*Updated February 11, 2023
Loaded gun confiscations and gun use spike on school campuses nationwide
Many educators and school safety officials anticipated an increase in student aggression and violence as they returned to in-person learning following remote learning due to COVID. Unfortunately, schools are experiencing not only increased verbal and physical aggression, but also an uptick in loaded weapons confiscated and used on school campuses
Imagine these scenarios:
- A 19-year-old gunman with an AR-15 style rifle and 600 rounds of ammunition killed two people and wounded several others at a St. Louis high school
- An 18-year-old Cleveland (OH) high school senior is caught with an AR-15 and ammunition after being allowed to enter through a back door to bypass a school metal detector
- A Virginia first grade teacher shot by her 6-year-old student
- Five men, including alleged gang members, were arrested after a loaded firearm and other weapons were found outside of a Luzerne County (PA) high school
- An adult woman died after being shot during an altercation outside of a Richmond (VA) elementary school around school dismissal
- A 7-year-old brought a gun to a Boston elementary school
- A 17-year-old male jumped into a crowd outside of a Milwaukee high school and hit a student with a gun, which fell to the ground and was picked up by someone else who turned the gun on the male and pulled the trigger
- A loaded AR-15 rifle, two loaded drum magazines, one standard magazine, various other caliber ammunition, and marijuana was found in the car of a California high school student in the school parking lot
These are a sample of actual gun incidents in schools across the nation. Add to these almost weekly incidents of violence with guns at high school football games on Fridays and Saturdays since the start of this school year. And much more…
10 steps superintendents, principals, and school safety officials can take action to address gun incidents at schools
As school and safety leaders work to address these challenges, they may wish to consider:
- Avoid security theater. It is counterproductive. Knee-jerk reactions such purchasing as metal detectors, “weapons detection systems,” and other target hardening measures often create more “security theater” to appeal to emotional security needs while not necessarily make schools as safe as purported by these often abruptly taken steps. Schools with these devices often shut them down at school dismissal, yet schools are open late into the night with athletics, performing arts, community use of schools, and other activities. Staff are needed to secure every other door except the door being used for screening. Do you have the personnel to staff them at all times? Will this pull staff away from supervising and interacting with students elsewhere in the school? And some “weapons detection systems” won’t even detect knives. Be attentive to unintended consequences that can result from security theater. Blowing a smoke screen before the public to solve board and administrator PR and political issues will likely not solve all your school safety issues. Some security hardware, products, and technology can support human school safety strategies, but they are only as good as the weakest human link and the fidelity of implementation behind them.
- Strengthen adult relationships with students. The number one-way school leaders learn about weapons, plots, intent to cause self-harm is when kids come forward and tell adults that they trust. Focus on adult relationships with kids. Adults should be visible and engaged with students, keeping your “ears to the ground” to find out about conflicts, weapons possession, and related safety risks.
- Rapid response to neighborhood/group/gang conflicts. They often escalate rapidly, involve larger numbers of participants than one-on-one altercations, and bring a greater risk of the possession and/or use of weapons.
- Strengthen intelligence/information sharing with police, probation, and community partners within legal and policy parameters. Engage School Resource Officer (SRO) programs, guided by best practices, to strengthen prevention and response capabilities.
- Conduct security and emergency preparedness assessments to identify potential disconnects between policy and paper, and actual practice.
- Supervision, supervision, supervision. Student supervision, especially in common areas and/or locations of large numbers of students with fewer adults, plays an important role in reducing risks of aggressive and/or violent behavior.
- Promote anonymous reporting tools to encourage reporting of safety concerns by students, parents, and others in the school community.
- Strengthen student supports such as social, emotional, and mental health resources.
- Engage students in identifying safety concerns and strategies to reduce risks of weapons and other violence in schools.
- Participate in communitywide anti-violence and gun crime reduction policy and prevention initiatives. Violence using guns is a community issue, not a phenomenon unique to schools. Schools reflect their broader communities. If you have an uptick in gun incidents in your schools, you most likely also have an uptick in gun crimes in your community served by the schools.
Schools are a microcosm of their broader communities. Increased stressors, aggression, and violence can be found in communities across the nation. While there is no quick fix, school leaders can work with their first responders and other safety officials to develop strategies to reduce risks and prepare to manage those incidents of violence that cannot be prevented.
Ken Trump is the President of National School Safety and Security Services
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