Searching for common ground on guns after Sandy Hook

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- As the fifth anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, approaches, Americans remain starkly divided in their views on guns and gun regulation.

The attack, which left 20 children and six educators dead, as well as the gunman and his mother, shook the country, leading to widespread calls for reformed gun laws. Half a decade later, proponents and opponents of gun control are still fiercely debating.

In the lead-up to the fifth anniversary of the attack, CBS News producer Christina Ruffini facilitated a series of conversations with residents of Colorado, a state where gun issues have remained divisive, even after two infamous mass shootings of its own in Aurora and Columbine.

In one conversation, Ruffini spoke with Tony, who adamantly supports the right to own a gun, and his friend Warren, who adamantly believes in regulating firearms.

She asked Tony if his belief in gun rights would waver in a hypothetical scenario involving empirical evidence "that if we make everyone in the country turn in their assault rifle we will cut shooting deaths in this country by a significant amount."

"I would not," Tony said, adding that he believes armed civilians deter potential foreign invaders. "You'd really be giving a lot of our neighbors far more reason to think the United States is weak. We have never been invaded, not only because of our geographical situation, but also because ..."

"So you think 'Red Dawn' is gonna happen?" Warren interjected, referring to a 1984 film depicting a Soviet invasion.

"No, I don't think it's gonna happen," Tony responded. "I think it won't happen because we're armed."

Ruffini then offered a similar scenario to the anti-gun Warren, asking if he would buy an assault rifle in a hypothetical scenario in which "we have statistically proven that you and your family will be safer if you own" one.

"I really don't know because I want to keep my family safe, but to what lengths am I willing to go? I don't know until we're in that situation...until I was living in a place that was so dangerous, that that was the only way to keep people safe," Warren said. "I think that's a different world than I live in right now."

When it comes to assault weapons, Americans are largely split along the same lines as Tony and Warren. A CBS News poll released Monday found while there is strong bipartisan support for background checks for all gun buyers, Americans are torn on whether gun violence represents a crisis -- Democrats are three times as likely as Republicans to see it that way -- and near evenly divided on whether to ban assault weapons.

The poll, which was conducted by telephone between Dec. 3 and Dec. 5 among a random sample of 1,120 adults nationwide, found 49 percent favor a ban, while 48 percent oppose.


Watch this conversation and other pointed debates about firearms on the CBSN special "Mass Shootings: Five Years After Sandy Hook," which will air Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.