School Shootings: Who, When, and Where
Lockdowns and active shooter drills are now a common occurrence in American schools. Children huddle on classroom floors while heavily armed police officers methodically clear the building in search of a shooter.
To bolster security before shootings happen, school systems are adding armed guards, metal detectors, digital ID cards, bulletproof doors and windows, AI connected CCTV systems, and even James Bond-style smoke screens built into the hallway ceilings. All of these investments are intended to stop the next school shooting…but would they have stopped previous shootings?
The K-12 School Shooting Database (www.chds.us/ssdb) provides detailed information about more than 1,300 incidents in which a gun has been banished, fired, or a bullet has struck school property — from 1970 to present. If a school system is considering adding bulletproof classroom doors, school administrators should review the historical incidents to determine how many deaths or injuries would have been prevented by a bulletproof door.
Comparing the information in the K-12 SSDB to the protective measures that are being proposed for schools can provide insights into the potential effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of these investments. The database offers more than 100,000 data points for analysis. Here are three examples that jump out from just looking at the interactive charts.
Most School Shooters are Current Students
The majority of school shootings are carried out by current students. This alone creates a challenge for high tech school security systems designed to prevent unauthorized access…because the shooter will have access. Since most school shootings involve students who will be automatically authorized enter, what is the benefit of the investment in the new system?
The same problem applies to the outwardly very sensible idea of having students go through lockdown and safety drills. Unfortunately, a student shooter will be familiar with the school’s security procedures because he or she (yes, there are female school shooters) has been trained in the security procedures. A student shooter will know the code words given over the PA system, which area of the school to take refuge in, places that are hardest to secure (gym, cafeteria, auditorium), and even how to barricade the classroom door if he or she decides to take hostages (it has happened 42 times). A school system may have unknowingly purchased lockdown equipment that could even aid the next shooter in blocking police from entering the classroom!
Beyond students, people who are allowed to be on or around the campus — parents, former students, relatives, community members using the school for recreational activities, and teachers — are the people who are involved in school shootings not committed by students. In some areas, non-students even get training in security procedures.
Bottom line: High tech school security measures that are focused on access control to the school will have little impact on stopping the majority of shooters who are allowed to be at the facility and most shooters will know the lockdown plan.
Most Shootings Are Outside of the School Building
Adding metal detectors to screen students entering buildings, fortifying doors and windows, and classroom lockdowns are ineffective security measures if a shooting occurs outside the walls of a school building. More than half of school shootings happen outdoors on school property. How does a school lock down an athletic field or parking lot? How does a school screen for weapons around the entire perimeter of the property?
Looking at where school shootings happen is critical to determine how effective security measures will be. Adding smoke screens to hallways is not going to stop a shooter outside a school’s front doors.
During the School Day
If a school system is going to add armed guards to patrol a school, are they going to work 7am-3pm when the school is open? 30% of school shootings occur after the end of the school day. Schools are public places that host sporting events, dances, and parties. Members of the community use school facilities for athletics and recreation. Just because the school day is done, there’s no guarantee that students are off school property.
How is a school locked down when classes aren’t in session? Are non-students who are gathered at the school for after hours activities also trained in lockdown procedures? Would a lockdown make any difference in protecting the occupants?
Increasing security at a school requires looking at the data from past incidents to understand the different reasons shootings occur and when they happen.
Explore the Database
These are only three example of how data from the +1,300 incidents in the K-12 School Shooting Database can be used. For more information, click “view the data” on the website. The raw data is also available for download.
The K-12 School Shooting Database is a product of the Homeland Security Advanced Thinking Program (HSx) sponsored by the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. Follow us on twitter @k12ssdb.
David Riedman is an expert in critical infrastructure protection, homeland security policy, and emergency management. He is a co-founder of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s Advanced Thinking and Experimentation (HSx) Program at the Naval Postgraduate School.