Americans Skeptical About Preventing Virginia Tech-Like Incidents

by Lydia Saad

No clamor for mandatory psychological testing of students or banning all handguns in wake of tragedy

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Campus shootings are inevitable, and gun control alone isn't going to change that; but better monitoring and treatment of students with emotional problems and enhanced campus security procedures would seem to be in order. This paraphrases Americans' basic assessment of campus security following the recent shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, according to a new Gallup Panel survey conducted April 23-26, 2007.

The Gallup Panel survey began on the same day the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs met to explore ways to prevent such massacres in the wake of Virginia Tech's tragedy. The survey found most Americans believe college campuses can never be made completely secure. Only 17% say that, by taking the right steps, universities could prevent campus shootings.

Still, Americans are not entirely fatalistic about the problem. When asked what they believe is "the single most important thing that could be done" to prevent a repeat of the Virginia Tech shooting elsewhere, only 9% of Americans say "nothing." Most offer practical suggestions relating to enhanced security, student monitoring, counseling, or upbringing.

  • A combined 28% mention greater monitoring of students on campus, including implementing more follow-up every time someone voices a concern about a student, more closely monitoring students, and in general taking potential security threats more seriously.
  • One in five Americans recommend greater campus security, either saying "more security" is needed in general (17%), or by recommending schools implement better warning systems for students and faculty (3%).
  • Overall, 13% of Americans think the primary answer lies with better gun laws; this is higher among Democrats than among Republicans (19% vs. 7%).
  • Twelve percent of Americans suggest evaluating students and providing them with the necessary mental health services and more counseling in general.
  • Eight percent think the solution is found at a much deeper level, by providing better upbringing for youth and limiting their exposure to violent video games and other media.   

In your opinion, what is the single most important thing that could be done to prevent another incidence of school shootings by students, like the recent incident at Virginia Tech?

2007
Apr 23-26

%

More Monitoring of Students (28%)

 

Follow up every time someone voices concern about a student

10

Monitor/Watch students more closely

5

Change the privacy laws/be able to warn others and
make those in need get medical assistance

4

Better communication between students/parents/teachers

4

Students need to pay more attention/be more
aware of each other and surroundings

3

Report threats/Take threats more seriously

2

 

Enhanced Security (20%)

 

More security at schools

17

Have a better warning system in place

3

 

Change Gun Laws (13%)

 

Better gun control/laws/issues

13

 

More Counseling for Students (12%)

 

Evaluate all students and provide mental health
assistance available if needed

9

More counseling/counselors/teachers

3

 

Better Upbringing (8%)

 

Better education/students/parents

3

Raise morals/people's standards

2

Control media violence/video games/Internet

1

Put prayer back in schools/homes

1

Parental involvement

1

 

Other

2

Nothing can be done

9

No opinion

10

Metal Detectors Favored

In addition to this open-ended measure, the poll probed public attitudes about a variety of specific anti-violence approaches that could be implemented on college campuses. Americans widely endorse several security-oriented measures, including increased police presence, installing metal detectors at the entrances to all public buildings, and expelling students with violent tendencies; but they stop well short of supporting mandatory psychological testing of prospective students. 

A majority of Americans say banning handguns on college campuses is a reasonable approach to take to reduce the risk of violence on college campuses.  Most say that allowing students and faculty to carry concealed weapons is not a reasonable approach. However, the vast majority also say that banning the sale of handguns in the United States altogether is not reasonable.

Do you think each of the following would or would not be a reasonable approach to take to reduce the risk of violence on college campuses?



 

Yes, reasonable

No, not reasonable

%

%

Increasing the police presence on college campuses

75

24

Banning all handguns on college campuses

70

29

Expelling any student who exhibits violent tendencies in their behavior or schoolwork

70

29

Installing metal detectors at the entrances to all public buildings on campuses

61

38

Requiring all college applicants to submit to psychological testing as part of the admissions process

37

62

Allowing students or faculty to carry concealed handguns if they obtain a permit

29

70

Banning the sale of all handguns in the U.S.

21

79

No Push for Changes in Gun Laws

The Panel survey included two additional questions about gun control, both of which confirm Americans are not eager to see major changes in gun laws. Although there is an argument that gun crimes can be prevented if "the good guys" are allowed to carry weapons, Americans disagree about loosening gun control on college campuses. Only 24% say that allowing students and faculty who have a concealed weapon permit to carry those weapons on campus would make college campuses safer; 72% disagree.

At the same time, only 26% believe that stricter laws concerning the sale of handguns in Virginia would have prevented the Virginia Tech tragedy; 72% disagree.

Notable Demographic Differences

Most of the differences among key subgroups of Americans are fairly moderate; they do not reflect wholesale differences in attitudes about the safety of college campuses or remedies to enhance security. 

Within that framework, the largest differences tend to be according to gender and political party affiliation. Women and Democrats are less supportive than men and Republicans when it comes to allowing students and faculty to carry concealed weapons; they are more likely to believe such a policy would make campuses more dangerous, and to favor an outright ban on handguns. Women and Democrats are also more likely than men and Republicans to say installing metal detectors at all public buildings on campuses is a reasonable approach to improving college safety.

Summary of Views by Gender and Political Party Affiliation
April 23-26, 2007

Men

Women

Repub-
licans

Demo-
crats

%

%

%

%

Effect of allowing students and faculty to
carry concealed weapons

 

 

 

 

Safer

33

15

36

11

More dangerous

62

81

55

87

 

 

 

 

Effect of stricter Virginia gun laws

 

 

 

 

Could have prevented recent tragedy

24

28

13

38

Would have made no difference

75

70

86

60

 

 

 

 

% saying each is a reasonable approach*

 

 

 

 

Increased campus police presence

72

78

76

77

Banning handguns on campuses

61

79

56

86

Expelling students with violent tendencies

65

74

73

66

Installing metal detectors on campuses

55

67

58

69

Mandatory psychological testing

35

39

35

42

Allow students/faculty to carry handguns

39

20

42

17

Ban sale of handguns in U.S.

15

25

7

35

*See tables for full wording of items

Survey Methods

Results for this panel study are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 23-26, 2007. Respondents were randomly drawn from Gallup's nationally representative household panel, which was originally recruited through random selection methods. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 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.

Now, thinking about security on college campuses following the recent shootings at Virginia Tech…

18. Which comes closer to your view -- [ROTATED: if universities took the right steps, they could prevent shootings on campuses from happening, (or) no matter what universities do, they would not be able to prevent shootings on campuses from happening]?

Could prevent
shootings

Would not be able to
prevent shootings

No
opinion

 

 

 

2007 Apr 23-26

17%

82

1

19. In your opinion, what is the single most important thing that could be done to prevent another incidence of school shootings by students, like the recent incident at Virginia Tech?  (OPEN-ENDED)

 

2007
Apr 23-26

%

More security at schools

17

Better gun control/laws/issues

13

Follow up every time someone voices concern about a student

10

Evaluate all students and provide mental health assistance available if needed

9

Monitor/watch students more closely

5

Change the privacy laws/be able to warn others and make those in need get medical assistance

4

Better communication between students/parents/teachers

4

Have a better warning system in place

3

More counseling/counselors/teachers

3

Better education/students/parents

3

Students need to pay more attention/be more aware of each other and surroundings

3

Report threats/take threats more seriously

2

Raise morals/people's standards

2

Control media violence/video games/Internet

1

Put prayer back in schools/homes

1

Parental involvement

1

 

Other

2

Nothing can be done

9

No opinion

10

 

20. Do you think each of the following would or would not be a reasonable approach to take to reduce the risk of violence on college campuses? How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

2007 Apr 23-26
(sorted by "yes, reasonable")

Yes,
reasonable

No, not
reasonable

No opinion

%

%

%

Increasing the police presence on college campuses

75

24

*

Banning all handguns on college campuses

70

29

1

Expelling any student who exhibits violent tendencies in their behavior or schoolwork

70

29

1

Installing metal detectors at the entrances to all public buildings on campuses

61

38

*

Requiring all college applicants to submit to psychological testing as part of the admissions process

37

62

1

Allowing students or faculty to carry concealed handguns if they obtain a permit

29

70

1

Banning the sale of all handguns in the U.S.

21

79

1

21. Suppose colleges allowed students and faculty members who have a permit to carry a concealed weapon to carry those weapons on campus. Do you think this would make college campuses safer or more dangerous places to be?

Safer

More dangerous

No opinion

 

 

 

2007 Apr 23-26

24%

72

4

22. Based on what you have read or heard about the shootings at Virginia Tech, do you think -- [ROTATED: this tragedy could have been prevented if the laws on handgun sales in the state of Virginia were more strict, (or) this tragedy would have occurred even if the state of Virginia had stricter laws on handgun sales]?

Could have
been prevent if
laws more strict

Would have
occurred even
if laws
more strict


No
opinion

 

 

 

2007 Apr 23-26

26%

72

2

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