Issue 8, Volume 112
By Erica Li
Just outside Wilmington Park Elementary School in California, a shooting on December 6, 2021, left one 13-year-old boy dead and two others injured. Just days before, a 15-year-old fatally shot four students and wounded six others, along with one teacher, at Oxford High School in Michigan.
The number of school shootings across the United States continues to rise. The Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 Shooting Database tracks the number of times a gun is brandished, a gun is fired, or a bullet hits school properties for any reason. Fourteen incidents were recorded in September 2019. The tracker recorded 24 incidents in September 2020. And it recorded 55 incidents in September 2021 alone.
As school shootings increase, the characteristics of the incidents are also beginning to differ. This year, the shooters and victims were younger, more often children or teenagers than teachers and other staff members. In Mississippi, a first grade student even accidentally shot another six-year-old. Recent trends have also shown that the perpetrators are more likely to be students of the school, rather than random individuals. In addition, the incidents are increasingly likely to take place during the school day or at events where there are large numbers of people. In fact, 11 out of the 55 incidents in September 2021 happened at or around football games. Shootings are also more likely to be the result of fights, such as fistfights, where the students are armed and that escalate into shootouts. Retaliation shootings, stemming from gang violence or personal conflicts, are a common cause of school shootings.
Under pressure, school systems throughout the nation are starting to implement physical measures like metal detectors and random bag checks, as well as advanced surveillance technology. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in October that he would station more metal detectors and police officers throughout NYC campuses to combat the increase of violent incidents and gun confiscations.
Metal detectors have been used in US schools to prevent violence since the 1980s. Most of the metal detectors are either installed with fixed walk through devices or handheld wands. Though sometimes disruptive, the implementation of metal detectors does have positive effects. They are a clear sign of constant security presence on school campuses, deterring violence. They add another layer of security and a feeling of safety for students, teachers, and staff members alike. A recent poll of about 85 parents also revealed that most (87 percent) favored metal detectors in schools, as they believed that children do not function well under high stress and unsafe environments, interrupting their intellectual and social development. Metal detectors ease many parents’ anxiety about their children’s safety in schools.
In New York City schools alone, about half of confiscated weapons found are due to metal detectors placed in the buildings. WNYC, America’s most listened to public radio station, ran a project in 2015 on metal detectors in New York City, finding that for every 23,034 students scanned, one dangerous item (including but not limited to firearms) could be found. In total, 712 weapons were found in the 2013-2014 school year. Metal detectors do not just pick up guns; NYPD school crime data reported in 2016 that 37 of the 52 boxcutters found to have been smuggled into schools were detected by metal detectors, as were 36 out of 52 knives. Recently, a single metal detector placed in the Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice detected 21 weapons (nine knives, seven pepper sprays, four stun guns, and one pair of brass knuckles) in just one day. Left undetected, these weapons could have seriously injured someone.
However, the effectiveness of metal detectors with other types of school security does depend on the staff members hired to run them, which means there will always be some level of human error, as school personnel and staff members need to have the proper training to keep metal detectors doing what they aim to do. Many of them are not properly trained, allowing the chance of metal detector misuse, a severe safety hazard.
Many people also argue that metal detectors cause students to feel as if they attend a prison for school, but most parents, students, and staff members will always value safety first. Placing metal detectors in schools lowers the chance of violent acts occurring on school grounds and keeps schools a place where students feel safe and accepted. Metal detectors are there to help prevent common school fights from escalating into school shootings, thus allowing students to feel safer.
Metal detectors in schools will allow students, parents, teachers, and staff members to learn in a comfortable environment. They are needed to deter students from bringing concealed weapons, lowering the chance of violence breaking out.