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. Rudy NYC

    response wrote:

    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.
    You need to read the statistics on the sales of assault weapons, and the number of crimes committed with these types of weapons. Compare the numbers to when the Brady Bill was in effect, compared to the dramatic rise since it expired and the right wing fought hard to not renew it.

    You and so many others keep repeating what will not work to control the violence, yet no one has come up with a viable solution. Arming the teachers is utterly ridiculous, because then you would have to arm the children so that they can protect themselves once the teacher is taken out.

    December 17, 2012 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  2. KJParks

    As a gun owner and law abiding citizen, I continue to ask this question, "How many licensed gun owners are responsible for crime or how many crimes are commieted by licensed gun owners" vs. the amount of crimes commited by illegally obatined guns. Please find this stastic, Law abiding gun oweners arent' the problem......
    More laws and regulations won't stop crimes commited with guns, enforcement and strick penalties for crimes commited with guns.

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


    @ 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!!!!
    Really? Then you are not paying attention, typical neo-com. That is exactly what is being pushed. Ways to disarm the populace.

    December 17, 2012 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  4. Wayne

    I have been a hunter for over 50 years. There is no need for any gun to have over a 5 shot clip. Even shotguns have a plug in them so for some species you can't have over 3 shells in them. No one needs an assult rifle. We need to have common sense regulation.

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

    we need to fix our mental health care network first and have a way to add it to the steps in obtaining a gun. banning assault weapons is just one step but we are missing the big picture by not addressing the real issue of mental health.

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

    The worst US school massacre on record was in Bath Michigan in 1927. It is most important to note that this (the worst of the bunch) was not committed with a gun of any kind. But rather explosives (which anyone can make at home) and an automobile. Linking gun control to these attacks is the same as saying that outlawing the sales of volleyballs will stop people from going to the beach!

    Where there is a will, there are ample ways, even when that will is evil. Even if you could ban all guns in this nation (which would likely not be a good thing in the long run) you will not stop the attacks on the innocent. The attackers will just use a different method of attack. Just like in Bath Michigan.

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

    It is not the govts jjob to regulate every aspect of our life. Speak for yourself, maybe u do not want to be able to defend yourself when a criminal, who has a gun, is attacking you or breaking into your home...but most of use can handle it and make decisions for ourselves. But gee, thanks for letting us know what we can and cant have..u lefty looon!!!

    December 17, 2012 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  8. Data Driven

    Ok, so some have responded to my original post basically asserting that people can be evil - that's the first part of the argument. And let me say at once that I wholeheartedly agree. The second part of the argument is that we need assault weapons to remain readily available in order to protect ourselves from evil people with assault weapons that are already available. I'm afraid I don't buy into this circular logic.

    However, since we do agree that people can be evil - or, more commonly, insane - mightn't I suggest that we makAR H

    December 17, 2012 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  9. Matt

    To Ancorite, I never mentioned the killings that involved knives. But you are incoorect, the China attack on the school the same day, didn't kill anyone, the one 3 months before that killed 8 people. However that's not what I was talking about. I was talking about the 87 people killed because the killer simply lit the entire place on fire after soaking it in gas. And how there was almost no media attention. My point is people will find a way. These guns were not legally purchased by the person who did this. Should the mother have had a better means of securing her firearms? Of course, any responsible gun owner should. What I'm trying to say is the tool someone uses isn't the issue. My problem is that we've created a society where this person resorted to killing kids in the first place. That's the problem!!!

    December 17, 2012 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  10. Linda

    The sole purpose of cars is to DRIVE not to KILL people. The sole purpose of guns is to KILL. Fat people kill themselves with a fork.

    December 17, 2012 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  11. Gee

    Never waste a good tragedy, right Obama and you libs?

    December 17, 2012 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  12. JOHN

    This has nothing to do with has to do with crazy people, scholl crimes are committed around the globe with gasoline, knives, machetes etc. The problem is the drugging of our childeren because they are to energetic at age 6 for the parents and teachers to "handle"....but u can keep blaming guns without addressing societal problems such as secularism, made up ADHD etc.

    December 17, 2012 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    I think we should shift our focus from "gun control" to our poor health care system... some of these disturbed souls could have gotten help before committing these acts.

    December 17, 2012 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  14. Al in New Jersey

    One thing's for sure: the Founding Fathers never dreamed of the mischief they created when they wrote that 2nd amendment.

    December 17, 2012 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  15. Data Driven

    Oh for goodness sake I accidentally hit POST too soon -

    I meant to finish by suggesting that we make it harder for evil or crazy people to OBTAIN weapons of mass destruction. I'm not suggesting a ban on all guns. But I think it's reasonable to disallow folks who aren't in the military or in law enforcement to STOCKPILE guns, like this nut's mother did.

    December 17, 2012 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  16. yash

    KJ Parks- this shooting was a result of a licensed gun owner!! Lanza's mom was a legal gun owner. It was her guns that were used. She is responsible for the safety of her guns. she is also directly responsible. Think please – the statistics will count these murders as done by an unlisensed person-but you and I know that legal guns were used here. You will deviate widely from the truth if you are looking for yes or no answers .

    December 17, 2012 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  17. Liz

    Guns should be banned altogether. Anyone caught with a weapon should do mandatory jail time of considerable length. English and European societies ban guns and even the police dont carry them. The result is less violent. crime. How many people do you know who need to hunt in this country? And really, do you need an assault rifle to kill a deer? Why is killing animals a passtime in this day and age?

    December 17, 2012 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  18. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    As I said before, if gun lobbyists in America are NOT willing to take drastic action to rid our communities of deadly assault weapons immediately, then we should implement the most feasible measure to protect our citizens from such senseless carnage right NOW. If you look back at the shootings in Columbine, VT, Arizona, Wisconsin, Aurora and now Newtown, what these shooting have in common is that all the victims were unarmed and defenseless civilians. So unless drastic measures are taken tomorrow to protect and defend our citizens, what is the most important and effective measure can we take today to protect and defend our citizens from such heinous acts of violence in the future. I believe that what our congress, state and local government can and SHOULD do tomorrow is to pass legislation making it MANDATORY for every elementary, middle, high school, college and university and shopping mall in America to deploy a permanent SWAT team before their doors are open for business. History has also shown us that deranged cowards like these criminals are often afraid to take on individuals who are armed and would fight back.So instead they seek soften and vulnerable targets like these little innocent children. But whether congress and our gun lobbyists in America act or not, how do we assure parents that their children will be safe once they dropped them off for school and leave for work. Let's face it, the school is like home away from home for our kids and traditionally the next safe place for our kids to be during the day and if our schools cannot assure parents that their kids will be safe from such heinous and unthinkable carnage, then a SWAT team of two or more armed police officers should become MANDATORY in all schools, colleges and universities and shopping malls in Americas as a first step. And if any legislators are reading this, I say bring up this issue in congress and in your state and local government tomorrow.. After all, we owe it to our kids and citizens.

    December 17, 2012 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  19. Wisconsin deer hunter

    Every hunter I know would agree what Wayne said above.

    December 17, 2012 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  20. Matt

    I've come to realize most people who are posting here have never purchased a gun. If you knew the paper work you had to go through and then the waiting period while they do a background check, you would realize that these laws do work for the people willing to obey them.

    Lets look at this another way, if we totally ban guns, people will get them just like they get drugs. Granted it might not be as easy, but once you have one then you can now commit crime on a for the most part defenseless people. (here come the people who actually think cops will stop this) Cops are great, but they are frankly out gunned and under staffed. I agree that once they arrive on the scene the criminals are pretty much screwed, but they don't prevent the violent crime in the first place. Why is it we teach kids to stop drop an roll but we don't educate them about firearms safety? Why aren't we as a people trying to address the fact that there are people who think this kind of viloence is their only resort. it's the whole ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

    December 17, 2012 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  21. RickW

    Would someone define an assault weapon?

    December 17, 2012 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  22. Dane

    the time for a poll right after this tragedy classy of course you will see a spike in it. Tards!

    December 17, 2012 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  23. QS

    I support the 2nd Amendment.....I don not support the NRA.

    I think a national call of common sense and empathy is needed, and now is the perfect time. I would ask any and all NRA members who disagree with the NRA's positions on sensible gun control laws to cancel their memberships with the NRA immediately.

    Call them up, tell them you want to cancel, and when they ask why tell them because you can't support a lobbying group that refuses to acknowledge that their positions fly in the face of common sense and lack any shred of compassion or empathy for those who continually suffer from ignorant obstruction to rational regulations.

    December 17, 2012 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  24. Wilson

    Ban guns period!
    Really? I wonder if you would feel that way if you were robbed at gun point. Also, statistically, areas that have the most gun ownership has the lowest crime rate. Areas with the "bans" on guns have the highest crime rates. Things that make you go hmmmmmm???

    December 17, 2012 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  25. Old_School

    I agree w/ Wayne. ANY type of Fully Automatic weapon is not necessary for a civilian (I am civilian who has never been military). If you cannot hit your target in 1 or 2 shots, you should not even be hunting. Therefore, I am in favor of banning all FULLY automatic weapons for the civilian population.
    Again, well stated on the true cause of this tragedy, which is the PERSON (mentally ill or not).

    December 17, 2012 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
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