Parents only slightly more afraid for children's safety at school

Published: Friday, Dec. 28 2012 7:00 p.m. MST

A USA Today/Gallup poll taken in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., finds U.S. parents only slightly more concerned about child safety at school than they were last summer. One-third of parents said they fear for their oldest child's safety, compared to 25 percent in August.

The number was slightly higher — 35 percent — days after a deadly shooting at an Amish school in Lancaster County, Pa., in 2006, Gallup reported.

"Still, the fear factor resulting from school shootings appears to have diminished over the past decade," Gallup noted in its explanation of the poll findings. "The 8- to 10-point increases in parents' fear for their children's safety following the Newtown, Conn., and Amish school shootings contrasts with a 19-point increase, to 45 percent, in the percentage of parents fearful in March 2001 after a deadly school shooting in Santee, Calif. Fear spiked even higher, rising 18 points, to 55 percent, after the Littleton, Colo., shooting at Columbine High School in April 1999.

The poll noted that 52 percent of Americans say it is "very" or "somewhat" likely that a shooting similar to what happened in Newtown could happen in their community. Following the Columbine shootings, the number was 68 percent. And it was highest in March 2005 following a mass shooting at Red Lake High School in Minnesota. At that time, 73 percent responded that similar shootings were likely where they live.

In Connecticut, 20 grade school children and six school staff members were killed when a gunman shot his way into the school. He then killed himself.

According to Gannett News Service, 256 of the total 1,038 adults surveyed said they had school-aged children ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade. Of those, 56 percent said they thought the school their oldest child attends is doing enough to prevent a similar shooting, while 34 percent said that the school was not doing enough. The latter question on school safety had a margin of error of 8 percentage points. The margin for the rest of the survey was 4 percent.

Gannett noted that while the shootings in Connecticut have spurred national debate about America's gun laws, "it hasn't necessarily made Americans feel that their communities are less safe than after other incidents."

The poll found women much more likely than men to believe a similar shooting could happen in their community (60 percent compared to 43 percent). Those older than 35 were more concerned than those 18-35. It was also higher among adults without school-aged children. That finding is "perhaps reflecting parents' more direct awareness of steps local schools take to protect students," the report said.

Geographically, those in the East and in suburbs were more concerned about shootings in their areas than those in other towns or rural areas.

Concluded Gallup, "The Newtown, Conn., school shooting has resulted in more public school parents fearing for their own child's safety at school. However, at 33 percent, the percentage very or somewhat concerned is not substantially higher than the quarter or so who are typically concerned when school shootings are not in the news, including in August when 25 percent said they were fearful. As such, it is a change from years past when the percentage fearful surged to much higher levels after such tragedies.

"Similarly, fewer Americans believe there is a high likelihood that what happened in Newtown, Conn., could occur where they live than made this connection in relation to some other past shootings."

In its coverage of the same survey, which asked several other questions, as well, New York Daily News reported that "most Americans have a favorable opinion of the National Rifle Association, although a majority also said the powerful gun lobby doesn’t always reflect their views."

Of those polled, 54 percent view the NRA favorably, while 38 percent view it unfavorably. "The results were split along party lines with eight in 10 Republicans — who are more likely to own a gun and oppose gun control — saying they approve of the NRA," the article said. The poll was conducted Dec. 19-22 and included a random sample of 1,038 adults in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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