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 McDaniel

    That would be inaccurate. CNN is a Democratic Party propagandist media, so of course they are going to say that, for political reasons, but NOT because there is any truth in it.

    What they are really doing, is trying to brain wash the public to believe it.

    December 17, 2012 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  2. Alex

    This article is right, we should ban guns and while we're at it we should ban alcohol too....oh wait....

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

    The only thing that has changed is the media editors are using events like this to push their agenda's more and more. They claim there is a upswing in people wanting stricter gun control laws, yet gun sales are through the roof.
    Making guns illegal isn't going to fix anything. Murder is illegal but that doesn't stop people from doing it.
    What we need is a means of protection at the source of the crimes, and that means teachers and school staff that have guns. But sadly, the only place these shootings happen are in areas where leftists felt it necissary to forbid law abiding citizens from going, with the means of protection against law breakers.
    Israel and Thialand allow teachers to carry guns in school, and ever since they adopted those policies school shootings/bmobing have gone way down in those countries.
    The only people to blame in this incident are the shooter himself and the politicians that say the average joe shouldn't be allowed to protect himself, but the politician can have armed body gaurds because they feel they are more important than you. Here's a new flash for you. Liberal politicians HATE you. They think you are stupid and they want nothing more than total control over you.
    You'll never be able to get all the guns, the only ones turned in will be the ones of law abiding citizens. I'll tell you right now that's one law I'll break. If you want to come get them you'll get them one round at a time.

    December 17, 2012 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  4. gcbruce

    I live in Canada and I think it is Crazy that the United States allows people to carry a gun!! i don't care how crazy someone is, there is no way one person could of killed 26 people on his own without using a gun..Hopefully your politicians will wake up and band all guns..The only Country that allows this and has the highiest death rate of pepole being killed with guns. Except for the Islamic Countries that is..Mental health issues ,well that is another reason you should thank President Obama for putting in the Obamacare. Canadians are covered and there is always help out there for us, if needed with our Medicare.

    December 17, 2012 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  5. Anonymous

    We live in a violent social environment. We need to ban these guns. Too many guns and too many insane people with them.
    End of story!!

    December 17, 2012 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  6. Michael

    Please repeal the second amendment. Just please do it. I can't wait to read everyone's reaction to another tragedy that happens after all the guns were "confiscated" from the American people. What will you gun grabbers want to do next?
    National Guard forced entry into homes to manually search for weapons?

    December 17, 2012 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  7. Give the children a chance.

    A 20 minute wait for help is unacceptable.
    Public gathering places should have certified staff that can pin down or neutralize threats.
    Our children deserve better.

    December 17, 2012 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC


    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.
    Consider this, then. Had he not killed his mother and himself, she would have not been held responsible for keeping the guns inaccessible to the man, despite his mental history.

    His posession of the weaponry would have been treated as a theft on his part, at worst. The mother would not have held liable for anything, most especially if the guns were in an unlocked display case or something.

    December 17, 2012 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  9. Lardeau

    Of course a better monitoring job can be done in the future. The will is now here. Delegate a bipartisan small committee to present a new viable gun-control system. All retail outlets should be made to become Agents. RATION the ammunition.

    December 17, 2012 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  10. Jeff S

    Sure it is. Fear is a powerful motivator. People fear what freedom means and some won't stop until we are all "protected" from freedom.

    December 17, 2012 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  11. Rufus

    A sample of 603 people shows most Americans are in favor of new gun control laws.... you serious. EXPAND your sample

    December 17, 2012 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  12. Ruben Solorzano

    I'd we are going to start making progress to change our gun-trigger happy culture, we must use the media to provide more awareness of the day-to day effects of this problem. Maybe starting a fire arm killings count like the national debt count clock so everybody sees how many shootings occur in our country will help understand the magnitude of this social problem.

    December 17, 2012 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  13. The Real Tom Paine

    For those chanting the 2nd Amendment as being an example of the " will of the people", what if the will of the people dictated that easy accessibility to non-sporting semi-automatics be banned, and the ability of people to own one be heavily taxed and regulated? Will you then subject the rest of of to a tyranny of a minority? No one on the right is willing to put money into education and social services to keep these kids froms slipping through the cracks, yet you have no problem letting them get access to weapons because you won't spend the money to make sure these people get the help they need before they committ some horrific act. Its the spinlessness of the Right in dealing with the consequences of their horrible policies that has put us into this mess, where mass shooting cause us to cry for only a day or two until the next round.

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

    "Gun control apparently is a big joke. Let's see what a gun shortage can do."
    It will create more victims. The criminals will get guns regardless of the laws, and will feel no fear about robbing someone at gunpoint, as they know they will be safe.

    December 17, 2012 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  15. Rethink that

    America's opinion on gun control does seem to be changing. These discussion boards are full of comments from anti-gun people that stricter gun laws do not work. They certainly did not work in this tragedy where the State has had a ban on assault weapons since 1993 and they will not work by applying a ban on such weapons on a Federal level. Together, we MUST dig much deeper to find the cause for these shootings instead of passing more laws that will certainly divide us as a people even further.

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

    No legitimately owned and registered full auto weapon has ever been used in the commission of a crime. It's already against the law to possess unregistered assault and full auto weapons. Laws don't work and unless you're willing to compensate the legitimate owners of those weapons, you'll never get them back.

    December 17, 2012 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |

    It's not the guns, stupid, it's the culture here in America. Look at what is going on: attempts to make marijuana legal, drugs being glorified, violence in movies and video games, lack of morality, those issues are what drives these kind of things. Oh, and I might point out that the FBI and other crime stats do claim there is less violent crime now. Maybe these terrible events are being made bigger than what they really are.

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

    Not to ,ong ago, the general wisdom was that there could be no Health Care Reform in this country. I think the President, with the growing support evidenced in polls, can do it.

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

    As a student of history, I often times wonder why we put so much emphasis on the opinions of a small, select group of men from 250 years ago. True, our founding fathers were intelligent, wise men who had the best of intentions for this new country for which they were fighting. But they were men, and men are prone to mistakes and a lack of forethought. They could not have imagined the types of crimes that are being committed today, nor the power behind the "arms" in which they described (i.e. a musket vs. a semi-automatic rifle). It is to be noted too, that back in those days the mentally ill were kept in hospitals and away from any type of weapons. Today, they are free to move about as the citizens they are and their treatments can be hit-or-miss. Things are more complicated than "2nd Amendment rights". I think Benjamin Franklin would agree.

    December 17, 2012 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  20. Sniffit

    Teatroll Rosetta Stone says:

    "They're going to do it anyway" = "I want this conversation shut down and I don't want our legislature trying to come up with any solutions, no matter how creative or effective. Give up. You can never stop or decrease the incidence rate of any of it. Nobody is safe and that's the way it should be. Your children are DOA if they go to public schools. Their lives are the coin we spend for our freedom. Life in the USA should be like living in your favorite spaghetti western."

    December 17, 2012 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  21. jrl1234

    Show me one example (one area) where strict gun control works. Chicago has the strictest gun laws in this country and the worst gun violence. California also has some of the strictest gun laws yet have higher violent crime than Texas. Texas has the most pro gun stance in the country ranks low in violent crime though virtually the same demographics and populations as Cali.

    Its a sad day when something like this shooting happens but we don't need to make rash emotional laws we need to heal from the pain and make a educated, informed decision that that will have a positive impact. Strict gun laws in some cases have a negative effect that end up costing lives.

    Mass shootings, though tragic are at a 20 year low in the US and come out to less than 100 victims per year. You can ban every shooting and sharp thing in the world and you wont prevent a crazy person from inflicting mass causality. Firearms are used in the US more than 100,000 times are year to prevent crime ans save lives. You don't want to live in a place where you cant defend yourself.

    December 17, 2012 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  22. advocatusdiaboli

    @Leslie: There is no such thing as an assault weapon. There are assault rifles which are fully-automatic military rifle illegal for the public to own since 1943. All the rest, no matter how scary you think they are, are semi-auto rifles and fire no faster than semi-auto hunting rifles. To be taken seriously, educate yourself. Gun owners want this kind of thing to stop too. We have children too.

    Want to REALLY understand assault weapons? Go to YouTube and search for: The Truth About Semi-Auto Firearms. great video by a San Jose CA cop on "assault weapons".

    December 17, 2012 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  23. Steve

    I notice in the comments some of the same rabid opposition regarding gun control. I'm beginnig to think much of this is NRA initiated. Hard to believe there is this much callousness in the country.

    December 17, 2012 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  24. Terry

    Absolutely not true. The majority of Americans are not in favor of banning firearms. People who are mentally ill, or just plain evil, will always find a way to do something horrific. Why aren't we arming guards in these schools? You never see a situation like this happen in a police station. Is it because everyone there has a gun?
    We need to be addressing the issue of mental health in these young adults and children. So many parents that see these warning signs in their children are not able to do anything about it because of a lack of support, in the medical community.
    Ben Franklins famous quote...Disarming innocent people does not protect innocent people.

    December 17, 2012 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  25. Joe

    Carrie says the goal is to 'Control People'. How many millions of people are there in this country? Can you control each one of those millions and their behavior? Your goal is Unachievable and Unrealistic! And your comparison to people killed in cars is silly. People that are killed with guns are done so with intent and malice. People killed in car accidents are not intentional but due to carelessness. To compare these 2 is absolutely silly. Tell us why people should be allowed to carry military style weapons that discharge 100 bullets per minute? Tell us a good reason!! Explain.....! In the Connecticut shooting, they found some child victims with 11 bullets in them! Explain to us why you insist that everyone be allowed to carry such weapons!!!! Then, go to Connecticut and stand face to face with each one of the 26 families who have lost and explain to each of them your reasoning!!!!
    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 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
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