New polls suggest elementary school shootings may be changing public opinion
December 17th, 2012
02:15 PM ET
10 years ago

New polls suggest elementary school shootings may be changing public opinion

Washington (CNN) - As the horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut remain fresh in the minds of Americans, a big question is whether the deaths of 20 young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School will impact public opinion on gun control.

Three polls conducted immediately after Friday's tragedy indicate that the shootings may be changing some minds.

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Other recent high profile incidents, such as the shootings in Tucson, Arizona in January 2010 that left six dead and some, including of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, severely injured, the mass shooting this past July at a movie theater in suburban Denver, Colorado that left 12 dead, and shootings two weeks later at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where six people were killed, horrible as they were, barely moved the needle when it came to polling on gun control.

During the 1990's, national polling indicated that a majority of Americans supported stricter gun laws. But public opinion has shifted since then, and the public nowadays appears divided on the issue.

According to the most recent CNN/ORC International survey, which was conducted in early August after the Colorado and Wisconsin shootings, 50% supported no restrictions or just minor restrictions on owning guns, with 48% backing major restrictions on the owning of guns, or making guns illegal for everyone except law enforcement and other authorized personnel. There were similar findings in an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted around the same time, with 50% of registered voters saying they favored stricter gun control laws and 48% opposing such measures.

But the deaths of 20 young children could affect the public conversation over gun control in a way that the past tragedies failed to have an impact.

"The Clinton gun control victories in the 1990s had their distant roots in a school shooting in Stockton California. Public opinion about guns doesn't get reshaped overnight each time there's a shooting, but that precedent suggests that an event that victimizes children could have more impact than most in tilting the balance toward support for measures to restrict access to guns," says CNN Senior Political Analyst and National Journal Editorial Director Ron Brownstein

A survey from ABC News/Washington Post released Monday afternoon is the first sign of early evidence that the slayings at Sandy Hook Elementary School will make an impact.

According to the survey, conducted Friday through Sunday, 44% now strongly support stricter gun laws, with 32% opposed. That's the first time in ABC/Washington Post polling in five years where significantly more people favor rather than opposed stricter gun control measure. And for the first time in surveys dating back to 2000, less than 50% say the best way to reduce gun violence is to enforce existing laws. The number of people saying the best way is to pass new laws edging up to 32%, the highest level since 2000 in ABC/Washington Post polling.

In a significant reversal, a slim majority see the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings as a reflection of broader problems in American society. Only 24% felt the same way after the shootings in Colorado in July, and 31% felt the same way following the Arizona shootings in 2011. Forty-three percent say the Connecticut shootings were isolated acts of a troubled individual, down from the 58% who felt that way after the Arizona incident, and the two-thirds who felt that way after the movie theater killings in Colorado.

A Pew Research Center survey also conducted immediately after the massacre, has similar findings. By a 47%-44% margin, those questioned said the shootings reflect broader problems in society rather than just being isolated acts from troubled individuals. The 47% who say the Connecticut shootings reflect broader problems in society is up from the 24% who felt that way after the Colorado incident and the 31% who felt that way following the Arizona shootings in 2011.

The ABC/Washington Post poll also suggests a partisan divide, with half of Democrats favoring new gun laws over merely enforcing current measures. About two-thirds of Republicans questioned continue to advocate strong enforcement of existing laws.

Support for more stringent gun laws was highest in a CBS News poll out late Monday, which showed 57% of Americans support tightening restrictions. The number had increased from 39% when the poll was conducted in April.

But would stricter gun laws have helped prevent the latest Connecticut shooting? Only 42% said so. Asked to consider the safety of their own neighbourhood schools, 36% said their schools are very or extremely safe, 44% rated their schools as somewhat safe, and 17% said their schools are not safe at all.

National polling indicates that the trend away from stricter gun laws over the past decade appears to be primarily among groups that are the most resistant to Democrats, and that among those who vote for Democrats, there remains strong backing for gun control.

Brownstein suggests that the half of the country that opposes gun control is the half that that rarely supports Democrats, and that those who do back President Barack Obama and other Democrats back tougher gun control.

"In the same way that the movement away from the party of blue-collar and older-white voters made it easier for President Obama to embrace more liberal positions on gay marriage, legalizing DREAM Act students, and providing contraception in health care reform, the same dynamic could finally overcome his hesitation on gun control. The fact is that Democrats have been paralyzed on this issue for fear of losing voters they have already lost; and after an election in which Obama won only one-third of white men, the constituency most resistant to gun control, and still won a solid victory, the party's paralysis doesn't make much sense electorally," adds Brownstein, in an analysis of Pew Research Center polling on gun control.

The new ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted December 14-16, with 602 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The new Pew Research Center poll was conducted December 14-16, with 746 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

The new CBS poll was conducted December 14-16, with 620 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Filed under: Connecticut • Gun rights • Polls
soundoff (186 Responses)
  1. Rick

    Law-abiding citizens need semi-automatic firearms for self defense. These weapons provide the ability for responsible gun owners to meet deadly force with equal force. In a self-defense scenario, the victim must be able to respond on an equal or greater footing than his/her attacker(s). The first rule of self defense is to eliminate the threat. I want to be prepared for whatever threat may come, and I can never really know what I could be up against. A determined assailant with or without a gun can be a very deadly adversary, and they sometimes operate in pairs or groups. So the ability to fire multiple shots, quickly reload, and be prepared for the next threat is important to the law-abiding citizen. Do you really want to face 3 determined thugs with only a 6 shot revolver?

    December 17, 2012 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  2. chill

    The problem is that the guns were considered legal. There is no rational reason beyond the fevered brains of the conspiracy theorists for any private individual to own a semi-automatic rifle with these large clip rounds. It's time we stood up to the bullys at the NRA. I don't advocate banning all guns, but it should not be simple to obtain one without a thorough background check and withoutthe absurd gun show loopholes. And don't forget the other big contibutor to so many of these tragedies. The ever reducing funds available for mental health assistance. And the liberals bear some of the blame by swinging the pendulum to a point where a disturbed individual has to carry out a massacre before he is considered a danger. I hope the adults in power will have the courage to work this issue out.

    December 17, 2012 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  3. Seriously?


    Very very well put.

    December 17, 2012 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  4. rdm

    I see a lot of comments on this article and others with people suggesting that anyone with a pro-gun position is a sockpuppet for the NRA, and this is making me ill. There really are parts of this country where the vast majority of people own guns and anyone who is in favor of gun control is viewed as crazy. The opposite is also true, there are places where if you have a gun you are viewed as crazy. Just because all your friends agree with you doesn't mean anyone who disagrees is crazy or wrong.

    December 17, 2012 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  5. Jason

    Lets look at how to prevent this. he killed 26 people. He used as assault rifle a silly term that simply means it LOOKS like a military rifle, there are many other rapid firing weapons.

    -could he kill 26 people with those two pistols? easily
    -would banning assault rifles make this impossible, or even harder? Not at all
    -would arming teachers/admin or having armed police on staff at every school prevent this – quite likely, either as a deterrent or by killing the shooter.
    -Why are all these mass killings in gun-free zones? so the murderers can have more effect, because they know they will be the only one with a gun there.
    -would a ban make getting a gun harder? -does a ban on weed make getting weed harder than cigarettes or easier? it makes it easier.

    So how does a ban on assault weapons make sense again?

    December 17, 2012 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  6. TX

    The gun control argument breaks down when you look at strict gun control laws vs. gun crime. DC and Chicago have some of the most strict gun control laws in the country, and have had them for a long time. Both cities are also among the highest gun related murder rates in the country.

    December 17, 2012 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  7. Brock Landers

    Enforce the current gun laws and educate responsible gun owners – restrict my access to guns while i have absolutely no record is intruding on my rights as a US citizen. Here is the underlying problem, the kid had problems, guns were not locked up properly that would have Deterred the kid temporarily, since he was considered some what of a genius he would have figured out another way to kill innocent kids, adults you name it, just will involved slightly more time.

    December 17, 2012 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  8. Joe Bute

    The only reason assault weapons can be purchased by the public is to support the manufacturers who produce them. There is no intrinsic reason why a citizen cannot adequately defend themselves with a conventional handgun, shotgun or rifle. The fastest growing sector of the gun industry is the conversion of military-styled assault weapons for civilian use. Bushmaster has sold over a half-million rifles along the lines of the one used in Sandy Hook. Tehy represent gross retail sales of over $500 million over ten years (2000-2010) and at the current rate, they are on pace to sell another 500,000 rifles in less than half that time. Take these guns off the streets. We can't control for every crazy person but we can take away the ability to slaughter innocent children (Sandy Hook) or innocent college students (Virginia Tech) or innocent movie goers in record numbers. There were NO survivors at Sandy Hook – everyone who was shot is DEAD. That is lethal force at close range. This is madness.

    December 17, 2012 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  9. cleareye1

    Many gun nuts like to point out that someone intent on killing innocent people will just use another method if s gun is not available. Maybe so in many instances, but why do we want to make it easier and easier to kill? Also, by having so many guns easily available be make it convenient and impersonal. Add to that we celebrate guns in popular entertainment like we are a nation of cowards unable to confront a threat without help.

    December 17, 2012 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  10. JJ

    This is good, but the reality is that the fact that it took the senseless murder of 20 kindergarten teachers says the NRA's opposition to gun control makes them at a minimum partially responsible for those children's death.

    And what did the NRA do on the day of the shooting? They closed shop on the social media networks and retreated to the safety of the hole in the ground where they live. They haven't even had the decency to make a statement about the massacre, not even to express any horror or any grief. What a gaggle of disgusting sub-humans. And the politicians who pull up to the NRA trough to sell their votes are no better, on ANY side of the aisle...

    December 17, 2012 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  11. Anonymous

    You know Sniffit I have to agree with your earlier statement. It's time to stop listening to and arguing with these so called gun enthusiasts. Most have probably never held a gun in their lives and are simply talking smack. I think that today alone has shown that all we are going to get from them in logic is more nonsense. It's time to take the fight to our policy makers. The real shakers and makers. Not fantasy land video nuts trying to distract with their guns don't kill logic. In video games guns don't kill. In real life ................. ?

    December 17, 2012 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
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