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. karek40

    If guns are responsible then cars are responsible for the drunks driving them. If gun control would work, then meth control would have worked, laws for our highways would have worked. We have laws that say it is illegal to commit murder, crazies that do those things will strap a bomb on themselves and blow up someone besided themselves if they can't get a gun, example the man in china who stabbed several children to death, you going to legislate knives. The real question that should be answered is how much is the media contributing to this sort of thing by writing and talking about nothing else for days and days.

    December 17, 2012 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  2. RickW

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

    Yes they did, that is the reason for the 2nd Amendment

    December 17, 2012 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  3. Rudy NYC


    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.
    Not true, and you have been lied to.

    Chicago does not have the strictest gun laws. You are referring to their ban on handguns and concealed weapons. That was overturned by a federal judge a few years ago. Chicago no longer has gun laws.

    Since the ban on handguns was taken off the books Chicago has seen a dramatic rise in violent crimes committed with handguns. The actual facts refute your claims.

    December 17, 2012 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  4. scarf

    I believe if a gun control law prohibiting a rate of fire faster than 100 rounds/minute and magazines bigger than 5 rounds were passed, most gun control advocates would consider this a step in the right direction. Would gun advocates find such restrictions acceptable?

    December 17, 2012 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  5. Tom Sanders

    The concept that you need any sort of gun to protect yourself is baseless. If anyone were to assault you, chances are very good you won't be able to use your gun effectively to defend yourself (there is research behind this... google it).

    And for those who enjoy owning a gun for some reason, I say for the love of the rest of us, please find another less dangerous hobby! If anyone who enjoys something that brings a high level of danger toward the rest of the people, should really evaluate himself. That is a very selfish thing to do.

    I don't see any other reason behind not banning guns all together.

    December 17, 2012 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    "the China attack on the school the same day, didn't kill anyone,"

    Know why? Because he didn't have a gun.

    December 17, 2012 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  7. Jese

    I don't want to wait until more Americans want to ban weapons like the ones used in this tragedy. Instead, can we get some of our troops who have been shipped abroad to nations we do not have problems with, and post some of our troops at every public school in our country. Isn't time we start using our large and powerful Department of Defense, and use it to protect our little innocent Americans who go to school to learn. I know seeing an American troop at the front of a school would give so many children reassurance and a gunman less of a target.


    These two changes are within our reach, within our budget (Dept of Defense has largest budget)


    December 17, 2012 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  8. FactsBeforeFeelings

    Emotions can make bad public policy, as can hasty action.

    Guns are used 2.5 million times a year in self-defense. Law-abiding citizens use guns to defend themselves against criminals as many as 2.5 million times every
    year—or about 6,850 times a day.(1) This means that each year, firearms are used more than 80 TIMES MORE OFTEN TO PROTECT THE LIVES of honest citizens than to take lives.(2)

    1 Gary Kleck (ACLU member) and Marc Gertz,
    "Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense
    With a Gun," 86 The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology,
    Northwestern University School of Law, 1 (Fall 1995):164.
    2 According to the National Safety Council, the total number of gun deaths
    (by accidents, suicides and homicides) account for less than 30,000
    deaths per year. See Injury Facts, published yearly by the National
    Safety Council, Itasca, Illinois.

    December 17, 2012 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  9. Matt

    Please explain how criminals will follow stricter gun laws? Please explain how criminals get illegal drugs that we've already banned? As a gun owner I'm all about reducing violence. However, if you think you can sleep better at night because some politician banned guns, then why are you worried your teenager might get in a car and drive drunk? Didn't they know that's illegal? Laws won't fix this.

    December 17, 2012 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  10. AnnoyedByPolotics

    @Rudy NYC
    "A licensed gun owner should be held criminally liable if they knowingly allow an UNLICENSED individual to use one of their weapons."

    Gun owners ARE held responsible under the law if they knowingly allow an unlicensed person access to their firearms.

    December 17, 2012 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  11. Slowgun

    please stop with the cars deaths comparison.
    Automobile accidents are just that...acidents. The majority of gun deaths aren't accidents.
    You need a license to drive a car, the car has to be registered and insured...Seems like appling these same things to guns is a good start for sensible gun control.
    Why would honest, law abiding gun owners be opposed to this.

    December 17, 2012 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  12. Dave

    Some guns, such as assualt weapons, have to reason for being in the hands of civilians. Pistols, revolvers, and rifles with the exception of assualt weapons should be allowed. Guns are not the problem because if it were we would have had all these mass killings back in the 50's & 60's when we had just as many guns with far less regulations...but alas, we did not have the mass killings we see today. What has changed in societies morals and ethics. We did not have the number of mass killing movies on TV that can be viewed just about any day you choose. We also did not have xbox and playstation with game like Call of Duty teaching our children from a young age that mass killings are totally acceptable in today's society. A lot of those games were purchased by the Parents of their about a subliminal message the parents are passing on. We used to be a God fearing we are a guts and glory don't tell me the ONLY solution is to ban guns because that does not address the root problem.

    December 17, 2012 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  13. bspurloc

    I think the best way to protect ourselves is along the same lines as the PEDOPHILE list. List everyone in your surrounding neighborhood who owns assault weapons like AR15's so I know I need one too.... cuz a 12gauge shotgun is no match for an AR15 and I cant be allowing my neighbors to have the upper hand on me or um upper gun

    December 17, 2012 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  14. Rudy NYC

    Wilson wrote:

    "Really? Then you are not paying attention, typical neo-com. That is exactly what is being pushed. Ways to disarm the populace."
    Name one piece of legislation that has even merely voted upon that "takes away people's guns" over the past....past 70 years even. The only people talking about taking away your guns are the people selling them to you, Wilson. "Hurry, hurry. Get your guns, here."

    December 17, 2012 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  15. plain&simple

    Cars have been regulated to be safer....hence you can't buy unsafe cars (without air bags) in this country. The military should only have exclusive contracts with manufactures for assault weapons and when they turn up on the street or gun shows stop production of said weapons. Same with the ammo. Keep your guns! Assault weapons are for military use only. The money our government spends on these weapons has to create leverage and then we don't have to have the inmates running the nation for all of us. Not everyone WANTS to walk around with a weapon like we live in a war zone.

    December 17, 2012 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  16. cleareye1

    No matter how many laws are passed to control guns the problem will be with us for many years. No one really expects the 100 million guns to go away, but we must start somewhere to slow down the insanity of a future where we have to carry an assault weapon to even feel safe. If we continue on the NRA led path we are doomed as a culture, and deservedly so.

    December 17, 2012 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  17. TX

    Has anyone read the numbers that CNN uses to "support" the argument that Americans are changing their position. Go through the article and add them up. The August survey says 48% favor stronger restrictions and 50% did not, the most recent survey says that 44% favored stronger restrictions and 32% did not. These numbers are then touted as a "change" in public opinion. The problem is that 44 is a smaller number than 48. CNN is hoping that no one will notice. This is an example of using statistics to sell your argument rather than just reporting the facts.

    December 17, 2012 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  18. Liberal

    Guns are for killing people. In America, we like killing people, that is why our culture protects guns, just like it protects movies, video games, etc. that are consumed in violence. These recent children were killed by a kid who had access to legal weapons. The magizines, and high powered assult weapons are protected by the same "right wing nuts" who claim gay marriage is ruining society, yet the right to mow down people in a mall or school is protected by the second amendment. These difficult questions in our society are much easier to address if we just admit that machine guns with 100 round magizines are "cool" and as Americans, we treasure these items as an inherited right, passed down by our founding fathers.

    December 17, 2012 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  19. bspurloc

    Yes cuz having the FREEDOM to mow down 20 6 and 7 year olds in minutes is a freedom we all need. the police arrived in 30 minutes but hey the boy had himself one of those high veloicty assault rifles to put a MINIMUM of 3 bullets per each child. good thing we have the freedom to take out children this fast

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

    December 17, 2012 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  20. Slowgun

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

    of course they didn't. Guns back then were single shot, musket loaders...
    They aslo didn't consider slaves rights, woman's rights and a host of other thinks that have since been amended.

    December 17, 2012 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  21. Glen

    Guns do not kill people, people kill people. If you make guns illegal, then only criminals will have guns. The world has many evil people in it and evil people will do evil. I am glad the shooter of those children is dead, now he can be punished in HELL

    December 17, 2012 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  22. Brad

    I cannot believe the pranoid that are advocating everyone carry a gun, as a society we are suppose to progress not regress to the Wild West days where everyone holstered a gun, and even then only the fastest draws survived. I can see everyone at home in front of their mirrors practicing there draw (comical).

    December 17, 2012 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  23. Quoter

    I don't think those who compare guns to explosives realize how ridiculous they look in their unrelenting defense of their weapons. By their logic we should start selling grenades in Walmart to defend against those explosive wielding thugs. Mental illness is an issue. But the fact remains that this evil simply walked to the gun cabinet and had access to an artillery. Gun advocates claim that these thugs will get the guns from somewhere anyway. What they conveniently exclude is that the guns are usually taken from the so called law abiding gun owners. Time for change.

    December 17, 2012 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  24. Anonymous

    if i want an assault weapon it is my right under the second amendment. it does not say i can only have hunting rifles. come and try to take my guns or anyone else's guns around me and i will use whatever is necessary to stop you. common ingredients found all around can cause much more damage than an assault weapon.

    December 17, 2012 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  25. Rudy NYC


    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.
    Wrong. Nope. Guns are special. His mother would not have been held responsible for allowing the guns to fall into the possession of her son. It might have been treated as a simple theft on *his* part, assuming that his mother wanted to press charges.

    December 17, 2012 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
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