Do Metal Detectors Prevent Gun Violence?

by Roberto Hart

The line forms for the metal detector at Springfield Gardens High School in Queens, New York

“Ya wanna know what’s the problem? That the government only put metal detectors in schools in the HOOD!” You can always count on the Bronx, New York, native and rising rapper Cardi B to let people know what’s on her mind, and the minds of others. With one Instagram post reacting to the Parkland, Florida school shooting, she sparked a conversation about metal detectors.

Dominick Fobbs graduated from a high school with metal detectors in Springfield Gardens, Queens. The 23-year-old said, “Maybe they should have had metal detectors… Springfield has them and you don’t hear of things like that happening there. Outside of the school is another story because that’s just the area”

Another Springfield graduate, Sarah Otivia, said she remembers the detectors feeling like an inconvenience at first. “You had to come an extra thirty minutes early, wait on a huge line no matter what the weather was. But after a few years in you understand why this was done,” she said.

In New York City, school officials, parents, and politicians have debated the merits of metal detectors for almost thirty years. The first metal detectors on school grounds were installed in 1992 after two students were shot to death at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn. There are now about 88 high school and middle school buildings across NYC with airport-style scanners and handheld metal detectors.

The installation of metal detectors is often considered the city’s knee-jerk reaction to violent episodes. After a knife attack by a student at Urban Assembly’s Wildlife Conservation High School in the Bronx in 2017 left one student dead and another wounded, metal detectors were installed the very next day. Critics wondered why they weren’t there in the first place.

The New York Times, in 2017, reported that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) found the number of weapons, or “dangerous instruments,” at public schools had increased from 1,073 to 1,429. Rather than an increase of incidents, the Times quoted the mayor saying, “The increase reflects a city more adept at discovering weapons.” In the same article, Chief NYPD Spokesman Stephen P. Davis also pointed out, “Not all confiscations result from metal detectors.”

New York City Mayor de Blasio told CBS2 in 2017 that he’s not opposed to metal detectors. But he asked, “Do we aspire to a society where every kid has to go through a metal detector to go to school?” Others like Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union call for more “relationship building” to answer questions like, “What went wrong? What is going on in this school with regard to the overall climate, with regard to bullying, with regard to conflict resolution, with regard to whether or not kids have an adult that they can go to for support in the school environment?”

Those who oppose metal detectors argue that they create a hostile environment for students. Principal Jill Bloomberg of Brooklyn’s Park Slope Collegiate told ProPublic that installing metal detectors “sends a message to the students that ‘We don’t trust you. And even if we trusted you, we don’t necessarily trust the guy behind you.’”