Americans Have Very Mixed Opinions About Blame For Littleton Shootings

by Mark Gillespie

One Quarter Endorse Criminal Prosecution Of Killers' Parents

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

As police in Littleton, Colorado try to figure out just what provoked last week's shooting spree that claimed the lives of 12 students, a teacher, and the teenage gunmen, a new Gallup poll finds that a quarter of the U.S. public thinks the parents of gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris should face criminal charges, although half of those interviewed say it is too early to tell. Similarly when asked to offer their explanation for why this tragedy occurred, most Americans place blame on a wide combination of different factors, although parents are the most prominently occurring single cause mentioned.

On April 26 and 27, Gallup interviewers asked Americans an open-ended question about what caused the shootings. About half of the respondents said that a variety of many different factors were responsible, rather than any one specific issue. Twenty percent placed the blame solely on poor parenting or family breakdown, generally, or lack of parental discipline, specifically. By comparison, just 6% put the blame solely on the mental or psychological state of the teen gunmen, 3% blame the teasing from other students which made the gunmen outcasts, while 2% cited the entertainment industry. A variety of factors were mentioned by 1%-2% of respondents, such as lack of school security and a decline in religious values.

Americans are split on the question of whether the parents of Klebold and Harris should face criminal charges in the shootings. That issue is still being debated by Colorado prosecutors and police, but 25% of Americans already believe some form of prosecution should take place. About the same number, twenty-six percent, say charges should not be filed, while 48% remain unsure. There is a slight difference in the responses of parents and non-parents to this question, with 30% of parents of school-aged children favoring prosecution compared to 23% of non-parents.

The Columbine High shootings have again forced parents to confront the issue of safety in the nation's schools. However, fear appears to affect parents more than it does students. In the latest Gallup poll, 49% of parents fear for their oldest child's safety at school (Significantly higher than the 37% who expressed such fears last summer). When those parents were asked whether their children have expressed any concerns about their safety after the Columbine High shootings, only 17% of parents responded yes.

Eight out of ten parents have talked with their children about the shootings, and the same percentage have urged their children to avoid confrontations with other students, but only 23% have contacted their child's school to discuss safety issues.

While the media have been quick to report so-called "copycat" cases at other schools since the shootings, only 11% of parents say they've heard of an actual copycat threat at their child's school. However, the media gets high marks for its coverage of the shootings. Two of three Americans (67%) say the media has acted responsibly in its coverage, and half of Americans say the amount of media coverage has been about right.

For results based on the sample of national adults (N=1,073) surveyed April 26-27, 1999, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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

BASED ON THOSE WHO HAVE CHILDREN IN KINDERGARTEN THROUGH GRADE 12; N = 310; MARGIN OF SAMPLING ERROR = ± 6 PCT. PTS.

  Yes, fear No, do not No opinion
99 Apr 26-27 49% 51% *%
99 Apr 21 55 45 0
98 Jun 5-7 37 62 1
1977^ 24 70 6

^ Gallup for Kettering Foundation

Next we have some questions about the shooting at the Littleton, Colorado high school where 15 students were killed by two of their classmates.

First, in your opinion, why did this happen? [OPEN-ENDED]

Breakdown of family/poor parenting/lack of discipline/parents not involved with kids 20%
Mental problems/anger/hatred/bad kids/wanted attention 6
Teasing from other kids/outcasts 3
Entertainment industry/TV/movies/music 2
Lack of morals/societal values/moral decline of country 2
Not enough attention paid to kids/negligence 1
Guns 1
Lost touch with God/religion/religion taken out of schools 1
Lack of supervision (general) 1
Not enough supervision at school 1
Not enough security at school 1
Violence in society/too much exposure to violence 1
The Internet/computer *
Other 51
No opinion 9
  100%

Now thinking about your school-aged child or children, have you [READ AND ROTATE A-E]:

BASED ON THOSE WHO HAVE CHILDREN IN KINDERGARTEN THROUGH GRADE 12; N = 310; MARGIN OF SAMPLING ERROR = ± 6 PCT. PTS.

A. Talked with a child about their concerns and fears at their school?
Yes, have 78%
No, have not 22
No opinion *
  100%
B. Talked with a child about the Littleton shootings?
Yes, have 81%
No, have not 19
No opinion 0
  100%
C. Cautioned a child to take safety precautions at their school?
Yes, have 72%
No, have not 28
No opinion *
  100%
D. Cautioned a child not to get involved in confrontations with other students?
Yes, have 81%
No, have not 18
No opinion 1
  100%
E. Contacted a child's school to discuss safety issues?
Yes, have 23%
No, have not 77
No opinion 0
  100%

Have any of your school-aged children expressed any worry or concern about feeling unsafe at their school since the Littleton shootings, or not?

BASED ON THOSE WHO HAVE CHILDREN IN KINDERGARTEN THROUGH GRADE 12; N = 310; MARGIN OF SAMPLING ERROR = ± 6 PCT. PTS.

Yes, have expressed worry or concern 17%
No, have not 82
No opinion 1
  100%

In your opinion, do you think criminal charges should or should not be filed against the parents of the students involved in the Littleton deaths -- or are you unsure?

Yes, criminal charges should be filed 25%
No, should not 26
Unsure 48
No opinion 1
  100%

Overall, do you feel the news media have acted responsibly or irresponsibly in this situation?

Responsibly 67%
Irresponsibly 29
No opinion 4
  100%

In general, do you think the amount of coverage the news media has given to the Littleton situation has been too much, not enough, or is the coverage about right?

Too much 47%
Not enough 2
About right 50
No opinion 1
  100%

* less than 0.5%
(vol.) = volunteered response

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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/3889/Americans-Very-Mixed-Opinions-About-Blame-Littleton-Shootings.aspx
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