Should Students Be Trained to Respond to School Shootings?

While incidents of mass shootings at school have led to widespread alarm and calls for greater security in schools across the United States, how safe are they making students in school?

Despite high-profile shooting incidents such as the Columbine school shooting in 1999, the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, and the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, researchers looking at school shootings over the past two decades argue that the public hysteria over school safety is largely unjustified.   According to a report published in 2000, the actual risk of being killed by violence at school is far lower than the risk of dying elsewhere.  Even though mass shootings have tripled from 2011 to 2014, actual school shootings remain relatively rare.  At least, so far.

Whether or not school shootings are on the increase, the widespread perception remains that schools are unsafe places for students, especially in the United States.   One opinion poll reports that 71 percent of respondents believe that a school shooting in their own community was likely.   Much of the panic over school safety stems from media stories about school shooters such as Adam Lanza, Eric Harris, and Dylan Kleebold as well as the general perception that  schools are ill-prepared to protect students when these tragedies happen.  

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, laws calling for greater security measures for schools were passed in dozens of U.S. states and communities across the country have spent millions of dollars beefing up school security. This includes installing metal detectors, electronic door locks, bullet-proof glass, intruder alarms, and security cameras to keep school grounds under continuous surveillance.    New "zero tolerance" policies have become more common in dealing with students committing various infractions such as bringing a pen knife to school.  School officials are also much more prone to calling in the police and having these students arrested than they have in the past.

But an even more controversial security approach involves training students directly on how to respond to a school shooting.   Some school districts have arranged "live action" training sessions organized by campus security with students as "actors" along with pretend gun shots and fake blood. 

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.


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