It’s Really About Quality Time



"The decline in quality time parents spend with their children" is the number one cause of youth violence and school shootings today, and a majority of Americans believe that additional gun control legislation would not have prevented the Columbine massacre. According to an extensive national poll  conducted by pollster Frank Luntz, gun control consistently finishes at or near the bottom of the list of solutions to youth violence.

With the first anniversary of Columbine only days away and with various gun issues now before Congress, Kevin McCarthy asked Luntz Research to poll 800 self described "likely voters" to measure public opinion and the impact of guns, school violence, and perceived moral conditions on the upcoming election.

Please note: This is not a web-based poll. Interviews were conducted by telephone using traditional random digit sampling techniques.


The public focus on parents as the cause of and solution to gun violence by kids is clear:

-- When asked to give the single greatest reason for youth violence and school shootings, fully 42% blamed "the decline in quality time parents spend with their children," followed by 30% who identified "the violence they see and hear on television, movies, music and video games." Only 11% singled out "access to guns," followed closely by "the lack of good role models" (10%) and "the failure of schools to promote civility and moral values" (4%).

-- When asked to choose, a near universal 84% believe "greater involvement by parents in the lives of their children" would have a greater impact on reducing gun violence in schools, while only 14% believe "more gun control legislation" would have the greater impact.

-- Again when presented with a choice, 77% said "teaching children at a young age about right and wrong and respect for human life" would have the greatest impact on reducing youth violence, while just 12% believe "stricter discipline in our schools" is the best answer and only 10% chose "more gun control legislation."

-- Two-thirds (65%) of Americans agree that "the parents of children who commit gun-related crimes should be held accountable by being prosecuted for negligence."

-- When asked who holds "primary responsibility for addressing gun-related issues," fully 40% said "individuals and families," followed by the federal government (26%) and state and local governments (24%).

Said pollster Luntz: "The message from these results is crystal clear: perceived parental failure, not access to guns, is at the core of youth violence issues. Americans see gun control as the last, worst option to ending youth violence. The problem," Luntz observed, "is that while everyone wants to do something to reduce youth violence, you can't legislate parental involvement with their children, so politicians turn to more gun control because they think it's a good substitute. But if you listen to public opinion, you realize it isn't. The fact that two-thirds of Americans would now hold parents legally liable for the gun-related crimes of their children is a clear indication of public frustration with those parents."


The role and responsibility of parents in preventing youth violence is only half the story. There is serious and widespread concern about what events like Columbine suggest about the moral condition of the country, and these concerns will definitely work their way into the upcoming political contests. According to likely voters:

-- Americans continue to draw sharp distinctions between the direction of the economy nationally and their evaluation of the country's morals and values. Fully 67% believe the U.S. economy is headed in the right direction, but "in terms of morals and values," only 24% believe America is headed in the right direction.

-- Three out of four likely voters (75%) believe the morals and values of the nation have worsened since they were children, while only 17% believe they have improved. In fact, almost half of all likely voters (47%) believe the country's morals and values have gotten "much worse" since they were kids.

-- Fully 79% believe the recent school shootings are an indication of the moral decline occurring in the United States today, while only 19% disagree.

-- 73% believe the increase in youth gun violence is due more to the lack of morals and values in our society, while only 21% blame the access of guns.

"There is a 'Morals Perception Gap' that is striking in breath and depth," said Luntz. "To my knowledge, never before in American history have we been so positive about the economy and so negative about our relationships with each other. The moral unease that others have hinted at is no longer beneath the surface. It's right there for everyone to see."


Said Luntz, "If "it's the economy, stupid" was the political line of 1992, Americans will be looking for candidates that can best solve 'the moral decay' and 'restore American values.'" But Luntz noted that the political impact of Columbine and gun-related issues is still undefined and unclear:

-- Republicans and Democrats are absolutely dead-even in public perceptions and support for their ability to reduce crime (36% pick the GOP and 34% pick the Democrats) or have better solutions to the gun issue (38% prefer the GOP solutions, 32% pick the Democrats).

-- Governor Bush holds a narrow advantage in the perceived ability to reduce crime (42% to 32%) and a slim advantage in solutions to gun issues (39% to 30%).

-- When it comes to politicians in general, overall attitudes toward their handling of gun laws is, at best, skeptical. For example, fully 60% agree with the statement: "passing gun laws is what keeps politicians' careers alive. Enforcing laws is what keeps the rest of us alive." And 79% want Congress to pass a law that says "if you commit a felony with a gun, or any gun crime related to schools or to drugs, you will absolutely, definitely go to jail for five years, no ifs, ands, or buts."

-- In findings that mirror a recent Zogby poll, 64% believe "tougher enforcement of existing laws" is a better approach for solving gun-related crime, while only 29% believe "creating new and different gun control laws" will be more effective. A similar question received a similar response. Fully 66% of the population believes "stricter discipline in our schools, tougher enforcement of existing laws and tougher sentencing of criminals" will be more successful in reducing the number of crimes committed with guns, while "more gun control legislation that includes trigger locks and gun show restrictions" was preferred by only 29%.

-- Only 33% believe that more gun control legislation could have prevented the Columbine massacre and other recent school shootings from occurring, and only 21% strongly hold this point of view.

"Candidates who call for more gun control will be trumped by those who demand greater enforcement of current legislation," concluded Luntz. "With no other options on the table, gun control may still hold general public support, but Americans want and demand something better."

Noting that 74% of Americans believe drugs are a greater threat to young people today than guns, Luntz concluded, "The current gun control debate misses the point. If the White House and Congress truly want to address and solve the concerns parents have about their children, they will start with all the illegal drugs in this country," Luntz concluded. "The candidates that are willing to wage an all-out war against drugs will find a very appreciative audience among America's parents."

Acknowledging the lack of political different-iation between the parties, Luntz noted that "the traditional Republican edge in perceived ability to handle crime is mostly gone, but so is the Democratic edge in dealing with gun issues. When it comes to crime and youth violence, both parties are truly at parity. Governor Bush does do slightly better than his party, but the candidates and the parties begin this election season without any clear advantage."

According to Kevin McCarthy, "This survey shows America believes in responsibility, starting with the responsibility of instilling in your children the difference between right and wrong and the impact that difference makes in our nation's communities. Two-thirds of those polled believe we should hold parents responsible for their children's actions against society, thus forcing the parents to take an active role in their children lives."


Using the traditional random digit methodology, a total of 800 registered voters that were self-described "definite," "very likely" or "somewhat likely" voters were surveyed by telephone from April 6-9, 2000. The margin of error for telephone surveys of this type is +3.5%.


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