Fixating on Guns and School Safety is Dangerous
Many American K12 school administrators have asked local police to assist them in conducting security assessments, improving emergency plans, and evaluating lockdown drills. While this type of assistance is valuable, I am deeply concerned that many our school security efforts are tremendously out of balance with reality. This is because the majority of school related deaths do not involve the types of school shootings that dominate discussions of school safety. During our school security assessments for more than 1,000 K12 schools in the past 24 months, our analysts have found that many public and non-public school organizations have been focusing far too much of their staff time, fiscal resources, staff development, drills, and energy on active shooter incidents in relation to the types of events that have claimed more than sixteen times as many lives. This overemphasis on guns in relation to an all-hazards approach to safety is making our schools less safe than they could be.
We are distressed that more than sixty students and school employees have been murdered by active shooters in American K12 schools during the past 15 years. However, we are also distressed by the more than 500 school-related traffic fatalities, 129 on-campus suicides, and the more than 400 homicides that do not involve active shooter events. We are also deeply concerned about the on-campus deaths from medical emergencies that the United States government does not have reliable data for.
We have found that schools have spent considerable amounts of money, time and energy on active shooter planning, drills, and training while cutting evidence-based suicide prevention programs and other life-saving measures. Current options-based active shooter training programs are not evidence-based an individual school is eight times more likely to experience and on-campus suicide than an active shooter incident. As twice as many deaths from suicide have taken place on our nation’s campuses than from active shooter events, we should be at least as concerned about these tragedies.
Many police tactical team personnel have visited area schools to try to help improve occupant survivability in case an active shooter event takes place. This is an excellent approach. However, if the same agency has not asked officers from their traffic division to observe morning arrival and afternoon dismissal to try to find ways to reduce the chances that a child is run over at a crosswalk or in the parking lot, emotion and not data is driving the school safety process. While it is popular and highly profitable for many people to talk non-stop about school shootings and active shooter events, the obsession with this as the primary focus of school safety efforts is resulting in student deaths. I believe that school children are dying because of gaps in our efforts to address emergency medical situations, common safety hazards, and a host of other threats that result in far more deaths in schools as well as we could because of the out of balance diversion of energy to this single threat.
While passion is a powerful asset to school safety programs, logical and fact-based school safety is also extremely important. Deaths that lack media coverage because they involve one victim at a time should concern us just as much as the extremely rare but catastrophic events that shock our conscious. Having worked eight of them, I know that active shooter incidents are deadly and horrific events we must work to prevent. At the same time, we should address all forms of potentially preventable deaths in K12 schools, not just those involving guns. Never in my 34 years in the school safety field have I seen our nation’s school safety efforts so out of balance in this regard.