Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Next Big Problem With School Shooter Preparedness

We think we're seeing the worst side effects of our national preoccupation with school shooters.

We aren't.

The problems with active shooter drills have already been widely documented. In the best of circumstances, active shooter drills are disturbing, even if they are focused just on the adults in the building. I've been through a drill with shooters using blanks; it's rough. But we've ben seeing stories about drills that went wildly over the top-- execution-style shootings with pellet guns, and drills that are treated as an actual real event.

The trauma experienced by children is widespread and severe. Stories on facebook and twitter and in the supermarket abound. Children who are worried about sneezing or afraid that if they can't learn to stifle tears, they might give their position away to the shooter. The NEA felt the need to create a guide for helping students cope, while a steady stream of articles catalog the fears such drills awaken and the reasons active shooter drills should be stopped.

But from Florida comes news that hints at the next level of trouble sparked by drills and news coverage and the business of building fear into our children:

A ten-year-old girl is facing charges after she brought a steak knife to her elementary school in Florida, according to authorities.

According to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, the girl said she brought the knife to Stanley Switlik Elementary School so she could protect herself if an armed attacker entered the school.

Most of the controversy surrounding these events centers on the district attorney's bizarre decision to level criminal charges against this girl (and the school's bizarre decision not to have her back). And that's all pretty awful, but that's not where I want to focus.

A student thought she needed to bring a weapon to school to protect herself from any scary attacker.

It's not a surprise this happened in Florida. In the "Florida man" state, students are subjected not just to the active shooter drills, but have hard all the discussion surrounding putting armed guards in schools, of arming teachers in their schools. Many of them have heard the insistence that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

It should have been obvious. Why would a student not conclude that she needed to take a weapon to school?

This time it was a ten year old with a steak knife. Eventually it will be a sixteen year old with a hand gun. In the worst case scenario, that sixteen year old won't be arrested and charged for acting out of fear-- he'll be shot by some security guard, or, God help him, an armed teacher. Someone who, in a split-second moment of terror will think that student is a threat. And that's just one scenario-- I can't even begin to imagine all the different way things can take a turn for the worse when a frightened student brings a weapon to school.

But I believe it will happen again. We are building a toxic atmosphere of fear, fed by the foolish notion that the only solution for fearful things is even more fearful things. We are busy convincing students that they are in mortal peril and that only weapons can save them. Maybe there's a guard or a teacher or a cop on the way, but how could some students not conclude that the best way to have the most immediate protection is to have a weapon of their own. And there's no way that ends well.


  1. All valid concerns, but I see even more concerns with these drills:

    First, a potential school shooter is watching, very carefully, the schools'response to these drills. In my school, the teachers are left to decide if we stay put and fortify or run. I'm sure there are some kids noting which teachers are doing which. We saw something similar in Parkland where the shooter pulled the fire alarm knowing that people would begin evacuating.

    Next, the more these become common, more and more kids will start acting like they do during fire drills (ie taking it for granted and not taking it seriously). It's the opposite of what you're talking about, where the other group of kids, in the case of a real situation, will think "Oh, gunshots, shouting, etc., must be a drill!”

    I'm not sure the solution here, but what we're doing now seems wrong.

  2. For 180 days a year, 50 million children and young adolescents attend school and return home safely. Day after day after day, 5O million kids are safely transported, cared for, fed, and educated, Our public schools are statistically one of the safest places for our children to spend significant time in. Safer than cars and safer than their homes. The very few and extremely rare exceptions are being used to stoke a level of fear and anxiety in students that is completely misguided. As the adults in charge we should know better. Here in NYS for example, their have been zero mass school shootings ever! None. Many other states can make the same claim, but are also acting otherwise. We need to stop portraying the public schools as dangerous places where the threat of death or injury by armed assailants seems imminent when in fact they are just the opposite.

    Here are two links that make the case.