With School Starting and 8 Months After Newtown, Many Parents Fear for Their Child's Safety

A new poll shows that lower-income Americans fear more about school safety than those with greater means.

Chicago Police patrol the neighborhood as Crystal Stoval delivers her niece Kayla Porter from their South Side home to Gresham Elementary School on the first day of classes Monday. (National Journal)

It's been eight months since the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but many parents are still being afraid for their children's safety.

Gallup released a new poll on Thursday as millions of children across the country return to school, asking 508 parents of children between kindergarten and 12th grade whether they feel their oldest child is at risk of violence in his or her school. The survey found that 33 percent of those parents fear for their child's safety, the same percentage as when this question was asked after 26 children and teachers were massacred at the Newtown, Conn., school in December 2012.

After the shooting, President Obama and many Democratic leaders attempted to pass several bills related to gun safety, including a ban on assault rifles, stricter background checks, harsher penalties for illegal gun trafficking, and new measures for school safety. All of them failed because of opposition from Republicans who feared the measures would infringe on the Second Amendment and privacy rights of law-abiding citizens.

The president, instead, vowed to attempt to revive this debate later and, for the time being, pursue executive actions that he said would help protect children. On Thursday, the Obama administration revealed two more executive actions: one that closes a loophole to restrict access to some of the more dangerous weapons, including machine guns and short-barreled shotguns; and one that will deny requests to bring military-grade firearms back to the United States to private entities, with a few exceptions such as museums (since 2005, the government has allowed 250,000 of these weapons to come back to the U.S.).

Following the Connecticut shootings, Obama announced that the administration would pursue 23 executive actions to reduce gun violence, including measures to improve mental health and improve school safety.

In the five years leading up to the Newtown massacre, parents of children between kindergarten and 12th grade were less worried about school safety. In 2008, just 15 percent of those parents felt their child was in danger, according to Gallup.

But this doesn't mean the U.S. is at its peak in parental concern for school safety. The shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado shook parents to the core, it seems, more than the Newtown shooting. In the aftermath of those shootings in April 1999, 55 percent of parents said they were worried about school safety. That number remained high for two years.

And perhaps the sad truth about why parental fear is not as high as it was following Columbine, Gallup explains, is that "Americans may be a bit more accustomed to hearing about similar tragedies today than at the turn of the century."

It's also not surprising that fear for school safety varied by income levels, and that lower-income parents have greater fear than those with more means. Parents whose income is less than $50,000, which is near the national average, are twice as worried as parents with incomes over that level. The reason likely has to do with the areas in which lower-income Americans live, where violence is more likely.

But it might be some comfort that children are less likely to express worry or concern for their safety while in schools. Just 10 percent of parents say their children feel unsafe when they go back to school.

This Gallup survey was conducted by phone Aug. 7-11, and has a sampling error of 5 percentage points.