Connecticut shootings: Isolated incident or cultural problem?

December 15, 2012

In the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, one of the central questions being asked is what this horrible incident tells us about who we are as a country.

Not much, if you look at the polling conducted on this matter since the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007.  Since that time, the tendency for people to call these sorts of mass murderers isolated incidents without any broader meaning has soared just as those saying the events are indicative of broader societal problems has ebbed.

Here's a chart from Pew Research Center detailing polling in the aftermath of the three previous high profile incidents of violence committed with a gun.

Following the Aurora movie theater murders, two-thirds of people said it was an isolated act committed by a troubled individual. That's a significant increase from the 47 percent who said the same following the Virginia Tech incident.

Not surprisingly, how you feel about what these sorts of shootings mean or, more accurately, don't mean, determines much about your desire for stricter laws governing guns.

Among those who said that Aurora represented a broader societal problem, roughly six in ten believed the priority should be controlling gun ownership rather than protecting gun rights. Among those who viewed it as an isolated incident, just more than 40 percent prioritized controlling the ownership of firearms.

The simple truth, at least according to this poll data, is that the increasing tendency in the wake of shootings like the one in Connecticut is to chalk it up to a troubled person and move on. While the death of so many children could certainly change this equation, the data available suggests that pushing for changes in gun laws following Newtown might not be met with the sort of reception you might think.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Chris Cillizza · December 15, 2012