I just read an article in the Washington Post – Another school shooting: Are we numb to it?  I don’t know about you, but I am not numb.  Each shooting horrifies me.  When I hear that one of the victims called her mom as she was dying, I imagine receiving that call from my teenager.  As I wrote yesterday, physical security is only one piece of the puzzle, but it’s important that we do not become numb to these events, that we don’t throw up our hands and say there’s nothing we can do.

On the other hand, it’s critical that we don’t make decisions about security and safety based solely on fear.  According to several local news sources, Kentucky lawmakers immediately re-introduced a bill that would allow one “school marshal” for each 400 students to be appointed and allowed to carry a gun on campus.  Given the unexpected nature and very short duration of most school shootings, it seems unrealistic to expect the appointed school marshal – who could be a teacher or other staff member, to be able to prevent an incident like the one at Marshall County High School.

I read another article in USA Today – 20 years in, shootings have changed schools in unexpected ways, which quoted James Alan Fox, a professor at Northeastern University: “Schools are safe. They’ve been safe for a long time. They remain safe.”  Although I don’t agree with everything stated in the article, some good points were made.  Fox’s statistics show that between 1999 and 2013, homicides, bicycle accidents, firearm accidents, falls and swimming pool drownings accounted for 31,827 of the total 32,464 reported deaths of young people. During the same period, there were 154 deaths in school shootings – less than 0.5% of the total.   And my favorite quote from the article, Even solutions that seem sensible, such as classroom doors that lock from the inside, could have unintended consequences, such as predators trapping students inside.”

I’m sure many of you have seen the headlines about the number of school shootings so far this year, like this one from the Huffington Post – U.S. Schools Have Already Faced 11 Shooting Incidents This Year.  While I am not in any way trying to minimize the tragic effects of a school shooting, overstating these statistics can lead to reactions that may favor security over life safety.  It’s worth taking a closer look at these 11 incidents rather than just sharing the shocking headline.

  • January 3rd – a 31-year-old man committed suicide in a school parking lot in Michigan (school was closed)
  • January 4th – two shots were fired into a school in Washington – no injuries
  • January 6th – a pellet gun was fired at a school bus in Iowa, breaking the window – no injuries
  • January 10th – a shot was fired through a window on a California college campus – no injuries
  • January 10th – a criminal justice student in Texas confused a real gun with a training weapon and accidentally fired it – no injuries
  • January 10th – an Arizona student committed suicide in a school bathroom
  • January 15th – a bullet was fired into a dorm room in Texas when individuals exchanged gunfire outside – no injuries
  • January 20th – a university student was shot and killed during an argument at a sorority event in North Carolina – 1 fatality
  • January 22nd – a student shot another student in the cafeteria of a high school in Texas – 1 injured
  • January 22nd – someone in a passing car shot at a group of students in a high school parking lot in Louisiana – 1 injured
  • January 23rd – a student opened fire in a common area of a Kentucky high school – 2 fatalities, 17 injuries

While these shootings technically involved schools or colleges, most are not the types of incidents that the term “school shooting” conjures up in the minds of readers.  One school shooting is one too many, but it would be helpful if the media would forego the sensational headlines and focus on real solutions.  I expect that the news coverage will prompt another wave of publicity for classroom barricade devices, bulletproof whiteboards, backpack shields, and other products, as schools try to address the fears of inadequate security.  But it’s crucial to maintain a balance between security and safety when considering the options for securing schools.

Image: Huffington Post

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