We all know school shootings happen. We know the devastation they wreak and the fear they inspire. They occur in what should be the safest place, a place of inclusion and learning: our schools. However, they instead become the setting of a nightmare. How and why these events occur, as well as how to prevent them, is a question more than worthy of further investigation.
Where They Happen and Who is Responsible for the Action
The three states with the highest amounts of gun violence in schools are, in order, California, Texas, and Florida. These three states also have the loosest gun restrictions and typically provide less funding into mental health resources within their schools. Ninety-one percent of school shootings are committed by someone who is currently enrolled in or has previously attended their target school.
As such, schools with less access to infrastructure, such as secure buildings and mental health professionals, are more at risk for this type of violence. Unfortunately, this leads to schools of lower socioeconomic status and with a higher percentage of students of color being disproportionately impacted by this type of violence.
Methods of Prevention
The risk of an aggravated incident is always one at the forefront of school administrators' minds. In an effort to prevent these catastrophes, school leaders and law enforcement have implemented countless methods of prevention. These have included running lockdown drills, producing training videos, hiring school resource officers, spending billions of dollars securing school buildings and, the most controversial action, arming school teachers.
Twenty-eight states allow school staff to come to school armed in some cases or as part of a program. However, in almost all cases, the high stress and confusion environment of an attack will not turn a teacher from an educator into a savior. Rather, it increases the risk of unintentional harm to both teachers and students.
For the last twenty years, many comprehensive plans to end school gun violence have been put forward. However, none have been able to fully address the topic at hand, and the issue is worsening. Plans are in the process of being made, tailored to the specific needs of school-related gun violence. In these circumstances, gun violence prevention solutions have to work in cooperation with school-based intervention methods to manufacture healthy environments in which adequate counseling and mental health services are provided.
Know the Signs
In almost every recorded case of a school shooting, warning signs were given prior to the attack but they were not addressed appropriately. The majority of those warning signs occurred over social media. In four out of five school shootings, at least one other person knew of the aggressor's intention but failed to bring it to adequate attention. Schools should already have anonymous reporting databases available to report an at-risk student. Reporting before incidents may not only save the lives of the shooter's victims, but also the shooters themselves— eighty percent of whom are suicidal.
What You Should Do in an Active Shooter Situation
If prevention has failed, it is time to look towards protection. A good rule to go by is coined the “RUN, HIDE or FIGHT” protocol. Run when there is an active threat and once you are safe, call for authorities. Hide, if escape is not possible, and block the door, avoid windows and silence your cell phone. Fight, only as a last resort if your life is in danger, and never engage the aggressor if it is not absolutely necessary. However, these are only a starting point. Always listen to teachers and law enforcement as they are trained for handling these situations.
It is important now more than ever to understand how to keep our schools safe and respond to acts of violence. Although it is difficult to imagine that such tragedies could take place in our own communities, all students must be aware of how to respond to active shooter situations and take the steps necessary to ensure their health and safety.
“Run, Hide, Fight - Active Shooter Protocol.” Office of Public Safety, https://www.smcm.edu/publicsafety/run-hide-fight-active-shooter-protocol/.
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“The Effects of Laws Allowing Armed Staff in K–12 Schools.” RAND Corporation, https://www.rand.org/research/gun-policy/analysis/laws-allowing-armed-staff-in-K12-schools.html.
Jillian Peterson Professor of Criminal Justice, and James Densley Associate Professor. “School Shooters Usually Show These Signs of Distress Long before They Open Fire, Our Database Shows.” The Conversation, 2 Dec. 2021, https://theconversation.com/school-shooters-usually-show-these-signs-of-distress-long-before-they-open-fire-our-database-shows-111242.
“16 Facts about Gun Violence and School Shootings.” Sandy Hook Promise, 9 Sept. 2021, https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/gun-violence/16-facts-about-gun-violence-and-school-shootings/.
“Keeping Our Schools Safe: A Plan for Preventing Mass Shootings and Ending All Gun Violence in American Schools.” Everytown Research & Policy, 3 Nov. 2021, https://everytownresearch.org/report/preventing-gun-violence-in-american-schools/#a-comprehensive-plan.
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About the Author:
Harper Lindsay is a rising sophomore student. She was elected as vice president of her sophomore class and has a passion for Model UN and cross country. Harper is the founder of Food For Fidos, a nonprofit organization which contributes to the amount of dog food in Boston food banks, to support people caring for their pets throughout difficult times.