Gun Control and School Violence
National High School Poll Finds Majority of Students Are Concerned about Mass Shootings
Hamilton College Survey Finds 85 Percent Support Stricter Gun Control Laws
Despite the fact that most high school students feel relatively safe in their schools (over 90 percent feel very safe or relatively safe in their schools), a significant number are concerned about the possibility of a mass shooting in their school or community (nearly 60 percent are either somewhat concerned, fairly concerned or very concerned), according to a new national poll of high school seniors. Conducted by Hamilton College’s Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center in conjunction with Knowledge Networks, the poll also revealed that 65 percent of students feel it would be very easy or fairly easy to obtain a gun.
Released on Dec. 12, the survey found that a large majority of students, 85 percent, agree that there should be stricter laws concerning background checks for gun purchases. This is 36 percentage points higher than a poll released last week by CNN/ORC that surveyed adults on the same question. Yet only 47 percent of students believe that stricter gun control laws will actually decrease gun related violence, and 85 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree with the statement “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”
Attitudes vary significantly across the political spectrum, but do not differ along gender lines. Importantly, the poll shows that attitudes towards gun rights and gun related violence are significantly shaped by the wording and framing of survey questions.
Stephen Wu, Professor of Economics at Hamilton College, and his students in a Behavioral Economics class collaborated with the research firm Knowledge Networks, an online non-volunteer access panel whose members are chosen through a statistically valid sampling frame. Surveys were completed by 941 high school students from across the United States.
Other results include:
- Students are fairly knowledgeable about recent school shootings. Ninety-two percent of respondents were familiar with the Newtown, CT shootings and 88 percent were familiar with the Columbine shootings. Interestingly, 21 percent claimed to have heard about a shooting in Scarsdale, NY, which never occurred.
- Students are significantly more likely to feel safe at schools that have contingency plans in place in the event of an act of gun violence. Almost 100 percent of students who claim that their schools have a good contingency plan feel very safe or relatively safe in their schools, but only 81 percent of students who do not feel that their schools have a good plan feel very safe or relatively safe in their schools.
- Those with guns feel safer with them, while those without guns would not feel safer with them. Of those with a gun in the house, 82 percent feel safer having this gun in the home, while only 30 percent of those without a gun say that they would feel safer with a gun in the house.
- Attitudes towards gun control and gun ownership greatly depends on political affiliation. For those that identify most closely as Republicans, 74 percent believe that individuals should have the right to carry a concealed gun, and 64 percent believe that a greater presence of armed citizens would decrease mass shootings, while for those identifying closely as Democrats, the analogous numbers are 43 percent and 39 percent, respectively.
- Estimates of gun related deaths vary by political affiliation. Seventeen percent of Democrats believe that there were more than 50,000 gun related deaths in the United States in 2011, compared with 5 percent of Republicans who believed there were that many. Meanwhile, 39 percent of Republicans believed that there were less than 10,000 gun related deaths in 2011, compared with 24 percent of Democrats. (The true figure is slightly over 30,000).
- Cueing people to think about previous school violence increases the likelihood that they believe arming teachers/staff would be a good idea. Some students were asked about their knowledge of various school shootings (such as Newtown, Columbine, and Virginia Tech) immediately before the statement, “Schools that have properly trained and armed nonteaching staff would become safer places.” Other students were randomly assigned a version where the question about school shootings was at the end of the survey. For students identifying as Republicans, this “cueing” increases the percentage of respondents strongly agreeing with the statement from 16 percent to 32 percent. For those identifying as Independents, cueing increases the percentage of students strongly agreeing from 14 percent to 23 percent, while for Democrats, there is no effect (16 percent in both versions).