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. Stu Wexler

    Gun control should transcend "states rights". The fact that some states already have strict laws governing gun control, proves that guns that cross state lines are the underlying problem. States do not have the resources to enforce their own gun control laws adequately. State gun control laws are like a homeowner outlawing cockroaches in their house. It might make the homeowner feel better, but it doesn't stop the cockroaches from coming into their home. This is the perfect example of an issue that must be governed by federal law.

    Mr. President, in the name of every child that was killed, get these guns and assault rifles (and the people that put all of us at risk) out of our communities........NOW!

    December 17, 2012 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  2. DC Johnny

    Thank god the founders were smart enough to write the Bill of Rights (and all Constitutional Amendments, for that matter) in such a way that public opinion nor the the will of the current holders of political office could alter or deny their inherent rights without a long and nearly impossible road to overturn.

    There's a reason for this, people.

    Incidents that tug at our hearts and make us crave instant reaction and revenge are the kinds of incidents the founders warned us against.

    The federal government simply does not have the right to act in this case, with or without the temporary consent of the people. Any such law will get tied up in the court system for years and ultimately thrown out, as even the most liberal of justices has to see such unconstitutional law for what it is.

    December 17, 2012 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  3. John

    Based only on what has been released so far there are a number of things that could have prevented or reduced this disaster.
    1. People can have guns but no one needs AK's with alot large magazines!!
    2. If you have a mentally impaired person and weapons they should all be locked up securely! or always locked up no matter what.
    3. The school should have one person who is either looking out the entrance or watching a monitor of the entrance, usually these attackers come in armor and with lots of guns out in the open to be seen clearly before they get there.
    4. There shouldnt be large glass walls or doors at or near secured entrances that can be just shot thru like happened here.
    5. There should be preferably two not just one door to have to pass thru.
    6. Schools should have panic buttons big red buttons up higher than students can reach everywhere so as soon as someone sees or hears a problem they can just punch the button and sirens, lights and calls to 911 will go off immediately this can also release magnetic locks on all doors to close them automatically and have them lock when closed. Also all doors should be metal with secure locks and no large glass areas nearby that can be easily walked thru if broken.
    7. entrances could have long corridors with doors at either end to close and trap intruders in a sealed off area.
    most of these are simple relatively cheap and easy to implement but since it is the policy of GOP led congress to cut public education in favor of tax cuts to the super rich who send their kids to private schools good luck with the funding!

    December 17, 2012 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  4. ralph Petrillo

    Only allow guns that need to be reloaded after using six shots by hand. The guns must stay at home, so place a tracking device on each gun sold, and have them non working if they leave the place of residence.

    December 17, 2012 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  5. Sniffit

    Name me the last time the protecting, expanding or increasing our freedom in this country required guns used against our own government.

    Women's suffrage? Voting Rights Act? Civil Rights Act? Medicare? SS? Ending child labor? Roe v Wade? Establishing 40 hour work week, right to overtime pay, vacations, weekends, health care benefits? Ending laws that criminalized "sodomy"? Interracial marriage? Gay marriage? Ending Don't Ask Don't Tell? Stopping the MCarthy witchhunts? Decreasing the tax rates repeatedly for the past 60+ years?

    Oh, and hey, it all worked out so well for the people who thought they'd "rise up" to defend their "freedom" to enslave others, didn't it?

    December 17, 2012 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  6. carrie marlin

    THE VIOLATIONS OF OUR CURRENT GUN CONTROL LAWS ALREADY PROVE THAT the bad guys will get guns someway somehow. The goal should be to control people. More people are killed in cars than with guns, so do you think you need to take our cars away too.

    December 17, 2012 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  7. Logical Approach

    I would like to know who the libs plan to have enforce their agenda of outlawing guns. The real issue is genetics and we should review our GATTACA approach. ;-/ Everything else is a band-aid fix to the problem.

    December 17, 2012 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  8. cogitoergosum

    I heard a gun advocate saying on the radio this morning that if the principal and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School had been wearing guns, they could have prevented the massacre. Is this person living on the same planet as I am? How and why would teachers pack heat in a first-grade classroom?

    December 17, 2012 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    It really makes me mad that all these pansies are ready to take gun rights away from everyone because of the actions of 6 or 8 wackos!!

    December 17, 2012 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  10. Hscnn

    People against abortion have pushed for laws that require those seeking abortions to see photos or video of the unborn fetus. Maybe we could do something similar with guns: require anyone wanting to buy a gun to first watch a graphic video of someone being shot with a gun.

    December 17, 2012 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  11. Anchorite

    I always thought people should just not shoot each other with guns and then we can have them safely, but apparently gun owners are happy seeing [Democratic] Congresswomen, unarmed law-abiding black teens, and Sikhs shot. As long as they have some laws saying something like blah blah no crazy people or felons can buy them, they feel no guilt. All of these guns were purchased by people who were sane, at least, at the time, and didn't intend to commit murder, at least, at the time. But they can't keep guns out of the hands of their irresponsible kids, crazy people, or criminals, so I think we need to ban their manufacturing and start drying up the numbers. Gun control apparently is a big joke. Let's see what a gun shortage can do.

    December 17, 2012 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  12. Matt

    Hey Stu, Wexler, while your at it can you have the president get the drugs, and criminals out of our communities as well? See how effective that is. I would like to hear more people talk about how criminals will obey gun laws...

    December 17, 2012 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  13. Matt

    Hey Stu, Wexler, while your at it can you have them get the drugs, and criminals out of our communities as well? See how effective that is. I would like to hear more people talk about how criminals will obey gun laws...

    December 17, 2012 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    truth, truth and more truth wrote: "but connecticut has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country...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."

    Well obviously the gun coltrol laws are not nearly strict enough. Why was this gun nut mother allowed to stockpile weapons, including the freaking semi-automatic assault weapon that was used to murder innocent children?

    It's incredibly dishonest to pretend our insane gun laws have nothing to do with this tragedy. Clearly, insane people have far too much access to guns and that's not debatable.

    Yes, there will always be crazies. A crazy went on a rampage at a school in China with a knife on the same day. Guess how many kids died? ZERO.

    The time for making excuses for our ridiculous gun laws is OVER. Too many people have died because of right-wing rhetoric and cowardly politicians on gun control.

    December 17, 2012 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  15. Mike D.

    @Data Driven I am confused. Did the law abiding gun owner shoot these children? No, they did not. Stop letting emotion cloud over logic. It was the mentally unstable person who did this. Gun or not he would have found another way. We have over 17000 DWI deaths a year in this country, a lot of those deaths are children. We do not ban the type or numbers of cars people buy. We instead place the blame on the person who was drinking and driving. This is no different and it will not keep guns or other dangerous things out of the hands of criminals. Mexico doesn't allow guns, look how that is working out. Norway doesn't allow guns and look how that turned out. Bottom line the problem is always the individual, but we have moved away from personal responsibility in this county. Your proof of that.

    December 17, 2012 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  16. Fiscal cliff

    Bernanke warned that USA is in a fiscal cliff and that the government needs to increase taxes.
    Are we paying more property taxes and leave guns without taxes ?
    If we pay taxes to use normal things (toll roads, cars, houses, etc), we also need to pay taxes to use instruments of death.
    Each handgun must pay $6K/year, rifles and machine guns $12K, etc.

    December 17, 2012 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  17. Sniffit

    Know what beats guns at keeping the overreach of a tyrannical gov't at 'em every single time hands-down without question and no coherent argument can be made to the contrary?


    Let's see you freekin gun nuts defend that with the same fervor, beacuse you know what? Evvery single time we've had to defend our freedoms or sought to expand them, it was EDUCATION that won the day. Accurate information and the means of sharing it is the engine of societal evolution, not a 100-round banana clip and a silencer.

    December 17, 2012 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  18. Gurgyl

    Gun-control is needed in this nation. Period.

    December 17, 2012 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  19. Hector Rodriguez

    truth...there is no evidence Adam Lanza was insane. As a matter of fact, most of the people who knew him said he was brilliant and quiet. He started college at 16. His mom was a legal gun owner who, obviously, did not secure her really deadly weapons very well. The guns were bought legally so there is not much that CT gun laws could have done to preven her from buying a military-style assault weapon thanks to the gun lobby. But her son tried to buy a rifle a few days before the rampage but there was a waiting period, thanks to one of those strictest gun control laws in the country. She bought those guns for self-defense. She never got to use them in that fashion but they were used to kill her, 20 first graders and 4 teachers, one psychologist and one principal plus her son commited suicide with one of her guns. The safety offered by guns at home!~

    December 17, 2012 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    Dear OB, stop using tragedies for political gain. Start taking on the lack of mental heath care in this country. Start by taking away the stigma that the government imposes on those that seek mental heath care. Start by curbing the media's coverage of these events that only glorify them to others with mental heath issues. Enough is enough. Stop the media!

    December 17, 2012 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  21. Linda

    We are not in the cowboy age any more. I'm sure our forefathers couldn't see around the corner to know what a changed world we live in today. Guns are not needed, we need to become more civilized. We are not walking around with guns and holsters any more. Why in the world would anyone need an assult riffle and why would someone sell anyone all those rounds of ammunition without first calling the authorities.

    December 17, 2012 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  22. marty in MA

    nobody needs a gun with a high capacity clip.

    December 17, 2012 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  23. Anchorite

    To Matt: the problem is that human being who thought it was okay to kill innocent people used three legally purchased and owned guns. Tell me the man could have done the same thing with a kitchen knife and I'll show you someone who has had a break with reality himself.

    December 17, 2012 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  24. DC Johnny


    That is such a childish and oft-used retort to the 2nd Amendment supporters. You think that was an original statement? You seem extremely proud of yourself for coming up with it, so I can only imagine you do.

    You see, the trouble with your parallel is that it isn't even close. Grenades have no application in society. Police officers don't carry them. People do not hunt with them. They have no precision, and can only be used for widespread mayhem inflicted in a general area. They have no place in the civil society.

    You are the kind of liberal who likes to associate any conservative view with the hyperbolic redneck or uneducated caricature the media and comedians try to impose upon those of us who celebrate this country and its ever-fragile governing.

    Nobody takes the First Amendment and tries to portend that if my "religion" is one that says I must kill all Christians, then it is within my rights to do so. That certainly doesn't make the First Amendment void, and I wouldn't mock anyone's legitimate concerns or claims about it.

    The fact of the matter is that the federal government does not have the right – as described in detail by the founders – to withhold the right of firearms from its citizenry. Period. You may have a case if the public was clamoring for military-grade machine guns, but that is not the case. Most "assault rifles" are no different than typical hunting rifles in their power or ability.

    When the government starts drawing lines in the sand, those lines tend to move. And slowly but surely, we lose our rights. Tried ordering a soda in NYC lately, have you?

    December 17, 2012 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  25. Perimeter Security

    We can all agree that this event was horrible and unfortunately no matter what laws are put into place, those who intend to hurt will find ways of doing so regardless of gun laws. If we were to take a look at places, such as military bases or locations of high security they all have one thing in common and that is perimeter security. This may sound funny, but it is a solution to the rising problem, which is to require public schools to build perimeter fences/walls with entry control points that are "manned" by a security guard. The military practices this approach to keep those who are not authorized to be there out, which in this case, schools could monitor who is authorized to enter the school premisses. It is not a perfect solution, however I as a concerned parent would be more than willing to wait a little longer in line so the security guard could check my access pass and ID to ensure that I am authorized to be there. Enforcing stricter gun laws will not stop a criminal mind from completing his/her mission.

    December 17, 2012 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
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