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. truth, truth and more truth

    but connecticut has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. probably hundreds if not thousands of laws. obviously this insane person did not take the time to read them all or he would not have done this. come on people, a lack of gun control laws has zero to do with this incident. the mentally ill among us don't know the laws and never will. stop targeting law abiding citzens for the acts of the mentally ill.

    December 17, 2012 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  2. Dan

    I hope the government does something about those pesky forks and spoons. All they are good for is making people fat.

    December 17, 2012 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  3. Guest

    What we really need to do is figure out why we are producing young people who have no conscience.

    December 17, 2012 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  4. Sniffit

    Weep what you sow, America.

    December 17, 2012 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  5. myviewis

    But will stricter gun laws prevent the criminally minded person from buying a gun illegally???? Don't most criminals buy guns illegally??? Maybe the schools should consider having an on-the premises full time police officer patroling the school, seems to me a police officer can do more against a criminal than a bunch of gun laws.

    I also think that Unions encouraging violence should be illegal, threatening to show up a child's soccer game sounds pretty criminal to me.

    December 17, 2012 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    "Charlton Heston: From my cold, dead hands!"

    If you insist...

    December 17, 2012 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  7. Data Driven

    I'll repeat this: 2nd Amendment fetishists need to explain their position to the parents of these murdered children. If you can't explain why you think you're right to them, then let me suggest you're not right to begin with.

    December 17, 2012 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  8. plain&simple

    Seems to me every PRO LIFE advocate out there needs to raise hell and support gun control. Help to defend the defenceless from these tragic senseless killings. Can everyone agree once a child is born we need to do the responsible thing ,the right thing in doing all we can to keep them safe???

    December 17, 2012 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  9. Wilson

    Ahh yes, the neo-coms are continuing with the "never let a good crisis go to waste."

    December 17, 2012 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  10. Pdiddz

    Gun rights advocates are very fond of the following types of arguments – ‘guns don’t kill people, people do’ or ‘killers will find a way to commit massacres if they want to, if not using guns then something else’ or ‘guns allow protection of our freedom and are guaranteed by the constitution’.

    Let’s approach this from a bit of a different angle. IF your argument is correct, then we should not be legislating away ANY weapons . Grenades at Wal Mart anyone? Why not? Grenades don’t kill people, people do! Why stop there? Nukes?!?! Why the heck not?
    Further, the constitution states right to bear ‘arms’ not ‘guns’ specifically. Clearly, if we are to form an effective militia to defend our freedom against an oppressive and well equipped government army, then just having assault rifles is not enough. At a minimum you would need rocket propelled grenades to take out armed vehicles.

    So I postulate that if you truly believe that bearing arms is an important right for defending your freedoms and has no connection to mass killings, it follows that more arms are better. Next up is the 'NRPGA' – National Rocket Propelled Grenade Association. After all, any arguments for selling rocket propelled grenades to civilians are the same arguments that so effectively argue for easy and legal access to assault rifles.

    Gun 'rights' advocates – think about it and you might see where the rest of us are coming from.

    December 17, 2012 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  11. Constitution believer

    Ummmm... Mr. "truth truth truth" - the point is not that criminals will follow the law. Duh. The point is that assault weapons should only exist on a military base. Then criminals or mentally disturbed people won't have access to them even through theft or black markets.

    December 17, 2012 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  12. John

    Does anyone know the name of the GOP nutjob who publically said on tv this weekend that he "wished to god that the principal had had an assault gun in her desk drawer"?? its people like this that are the problem.

    December 17, 2012 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  13. ellid

    I'm still waiting for someone to explain why a civilian needs a military-style assault rifle, or a handgun like a Glock or a Sig-Sauer designed for police use.

    Bueller? Bueller?

    December 17, 2012 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  14. The Real Tom Paine

    -myviewis

    But will stricter gun laws prevent the criminally minded person from buying a gun illegally???? Don't most criminals buy guns illegally??? Maybe the schools should consider having an on-the premises full time police officer patroling the school, seems to me a police officer can do more against a criminal than a bunch of gun laws.

    I also think that Unions encouraging violence should be illegal, threatening to show up a child's soccer game sounds pretty criminal to me.
    ******************************************
    What the hell does this have to do with a survey on attitudes towards gun violence? I also think that criminally stupid posts from people with an obvious agenda should be illegal as well, but its never stopped you.

    December 17, 2012 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  15. Wilson

    Shameful of the left, using this tragedy for poloitical gain, and furthering their socialist agenda. Disarm the people and you no longer have citizens,,,,you have subjects.

    December 17, 2012 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  16. gun guy

    Gun bans are silly. I could make a gun from hardware store parts.

    December 17, 2012 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  17. Wilson

    It is no small irony that the political party that has made killing children prior to birth a pillar of their platform expresses such indignation when a sociopath places so little value on life that he murders children. Of course, it's easier to kill children who are faceless. I am certain that in the eyes of the sociopathic killer in Newtown, his victims also had no faces.

    December 17, 2012 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  18. Davis

    "What do you think these globalists want? Not hard to figure out."

    "globalists "? Haha. Now now...don't hide behind rhetoric like "not hard to figure out." Please, treat us to a diatribe about "black helicopters" from the UN and NATO establishing a "New World Order" etc.etc. It's hilarious when you guys go on those rants.

    ----------------------
    Yeah, it's real funny. I want to see you laughing in the years to come. Get real ya ditz. Better yet, get informed. I guess you know nothing then of the UN gun bans and this administrations overtures of an executive order to comply with them. But go ahead....deny, deny, deny.
    Public opinion cannot overturn the Constitution. If so, the US fails.
    An armed public are "citizens".
    An unarmed public are "subjects".

    December 17, 2012 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  19. scarf

    Anyone who believes gun control laws can prevent this from ever happening is being intellectually dishonest. But, anyone who believes gun control can't make these incidents less frequent and less severe is also being intellectually dishonest.

    December 17, 2012 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  20. response

    In response to Data Driven: explain your 2nd amendment position to the parents of these murdered children. Here is an explaination. If you, as a parent, were at that school, that day and that evil man came to shoot your child and you had a gun, would you have killed him to prevent their deaths? The problem is that that evil people don't follow the laws. They never have, they never will. Preventing law abiding people from defending themselves, their children and even you should not be taken from us.

    December 17, 2012 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  21. Mitch Eisenman

    For Dan to equate guns to spoons and forks only proves how off kilter some views can be.
    Overeating is a self choice that doesn't kill other innocent people. Guns in the wrong hands usually do.

    December 17, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  22. nonsense

    Wake up people. N. Korea will get nukes illegally anyway. Does that mean we don't do anything to control nukes??!!

    December 17, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  23. PAT

    repeal the second amendment.

    December 17, 2012 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  24. Matt

    To Data Driven. I would be happy to. I would start by suggesting that the real problem is that a human being thought it was okay to kill innocent people. That's the actual problem. I would like you to explain to the parents of the 87 people killed in NYC by Julio Gonzales when he used gasoline and killed everyone in a night club because he was mad that his girlfriend broke up with him and he lost his job. Please explain to them how banning guns will stop this?Did you even know that happened? Of course not, because mass media didn't have a collective frenzy over these because it wasn't something they could attach an political slant to.

    December 17, 2012 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  25. Guest

    There is no way the gov't can monitor guns. There are too many. But more importantly, we should look at how we are raising our kids that would cause them to lose their consciences.

    December 17, 2012 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
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