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To Obama's dismay, America not outraged by gun control fail, poll suggests

A new poll finds that less than half of America is upset by the Senate's failure to pass expanded background checks. That was supposed to be the gun control issue with the broadest support.

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President Obama stands at the podium as Mark Barden, the father of Newtown shooting victim Daniel, is embraced by Vice President Joe Biden during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House last week about measures to reduce gun violence.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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The paradox of American gun control got deeper Wednesday. Or, at least it appeared to. 

On the surface, the poll released by The Washington Post and Pew Research Center made no sense. Only 47 percent of respondents said they were "disappointed" or "angry" that the Senate last week failed to advance a bill to expand background checks to gun shows and online sales. 

Yet in February, a Pew poll found that 83 percent of respondents supported an expansion of background checks to cover gun shows and all private sales – measures that would actually be stricter than what the Senate rejected.

So what gives? If Americans overwhelmingly support strict background checks, why aren't they angrier that the Senate failed to pass even moderate background checks? How could 39 percent be "happy" or "relieved" by the result? Where is the outrage to which President Obama was appealing when he called the Senate vote "a pretty shameful day for Washington"?

There are, perhaps, clues in the poll itself, which suggests that the forces against the bill were more motivated than those supporting the bill. Americans might also have come to the conclusion that the bill wouldn't do much.

But the real takeaway, some say, is that the gun control debate played into the broader narrative of America's enduring libertarian streak. As with the legalization of marijuana, the spread of same-sex marriage, and the fresh possibility of comprehensive immigration reform, the common thread is that, in many cases, Americans are loath to tell their neighbors what to do.

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