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. michael johnson

    31 thousand die gun related deaths, 1 K are accidents, 16 K are suicides.
    32 thousand die in car accidents, should we ban cars?
    .5 million die smoking related deaths, how many of you are smoking as you type about banning guns?

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

    Can we start by saving the 130,000 people that die every year in alcohol related car accidents?

    December 17, 2012 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  3. mick J

    It is also a good job that the rest of the world does not live by rules and laws set down eons ago. The land of the free – dont make me laugh

    December 17, 2012 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  4. plain&simple

    @ Wilson ,no one is suggesting"DISARM" as you wrongly point out.....control or regulate is NOT DISARM!!! PARANOIA is rampant in a statement like that. People whom support CHOICES find no inconsistency in having a choice in the right to have guns. We do draw the line at military weapons and rocket launchers,tanks, fighters and missiles and such!!!!

    December 17, 2012 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  5. Balls McGhee

    here is the solution that the NRA supports. Crazy people are the only explanation (of couirse it simply cannot be guns at all). So here is what we do. Pass a universal healthcare law where we can give FREE help to the insane, sick, mentally disabled, depressed, poor, those with anger management issues, aspergers syndrome, crazy, and every other possible diagnosis where poeple lives are at stake. We will have to pay for it with taxes since those are can afford insurance already get this care (or are supposed to, anways) so taxes will have to be about 2-3% on everybody. This law should easily pass the GOP filibuster since it is a healthcare bill that helps poor people in order to save innocent lives from being murdered. Who's with me?!?!?!

    December 17, 2012 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  6. Hector Rodriguez

    Well Johnny...the Supreme Court said that the Second Amendment is an individual right but subject to regulations. Therefore, we can ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines and we can close the gunshow loophole. Gun owners should embrace this sensible laws that will prevent tragedies and protect their right to own guns but I guess gun owners are not that bright!~

    December 17, 2012 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  7. ShawnDH

    Our gun laws are insane and we are seeing the result of that every day in America. We need far stricter gun control NOW.

    Why was this gun nut mother allowed to buy a semi-automatic assault weapon???

    I am sick to death of Second Amendment fetishists defending the status quo on gun laws. They are partially responsible for this tragedy and what part of WELL REGULATED do they not understand?

    There was an attack at a school in China the same day. The attacker used a knife and guess how many kids died? ZERO.

    December 17, 2012 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  8. California Gary

    That's funny Wilson........I was thinking just the opposite of the point you make. Why does the "party of life" as they like to call themselves, have no problem supporting guns of all types for anyone that wants them? Are you, and they, really going to claim that young man had every "right" to walk around with three loaded weapons and hundreds of rounds and shoot at anything or anyone he wanted to? Does the "right" of someone to own an assault weapon and high capacity magazine trump the right of someone to not be shot by one while attending school or going to work?

    December 17, 2012 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    I would simply ask the parents "Don't you wish you could have been at the school, armed with your own gun, and been able to protect your child?"

    I would like to know how 1st amendment "fetishists" can justify the overwhelming amount of time the news media spends covering these monsters, and making them into rockstars for the wacko's. The football player in KC got more media attention and praise ("He was such a great athelete and a great person", etc) than any of our men and women in uniform ever get. The trend in mass shootings has gone up since CNN (FBI statistics show the trend started around the early 80's) started pushing news 24/7. Gun were around LONG before the 1980's, and laws were virtually non-existant controlling the sale of guns in the 30's, 40's, and 50's. Guns havent' changed since that time period, people have.

    December 17, 2012 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  10. Infowars


    Another pair of actors in Sandy hoax´╗┐ exposed. 100% BUSTED!

    Its unbelievable but it seems true..

    December 17, 2012 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  11. showmethemoney

    Other than these rare mass shootings account for a very small portion of gun crime. We could save far more lives if we passed a few laws to prohibit illegal drugs.

    December 17, 2012 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  12. caesarbc

    Political policies shaped and molded by tragedies...
    I hate to consider the future of politics then.

    December 17, 2012 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  13. MrsFizzy

    Why don't we hold a public referendum? Then people who love their guns more than other people's safety can't say it was the big bad government.

    December 17, 2012 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  14. LazyCitizens

    I think the US citizens need to start taking an issues test before being polled or being allowed to vote! Gun control may help in some situations but in Australia once gun control laws were enforced there have been more armed robberies and burglaries.

    Even if gun control laws limit weapons to LE/MIL – it is easy to imagine this happening to a LE/MIL family and their children. What will we do then, take away LE/MIL weapons?

    There needs to be balance. Profile gun purchasers psychiatrically maybe? Put biometric identification on gun safes? Limit bullet purchases?

    December 17, 2012 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  15. Rudy NYC

    I challenge the NRA to come up with solutions. A licensed gun owner should be held criminally liable if they knowingly allow an UNLICENSED individual to use one of their weapons. I would be held criminally liable if I loaned my car to someone without a license. Gun owners should be required to keep their weapons secure from unauthorized, unlicensed use.

    How many times have you heard about an armed home invasion in your local county in the past decade or two? If you did, it was usually associated with drug activity or some other criminal activity.

    December 17, 2012 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  16. indie5962

    The 2nd amendment clearly gives the right to regulate the keeping and bearing of arms, it is the first clause in the amendment, preceding the rest and laying the groundwork for such.

    A WELL REGULATED Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    December 17, 2012 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  17. MrsFizzy

    I wonder why my comment is held in moderation for simply questioning why this is not put to a public referendum...??

    December 17, 2012 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  18. Mike

    Mexico has extremely strict gun laws prohibiting law abiding citizens from owning guns. We should do the same here, it's been working so well for them.

    December 17, 2012 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  19. Quoter

    Gun lovers and NRA advocates have continuously cited the 2nd amendment as their right to possess deadly firearms such as semiautomatic (military grade) rifles and handguns. The truth is, the 2nd amendment was written for militia groups, at a time when weapons were 1 shot 1 load. With democracy in place and weaponry potency increasing, the 2nd amendment has become obsolete. It's time to amend the 2nd amendment.

    December 17, 2012 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  20. plain&simple

    Why do the weapon advocates keep equating CONTROL with ABOLISH? We are talking making sales of weapons.... not guns and who can buy them regulated. That's it.

    December 17, 2012 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  21. Jesse

    If gun control could solve this problem, I'd gladly give up all my guns – of which I have many. It won't – it's the mental issue issue. We'll never see a database of people who have a mental illness that should preclude them from owning a gun and since we won't, we'll always have the terrible tragedies.

    December 17, 2012 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  22. Adam

    DC Johnny, you're a fool. The right to bear arms was designed as a protection against enemies of the nation. Not to shoot our neighbors.

    December 17, 2012 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  23. Fred F.

    Sad that liberals would use this tragedy to push gun control. The shooting was in a gun free zone. To bad the killer didn't follow the law. Criminals tend to do that you know. Has anyone mentioned what mental medication he was on? Or what if he decided to use bombs instead of guns? We have to go after the evil in mens hearts. Banning guns will make no difference.

    December 17, 2012 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  24. DT

    This guy killed his own mother. What kind of man does that? I don't understand how introducing new gun legislation addresses this disturbing fact.

    December 17, 2012 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  25. mg

    Trying to ban guns in the United States is like trying to ban sand at the beach. As a gun enthusiast, Adam Lanza's mother probably would have complied with any stricter licensing or registration scheme put in place. If stricter laws are passed, don't expect any miraculous decline in violence. Guns will still remain popular and widely dispersed throughout American society. That is why this issue needs to be approached from other perspectives as well. We can't let kids with poor social functioning slip through the cracks. They need to be integrated into society or alienation and resentment will build until some tragedy results. In many cases this may be drug addiction or suicide, but a handful will take it out on the world in a final act of violence. Parents, teachers, and others responsible for children must make sure they are properly socialized and can meet the demands of society, and if they can't then we need to make sure their needs are met in an appropriate therapeutic setting.

    December 17, 2012 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
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