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. Leslie

    Assault weapons do not belong on our streets! If you want to protect yourself a simple hand gun will do and if you want to hunt, a bow and arrow would be a real skilled way to go but if you must, a simple rifle will do.

    December 17, 2012 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  2. Long Time Republican

    DC Johnny, thank god the founding fathers were smart enough to include the key words "well regulated" in the 2nd amendment.

    December 17, 2012 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  3. Long Time Republican

    Yes Mike, because Operation Fast and Furious had nothing to do with it.

    December 17, 2012 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  4. Nancy Studer

    Guess what folks. The discussion's over. It is time for action. It's a new game and a new day, and we ALL have the blood of these children on our hands for our twisted logic in favor of unlimited possession of guns, and our cowardice for not standing up to the NRA. Enough is enough. It is time for reasonable, logical gun regulation that begins with outlawing assault and semi-automatic weapons, closes loopholes for gun purchases at gun shows without a background check, requires gun safety courses that emphasize secure storage and proper use (and provide further screening of the psychological state of the potential owner), and requires law enforcement and the military to maintain the criminal data base.

    December 17, 2012 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  5. Grandpa

    We as a Society have raised a generation of children that have been exposed and taught that killing and violence is ok by our media including TV,Movies and Videos Games' The simulation of killing and violence that so many video games total involve, have taught our children not only how to kill but that the more they kill offers them a reward in terms of a score.
    "Video games don't kill people" they only teach kids how to kill and allows them to pratice killing, unfortantly usually with guns.

    December 17, 2012 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  6. Sai Devulapalli

    The shootings have proved yet again that sane gun-owners are not always responsible.

    Can technology minimize the problem of "auto-loading guns ending up in the wrong hands"? Guns are "valuable and personal assets" like bank accounts and laptops. You need a password to access a bank account or a work laptop. I don't share my passwords with my kids and my work laptop is useless to someone who steals it. Why not have a password reader attached to the auto-loading gun to make the gun work. Some folks would say, we tried it before and it does not work. But lets think through the objections .

    Objection 1: Its too much of a hassle to retrofit password readers on weapons that can reload and will never happen?
    Retort 1: What "amount of hassle are *responsible* auto-loading gun owners willing to put up with to save the lives of countless innocents". Does second amendment talk about "right to bear arms hassle-free ?"

    Objection 2. Not all auto-loading weapons can be retrofitted.
    Retort 2: I am assuming that responsible gun owners who own auto-loaders are not daily wage earners. Can we mandate that all *functional* auto-loading weapons be recycled by the owner, at their expense, with new ones with password readers. When young children are paying for our liberties with their lives, is it unreasonable to expect, presumably well-to-do responsible auto-loading weapon owners to pay for their liberties with cash? Does second amendment talk about "right to bear arms affordably by the average citizen" ? On the upside, it creates plenty of jobs in the gun industry to make the password readers and the new auto-loading guns with built in ones.

    Objection 3: The password reader may not work reliably. Technology is error prone.
    Retort 3: On how many occasions do auto-loading weapons need to be taken out of the storage and used on a moments notice? If the owner of the auto-loading weapon needs to use it, they need to enter their password, see the led turn green and know that the auto-loading weapon is ready. If the led light does not turn green or you forgot your password, your local gun store will be more than happy to fix it for you.

    Objection 4: Any such laws only restrict our freedoms and infringe upon the second amendment.
    Retort 4: The second amendment talks about "right to bear arms". Why are we content on limiting the definition of "arms" to semi-automatic weapons? Why arent grenades, rocket launchers, anti-aircraft missiles considered arms? Unfortunately, neither these "arms" nor the self-reloading weapons existed when the second amendment was written. If semi-automatic weapons are truly needed for protecting freedoms in the US, why don't we use technology we use to secure bank accounts and laptops to secure lives?

    I think some folks are confusing freedom with convenience/expense. To me (and to our proud soldiers in active duty), these are normally mutually exclusive !

    December 17, 2012 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    Ban guns period!

    December 17, 2012 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  8. MightyMoo

    At some point there's going to be enough school shootings that guns will go. It's only a matter of time at the rate things are going in America for that. That is ofcourse unless something else happens to deal with the problem once and for all. Apparently people who aren't resposible enough for gun ownership are getting a hold of them and using them.

    People are dying, it's time to put the guns down and away so there are fewer and fewer of them around to actually hurt people with instead of all over the place.

    I'd love to see people own guns responsibly, problem is there are enough bad apples in America to ruin it for everyone else like it or not. If that weren't the case then we wouldn't be reading about this latest school shooting.

    December 17, 2012 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  9. Slowgun

    You will hear from the pro gun folks that casr kill more people every year then guns do. But let point out a few things.
    Automobile accidents are just that accidents. Most gun deaths aren't accidents. You need a license to drive a car. In order to get a license you have to take a test that shows you know how to handle a car. You don't have to take any tests, or attend any course before getting a gun. The car has to be register, depending on your state, the gun may not need to be registers. Most state require the car to be insured, gun don't require any type of insurance or liability coverage.Laws have been passed to make cars safer – speed limits, seat belts, air bags,...what laws have been passed to make guns safer?

    December 17, 2012 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  10. ja

    those weapons that boy used is design for the military or law enforcement, we bulid walls around us, but within those walls a just what we try to get away from(dysfunction), what is the mindset of a twenty year old wanting to exact killings of that magnitude, america need to address mental health also

    December 17, 2012 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  11. rdm

    1) There was no assault rifle involved in this shooting, please stop calling it that. An assault rifle is a select-fire (that means "machine gun") military rifle, and they are illegal for sale to civilians (have been for many years, going back to heavy regulation in 1934). The rifle used in this shooting, and most others recently, is an "assault weapon", a politically-created term designed to cause confusion with "assault rifle". It has no meaningful functional differentiation from a standard semiautomatic hunting rifle; "assault weapons" are defined in law by such features as grip style and bayonette lugs... they make no difference in how deadly the firearm is.

    2) There are over 300 million firearms lawfully owned in the US. Even if there were somehow a 100% ban on firearms in this country, and cops went door to door and confiscated them, how many do you think you would round up? Half? That would still leave almost enough for every adult. And they would now be illegal, and thus there would be a black market, totally removed from government supervision - just like with alcohol prohibition, and drug prohibition (those both worked SO well!). Regardless of your feelings on guns, we can't have a productive discussion about "regulating" them without acknowleding that total disarmament is impossible. The corollary to this is that the more firearms are regulated, the more firearms will be in the hands of criminals and the fewer in the hands of the law-abiding.

    3) Every mass shooting in this country has been in a so-called "gun free zone", such as a school, where guns are not allowed by law. Of course, criminals bent on mass murder do not care about such laws, but the law-abiding people who might be able to stop them do obey such laws. The criminals purposefully target these locations because they know they will not meet resistance. I think a better strategy than trying to do away with guns (impossible) would be to have an armed guard at schools, or even allow the staff to carry if they want to (we armed pilots and added air marshalls after 9/11...).

    December 17, 2012 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  12. timetoAct

    It is a sick idea, thinking that we need automatic/semi-automatic guns to protect our self. 2nd amendment gave us the right to protect ourself but that ttime they dont have any idea of this automatic guns that kills hundreds of innocent people in few minutes. Time to add strict provision to restrict automatic/semi-automatic assault veapons from the society.

    December 17, 2012 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  13. USCitizen

    What if you make it so you can't get into a school without an escort? Don't just leave the doors open for anyone to enter but control access in and out of the school. This will not only make it very difficult for someone to enter but it will also keep our kids inside the school where they belong. All this talk about gun control is stupid and will go nowhere because it's not the guns but the people wielding them that kill. Trust me if they want to harm you they will find away guns or no guns.

    December 17, 2012 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  14. are122

    Timothy McVeigh killed 168, many children...with fertilizer. A bomb. Frankly I believe when people stop looking at inanimate objects and start looking sociological problems and actually doing something about them there might be some change.

    December 17, 2012 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    I think we may need to just get rid of guns all together and should only be allowed for law enforcement.

    December 17, 2012 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  16. Seriously?

    22 children in China attacked with a knife – All are alive. 20 children shot with a fire arm in CT – All are dead. When the 2nd ammendment was written, America was a very different place and the weapons of today certainly did not exist then. There was a time for that ammendment but that time has passed. And to compare gun control to abortion rights? There is a huge difference between a woman's right to choose and working to get guns off the street. Tell me really – what exactly is the purpse of a citizen owning a gun? Where is the value? So that you can go to target practice? So that you can defend your home from a crime that will probably never happen? To hunt? (Use a bow and arrow for God's sake). Again, where is the value? Then compare it to the value of 20 innocent children.

    December 17, 2012 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  17. Alger Dave

    Too bad the liberals care so little about the mentally ill that they're not pushing for any changes to the way we treat and deal with them, instead of trying to fool us all with a 'assault weapon ban' that doesn't ban assault weapons (whatever those are) but pays lip service to gun control and plays well with the liberal base back home. Stop playing politics with this issue President Obama! It's disgraceful! The real issue here is the horrible state of our mental health system and how it leaves all of us in real risk of danger from the few mentally ill who are dangerous. The only 2 things more insane than folks who kill 20 kindergartners are 1) using this tragedy for political maneuvering over gun control and 2) the state of our mental health system in America after years of neglect. Let's realize that fixing these problems are tied to helping the worst mentally ill among us, and that this is going to cost some money – well spent by people who care enough about others to open their pocketbook. Weren't those supposed to be Democrats?

    December 17, 2012 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  18. Rudy NYC

    @John on page 2:

    Most all of those ideas are in place in most schools. Unfortunately, those items are also the first expenditures to be cut when education budgets are cut.

    December 17, 2012 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  19. Sheena

    I don't own a gun nor do I have a desire to own one. HOWEVER, every time something like this happens people get on the band wagon about gun laws. Do you all know that the guns were LEGALLY OWNED by the mother? An Adult? Someone who "liked guns" .... and "liked going to a gun range" ???? If the gun laws were increased do you honestly think the Mother would not have been able to own them??? What's next? Investigate/do a background check on every person living in the house? OR kin to the person trying to obtain a gun????

    December 17, 2012 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  20. Slowgun

    DC John, it you want, you can own as many single shot, musket loaders you want.

    December 17, 2012 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    I think it is time we wake up and realize that we cannot keep allowing this to happen. I will give up my guns if it will bring those kids back.

    December 17, 2012 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  22. vic , nashville ,tn

    @ myviewis , Threatening is illegal

    We have to ban assault weapons and sale of high-capacity magazines
    GOP logic doesn’t make sense
    1) Republicans want to cut health care so mentally ill can’t get treatment
    2) Federal funding cut will hurt cities across America Mayors can’t hire enough first responders
    3) More guns

    December 17, 2012 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  23. Fred64995

    There is no 100% solution to this dilemma as there will always be unstable people hiding in the woodwork, however, I think the best way to make a dent in this problem would be massive class-action lawsuits against gun manufacturers similar to the ones launched against tobacco companies ; and I mean civil lawsuits worth billions of dollars ; settlements so high that it would drive the price of guns sky high, or drive the gun companies into bankruptcy. Gun enthusiasts won't be happy with this idea, in which case it might be time to find another hobby. There's no earthly reason for a civilian to own an assault rifle ; nobody hunts deer with an assault rifle. And I don't buy this : " guns don't kill people, people kill people " routine. People with guns kill people !

    December 17, 2012 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  24. Guest Too

    The biggest influence on societies decay is liberalism, just look at our prison populations.....

    December 17, 2012 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  25. Nupur D Chowdhury

    Possessing GUN is NOT an option!!!
    We have the law enforcement authorities to possess and use these devices when such stray incidents happen to occur. Now; if you are to argue that these aren’t “stray incidents” are we trying to say we are back to the state that Hobbes described to be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short…….where every man is Enemy to every man, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall???
    If we can’t trust, depend and respect each other time to perish from the face of the earth.

    December 17, 2012 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
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