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Gallup Vault: Columbine a Sign of Systemic US Problems

Gallup Vault: Columbine a Sign of Systemic US Problems

The April 20, 1999, massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, was, at the time, the deadliest school shooting in the nation's history. The day after the shooting, Gallup asked Americans which of two ways of interpreting shootings like Columbine they agreed with, and they overwhelmingly said they viewed them as "indications that there is something seriously wrong in the country today" (79%). Just 17% saw them as isolated incidents that did not reflect on the country in general.

Americans' Reaction to School Shootings Like Columbine
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?
U.S. adults
%
They are indications that there is something seriously wrong in the country today 79
They are isolated incidents that do not indicate anything about the country in general 17
Other (vol.) 1
No opinion 3
(vol.) = volunteered response
Gallup, April 21, 1999

Of seven factors that could be to blame for shootings like the one at Columbine, the availability of guns was seen as most responsible, with 60% saying it contributed a "great deal" to the problem. This was followed by poor parenting (51%); the influence of entertainment such as TV, movies and music (49%); and social pressures on youth (43%). At the time, schools drew the least condemnation (11%), followed by media coverage contributing to copycat crimes (34%) and the internet (34%).

Within days of the shooting, Gallup found the following effects reverberating to some extent in homes and schools across America:

  • 81% of parents of school-aged children say they had talked with their child about the shooting in Littleton
  • 72% of parents said they had cautioned their child to take safety precautions at school
  • 37% of parents said their child's school had offered counseling or discussion sessions related to the shooting
  • 23% of parents said they had contacted their child's school to discuss safety issues
  • 17% of parents said their child had expressed concerns about feeling unsafe at school since the shooting

Additionally, parents' fears for their child's physical safety at school registered 55% the day after the Columbine shooting, up sharply from 37% a year earlier. Concern subsequently declined but spiked again following several other school shootings in the U.S. -- although never again reaching as high as it did just after Columbine.

Chart 2

These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.

Read more from the Gallup Vault.

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