Americans Divided on Whether School Shootings Can Be Prevented

by David W. Moore

About two-thirds say it could happen in their community; incidents reflect something "seriously wrong in the country"

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- With yet another school shooting incident involving students, this time in El Cajon, California, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is calling for an end to the "ethic of violence" among youth in this country, suggesting that the news and entertainment industry and not tighter gun laws could play a role in ending the crisis. Other observers are wondering whether there are any steps that government and society can take to prevent such incidents from happening again. A Gallup poll conducted shortly after the incident in Santee, California, but before the most recently reported incident in El Cajon, suggests that the public is also divided on the issue. While large majorities of Americans believe that the incidents reflect "something seriously wrong in the country today," and that they could occur in their own communities, they are about evenly split on whether or not any actions can be taken to prevent such shootings from occurring again.

Conducted March 9-11, the poll shows that 49% of Americans believe that government and society can take actions to prevent more shootings from happening, while 47% take the opposite point of view, saying that such incidents will occur regardless of what action might be taken. The poll also shows that about two-thirds of Americans believe such shooting incidents are likely to occur in their own community, with 31% saying they are "very" likely to happen, and another 34% saying "somewhat" likely. Another third believe that such incidents are not likely to occur in their community.

Responses to the poll suggest a widespread consensus, by 75% to 22%, that shootings such as the ones in Southern California, Colorado and elsewhere are indications that there is something seriously wrong in the country, rather than just isolated incidents.

The more likely people are to think such incidents can happen in their own community, the more likely they are to say that government and society can take effective action, and that the incidents suggest something seriously wrong in America. Among people who say school shootings are "very" likely to happen in their community, 61% say effective action can be taken, while just 36% say it cannot. However, among those who say such incidents are only "somewhat" likely to occur, opinion is about evenly divided, 50% to 48%. And among those who say shootings are not likely to occur in their communities, 57% say no effective action can be taken, while only 39% disagree.

 

Attitudes about effectiveness of action to prevent shootings

Likelihood of Shootings Occurring in Your Community

Very likely

Somewhat likely

Not likely

 

%

%

%

       

Government/Society can take effective action

61

50

39

Shootings will happen again regardless of what action is taken

36

48

57

No opinion

3

2

4



Similarly, about eight in 10 people who say it is likely that shootings could occur in their communities also say that the incidents suggest there is something seriously wrong in America, while that view is expressed by just six in 10 people who believe shootings are not likely to occur in their own community.

 

Attitudes about implications of school shootings

Likelihood of Shootings Occurring in Your Community

Very likely

Somewhat likely

Not likely

 

%

%

%

       

Shootings show something seriously wrong in America

84

81

60

Shootings are isolated incidents

13

16

36

No opinion

3

3

4



Major Differences by Demographics
The poll also shows that women more than men are likely to think that effective action can be taken, as do higher income more than lower income people, liberals more than conservatives, and college graduates more than those who have not graduated from college.

 

Demographic characteristics

Effectiveness of Actions by Government/Society

Effective action can be taken

Shootings will happen regardless of actions


No opinion

 

%

%

%

Gender

     

Men

44

53

3

Women

55

41

4

       

Annual Household Income

     

Less than $20K

39

56

5

$20K-<$30K

46

52

2

$30K-<$50K

49

48

3

$50K+

57

40

3

       

Ideology

     

Conservative

44

52

4

Moderate

52

45

3

Liberal

60

38

2

       

Education

     

High school or less

41

53

6

Some college

53

45

2

College graduate

54

43

3

Postgraduate

62

36

2

       


Parental Concern Increases Again
Among parents who currently have children in school, almost half -- 45% -- say they personally fear for the physical safety of their children while at school. This number is up again after having fallen last August as children were returning to school for the new year. At that time, only 26% said they feared for their children's safety, significantly lower than the 43% recorded five months earlier. The largest percentage, 55%, was found in the spring of 1999, immediately after the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado. Additionally, about one in five parents say their children have also expressed worry about their safety at school, up from only 8% last August.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,015 national adults, aged 18+, conducted March 9-11, 2001. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Thinking about your oldest child, when he or she is at school, do you fear for his or her physical safety?

BASED ON -- 299 -- K-12 PARENTS; ±6 PCT. PTS.

 

 

Yes, fear

No, do not

No opinion

 

%

%

%

       

2001 Mar 9-11

45

54

1

       

2000 Aug 24-27

26

74

0

2000 Apr 7-9

43

57

0

1999 Aug 24-26

47

53

*

1999 May 21-23

52

47

1

1999 Apr 26-27

49

51

*

1999 Apr 21

55

45

0

1998 Jun 5-7

37

62

1

1977^

24

70

6

       

^ Gallup for Kettering Foundation

* Less than 0.5%



Have any of your school-aged children expressed any worry or concern about feeling unsafe at their school when they go to school?

BASED ON -- 299 -- K-12 PARENTS; ±6 PCT. PTS.

 

Yes

No

No opinion

%

%

%

2001 Mar 9-11

22

77

1

2000 Aug 24-27 ^

8

92

*

1999 Aug 24-26 ^

18

82

*

^

WORDING: Have any of your school-aged children expressed any worry or concern about feeling unsafe at their school when they go back to school this fall?

* Less than 0.5%



 

Thinking about the recent shootings at schools,

In your opinion, how likely is it that these kinds of shootings could happen in your community, is it -- very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, or very unlikely?

 

Very
likely

Somewhat likely

Somewhat unlikely

Very
unlikely

No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

           

2001 Mar 9-11

31

34

20

13

2

           

2000 Apr 7-9 ^

30

36

18

13

3

1999 May 21-23 ^

37

37

14

11

1

1999 Apr 21 †

30

38

14

15

3

           

^

WORDING: As you may know, it has been nearly one year since the shooting at Columbine High School, the Littleton, Colorado school where 2 students killed 12 of their classmates and one teacher [April 20, 1999]. In your opinion, how likely is it that these kinds of shootings could happen in your community, is it very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, or very unlikely?

WORDING: Next we have some questions about the shooting at the Littleton, Colorado high school [April 20, 1999] where 15 students were killed by two of their classmates. In your opinion, how likely is it that these kinds of shootings could happen in your community, is it very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, or very unlikely? [Based on one-night poll.]



Which of the following statements comes closer to your view of shootings like the recent ones that have occurred in schools -- [ROTATED: they are indications that there is something seriously wrong in the country today (or) they are isolated incidents that do not indicate anything about the country in general]?

 

Something seriously wrong

Isolated
incidents


OTHER (vol.)

No
opinion

         

2001 Mar 9-11

75%

22

1

2

         

1999 Apr 21 ^

79%

17

1

3

         

^

WORDING: Which of the following statements comes closer to your view of shootings like the one in Colorado -- they are indications that there is something seriously wrong in the country today, or they are isolated incidents that do not indicate anything about the country in general? [Based on one-night poll.]

(vol.) Volunteered response



Which of the following statements comes closer to your overall view -- [ROTATED: government and society can take action that will be effective in preventing shootings like the recent ones in schools from happening again (or) shootings like the recent ones in schools will happen again regardless of what action is taken by government and society]?

 

 

Government/society can take action

Will happen again
regardless

No
opinion

%

%

%

2001 Mar 9-11

49

47

4

2000 Apr 7-9 ^

47

49

4

1999 Apr 21 †

53

43

4

^

WORDING: (As you may know, it has been nearly one year since the shooting at Columbine High School, the Littleton, Colorado school where 2 students killed 12 of their classmates and one teacher.) Which of the following statements comes closer to your overall view -- government and society can take action that will be effective in preventing shootings like the one in Colorado from happening again (or) shootings like the one in Colorado will happen again regardless of what action is taken by government and society?

WORDING: Which of the following statements comes closer to your overall view -- government and society can take action that will be effective in preventing shootings like the one in [Littleton] Colorado [April 20, 1999] from happening again (or) shootings like the one in Colorado will happen again regardless of what action is taken by government and society? [Based on one-night poll.]



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