Carroll County Times
Carroll County Times Opinion

Zirpoli: Security vs. false sense of security in schools

It has been 20 years since the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. Twelve students and one teacher were killed by two students who walked into the school with guns. Researchers at the University of Toledo and Ball State University looked at 18 years of school security studies since Columbine and found “no evidence those measured have worked” in lowering school gun violence in America. They were, however, effective in giving everyone “a false sense of security.” This statement reminded me of what we do at airports when we remove our shoes; It doesn’t make us safer, but it makes us feel safer.

Since the Columbine massacre, “more than 226,000 children at 233 schools have been exposed to gun violence” according to the school shooting database maintained by The Washington Post. These shootings killed 143 students and teachers and injured 294 others. There were over 25 school shootings in 2018 alone. Since gun violence is getting worse, shouldn’t we invest in what the research says works and stop wasting our money on what makes us feel good?


Professor James Price of The University of Toledo, and Associate Professor Jagdish Khubchandani of Ball State University looked at 89 studies on gun violence in schools between 2000 and 2018. They looked at various methods used by schools to prevent school gun violence. These methods include armed school police, identification badges for teachers and staff, monitoring door access, locked school doors, limiting access to the main door, security cameras, locked classroom doors, student locker searches, active shooter plans, lockdown drills, and neighborhood police patrols. The study found that none of these methods reduced gun violence compared to schools without these practices. In addition, many child experts are warning that repeated active shooter and lockdown drills, “though well-intentioned efforts to protect our children” are actually “harming them emotionally” according to research by pediatrician David Schonfeld who is the director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement. One must ask, are we trying to protect our children or scare them? Sometimes, I wonder.

Price and Khubchandani did find that the “ideal method for eliminating school firearm violence by youths is to prevent them from ever gaining access to firearms.” They found “an alarming rate of firearms accessible to youths,” especially in their homes. Changing this variable, however, will take — literally — an act of Congress. The second most effective method identified by the researchers is to prevent anyone from bringing weapons undetected into the school in the first place. This requires metal detector screening at a primary school entrance and this method is used in only 11 percent of our schools.


A very popular, but ineffective, method used at 46 percent of secondary schools and 13 percent of elementary schools, is to have security officers or police in schools. This strategy is ineffective because schools are typically large and by the time the officer gets to the shooter, many people have already been killed or injured. The same is the case for arming administrators and teachers. “Armed school personnel,” states the report, would need “to be in the exact same spot in the school as the shooter to significantly reduce this level of trauma. Ten seconds is too fast to stop a school shooter with a semiautomatic firearm when the armed school guard is in another place in the school.” Thus, keeping the firearm and shooter out of the school in the first place is a more effective method than arming people inside the school to stop a shooter. Metal detectors, not more police, would be a more effective deterrent and detector of armed intruders from the start.

I think of this each time I enter office buildings where visitors are greeted after they have entered the building, by a guard sitting behind a desk. Because these buildings don’t have metal detectors to alert the guard of an armed visitor, it is likely that the guard would be the first to be shot.

Research studies have also pointed to an unintended consequence of having more police officers in schools. Effective classroom management strategies, carried out by teachers and administrators, are frequently replaced with police tactics carried out by officers. This has resulted in more student arrests for behavior historically handled with a trip to the principal’s office. Now, instead of a poor report card, the student has a police record.

Research provides us with knowledge about what works and what does not work. With increasing efforts to spend significant amounts of money to place more police officers in our schools, we may be giving ourselves, as the study states, “a false sense of security.”