senators supported their supporters which are the urban arms dealers represented by the NRA. When Mitt Romney said he didn’t have to worry about 48% of Americans he was being generous and inclusive. The Republican party only represents 5% of the american population. The rest have been brain washed into believing they matter. The republican party has become a fascist movement that considers the american people an obstacle to its ambitions.

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  4. 4. cs_chance 3:52 pm 04/18/2013

    Do you have some sort of scientifically-oriented motive for compiling this data, or is S-A just going political?

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  5. 5. mfischetti 4:40 pm 04/18/2013

    Science affects many real-world issues, and many real-world issues affect science. Just a few related examples: public health (gunfire kills and injures people), forensics (determining who shot someone), medicine (treatments for gun wounds), psychiatry (mentally ill and guns), computer science (background checks)…

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  6. 6. E-boy 6:53 pm 04/18/2013

    Yeah why would a science magazine who advocates for evidence based policy in Washington actually call BS individuals who put ideology and campaign contributions ahead of their constituents wishes. Oh wait, this actually is an issue science has something to add to, it actually is an issue in which the NRA went out of it’s way to squelch funding to scientific research on gun violence in the 80′s, in is, in fact, an issue in which SCIAM has every reason to take an interest in. Just because science has something to say on an issue doesn’t make science political. It’s just a tool. Policy issues are often of a sort in which evidence is important. Science is no more political in this case than a teleprompter is.

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  7. 7. jimmybo 7:53 pm 04/18/2013

    I just noted what states that had no poll; this poll was made to look for the results they got. I am almost willing to bet they polled those states that were not polled but fudged the results to get what they wanted. It happens all the time with polls. The one thing I don’t understand is why CA and HI were not included in the poll?

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  8. 8. streaming1 9:28 pm 04/18/2013

    The polls could be wrong…the only people most not all politicians care about is themselves…I have to say it…not all, but most.

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  9. 9. Postman1 10:31 pm 04/18/2013

    Included on the list of states with no poll is NB. Is that a new state? One the 57? If perchance, you meant Nebraska, then you should have said NE.
    Perhaps the source of the poll, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Quinnipiac University, had something to do with the numbers.

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  10. 10. Prairie Dog 9:01 am 04/19/2013

    Why is SA “going political”? Including political opinion “instead of science”? Because politics is a study of sociology, and often psychopathology. Whether you consider sociology or psychology a “real” science, they’re both legitimate subjects for SA. That’s why.

    Otherwise, RSchmidt is correct. These senators’ real constituencies aren’t the voters, except at election time. Otherwise their constituencies are those that pay for their votes on the Senate floor. In this case it’s the NRA.

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  11. 11. E-boy 9:55 am 04/19/2013

    Jimmybo if you are accusing them of cherry picking their data doesn’t it seem a bit odd that they not only point out the missing information (This usually isn’t done by people endeavoring to commit deception) but ask if anyone else can supply it. They also cite their sources. I mean they make it easy to evaluate their sources and critique them and this is still the best you can come up with? As for Postman, the fact you lead with a typo in your critique is pretty telling. Maybe their data sources do have something to do with their numbers. I mean they did say that is where they got them. Did you perhaps go to those organizations and find out how they got the information? No? Oh, so basically you’re accusing them of undue bias without any idea what their methodology is? At least the writer cited his sources.

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  12. 12. plswinford 2:09 pm 04/19/2013

    We are supposed to have a Representative form of government. We elect people, who then vote as they see fit. Unfortunately we now have mostly a mobocracy, where the shifting mob pressures their representatives on this vote or that vote (a consequence of technology).

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  13. 13. N a g n o s t i c 10:42 pm 04/19/2013

    Scientific American’s left-wing sensibilities are very hard to keep in check. Sometimes I feel I’m looking at MSNBC, when all I want is MacNeil Lehrer.

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  14. 14. N a g n o s t i c 10:45 pm 04/19/2013

    For those who think SA is simply reporting objective political data, why is it SA didn’t frame the Obamacare vote the same way? The majority of US citizens didn’t care for it, while almost all Democrats in Congress voted it in. Not a peep out of SA.

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  15. 15. ssanda 2:50 pm 04/20/2013

    The latest Gallup poll (released this week) states that only 4% of the U.S. public views Gun Control as an important issue. This is hardly the massive support that the chart above seems to indicate.

    The poll data you cite is highly suspect from a bias point-of-view. After all, it was collected by an organization (Bloomberg’s) whose mission is gun control.

    I find this article to be fairly typical of the slant that SA has been taking over the past 4-6 years–and increasingly so over the past 2 years. That is, the advancement of a particular political agenda over hard science. My subscription is based on learning more about science and innovation. If I want this type of politics, I’ll tune into MSNBC.

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  16. 16. crawdad 8:01 pm 04/20/2013

    I hadn’t realize that the senators had voted on this poll! I was under the impression that they’d voted on a specific piece of legislation and not a vague statement about “supporting background checks”. Clearly this is a very scientific analysis by Mr. Fischetti and free of any political bias.

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  17. 17. M L Sam 8:38 pm 04/20/2013

    You can find the complete list along with their twitter handles at The Huffington Post. Happy Hunting.

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  18. 18. greese007 11:47 pm 04/20/2013

    Why should SA avoid issues that somebody deems as “political”, because they are political? Science is about finding the truth, when scientific means are available to discern facts from opinion. The fact that the senators voted against the majority opinion of their constituents is a matter of simple arithmetic, and worth pointing out.

    Speculation about why those senators might have done this is left for others to explain. We report, you decide.

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  19. 19. greese007 12:03 am 04/21/2013

    ssanda imputes a leftward slant to SA. This is not atypical; most Republicans see science as a left-wing venture that supports social heresies such as global warming and evolution… ideas not yet verified by Scripture.

    Not unlike theoreticians who cannot accept an experimental result that has not yet been verified by their theories.

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  20. 20. IndyCA35 7:32 pm 04/22/2013

    The article is simply a falsehood by a left-wing political organization (Mayors against illegal guns). Most of the people, if any, who answered the poll in the affirmative will soon forget about gun control. The others will vote against you, your children, and your party in every election for the next 50 years.

    Somebody finally handed Obama his head on a plate. The real lesson is that the NRA is the largest civil rights organization in the country–20 times larger than NOW or the NAACP if memory serves.

    Also their arguments are a lot more logical.

    If SA wants to study something scientifically, study why so many more people care about the Right to Keep and Bear Arms than care about other causes, and why they think Obama is lying about how any such law will be enforced.

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  21. 21. lawhite 12:54 pm 04/26/2013

    This is data. Partisans cherry-pick from data to support their positions. Scientists look at all the data to see what it really means. I have no problem seeing this in SA.

    However, I do wonder why there seems to be two Arizonas….

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  22. 22. Magnum Madman 12:59 pm 05/16/2013

    Huuuuuuummmmmmmm, first let me state I am the NRA and I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of, as for this pole, it strikes me funny that North Dakota is 94% for gun control, to put it another way an old adage comes to mind “figures don’t lie but lairs figure” now friends since Newtown the lies have been endless and how the family’s of those poor children have been used in an apparent dog and pony show by the democratic party is reprehensible, now before the typing starts, yes I’m
    not a democrat or a liberal but I do believe in fair play and honest exchange of opinion.

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