Here at Bluffton University, we just did our first annual mass-shooter drill. I think it is political theater at best and harmful at worst. The Washington Post wrote an article that puts the threat of mass-shooters in perspective.
People killed in mass shootings make up less than half of 1 percent of the people shot to death in the United States. …In 2015, more than 12,000 people have been killed by guns, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
For comparison, toddlers shot and killed more Americans than mass shooters did.
Americans seem to be particularly scared of mass shootings in schools, because this is where we focus our anti-shooter efforts, but schools have always been one of the safest places that students ever go. Only about 1% of the homicides of students happen on school grounds. The probability of dying in school is much lower than at home or in some other public area. As I wrote earlier, mass shootings at schools is an incredibly low-probability way to die. You should be more worried about deaths from lightening or drownings in bathtubs. At colleges, alcohol and suicides produce some of the biggest death risks that we should be more worried about.
Plus, there is no evidence that mass-shooter drills have any beneficial effect and they may cause harm. These drills train students to become future shooters just as much as they train the future victims. Seventy percent of mass shooters in our K-12 schools are minors who presumably participate in the drills along with their future victims. We are training an entire generation of students to strategize about mass shootings every year in some of the safest places where Americans ever gather. The tiny fraction of students at the fringe end of the bell curve who have a tendency towards mass shootings are going to be stoked by the annual mass shooting rituals at their schools and it is going to make the idea much more salient for a lot of impressionable young minds.
Public health officials realize that mass shootings in schools are a form of epidemic and if the bug can be caught from exposure to press reports about mass shooters it can probably be caught from participation in mass shooter drills too.
Fire drills (and earthquake drills on the west coast and tornado drills in Kansas) are useful because they train everyone to be safer and calmer in a real emergency. Active shooter drills aren’t like that at all because they train active shooters how to be more dangerous. Fires and tornadoes cannot learn from participating in drills how to kill more people, but people can.
Every year they are going to see how trivially easy it is to defeat the pathetic countermeasures we play at in the drills. A smart future shooter will be spending the time the students spend huddled in silence in darkened classrooms with shades drawn thinking about all the obvious vulnerabilities such as disabling the automatic sprinklers and igniting gasoline (like smoking-out rabbits). Or thinking about a good sniper nest for a massacre during a weekly ball game at the stadium. When schools do a mass-shooter drill in the middle of a packed ball game I will take them more seriously, but they won’t ever do it because administrators would never want to interrupt a nice sporting event for mass-shooter theater. It is fine to interrupt classes, but we have our priorities.
Whereas fire drills make everyone feel safer. Active shooter drills make us feel less safe because it feels pathetic and weak to have to wait in a classroom behind a thin wooden door and imagine all the ways that a real active shooter would be able to kill us:
- Break the door and shoot us like sitting ducks. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “kicking doors in, …is an easy skill to learn. For some people, it’s recreation. There are YouTube videos on how to do it and assorted websites devoted to the fine points.”
- Break in through a window. Also, many classrooms have a glass panel in the door that can be broken and then the shooter can reach through and unlock the door.
- Use some small bombs to kill directly and create openings into locked classrooms.
- Use gasoline to set the door (and the rest of the building) on fire.
- Pull a fire alarm and shoot the stream of people going outside. Some mass shooters are already using this tactic.
- Shoot in the halls between classes.
- Shoot during an assembly, concert, athletic event, or during lunch.
- Shoot students one by one outside of school. That is how the vast majority of American are murdered anyhow.
In addition to increasing the salience of mass shootings among all the mentally unstable people in the general population, we may increase other risks by being paranoid about mass shooters in schools too. For example, fire doors are being propped open during office hours so that the door locks can be permanently engaged in order to allow them to be locked in an instant by just swinging the doors shut. That is going to increase the risk of fire deaths which kill many times more Americans than mass shooters. Not only do propped-open doors permit fires to spread, doors that automatically lock upon shutting will slow down firefighters and endanger both rescuers and fire victims.
Even worse, some schools are recommending that students wait to evacuate during a fire alarm because of the worry that mass shooters might pull fire alarms to make the students easier targets.
The US has a much bigger burn-death problem than most rich nations and these deaths are much easier to prevent than mass-shooter deaths in a nation with a constitutional right to own unlimited quantities of machine guns. Whereas I don’t see any politically feasible way to reduce mass-shooter deaths in America, the only reason we have an enormous death-rate from fire is negligence. Fortunately fire deaths have been dropping due to actions spurred by press reports about fire deaths, and unlike mass shooters, fires aren’t inspired by the media to try to burn more people. But US fire deaths are still much higher than most nations which means that most of these deaths are preventable.
There is nothing in our constitution that prevents action against fire deaths nor any organized political groups that are adamantly pro-fire risk. There is actual evidence that fire drills save lives and fires kill many times more Americans than mass shooters anyhow, so why don’t we do more fire drills instead of so many mass-shooter trainings?
Why act out traumatic events that may never occur? …The U.S. has become obsessed with rehearsing crises as a means of preventing future mistakes. …And this new reality, one where false memories prime us to the idea that no place is truly safe, is exemplified by active shooter drills popping up in schools around the country.
Proponents argue the more realistic the drill is, the less likely students are to feel and act unprepared in a true scenario. Yet a growing number of parents and psychologists argue that this immersive approach in the country’s schools isn’t justified by worthy statistics. After all, the chance of any student dying in a school-related shooting is one in 2.5 million…
…Over 20 states require schools to have some sort of lockdown procedure in place… But six states (Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas, and New Jersey) have taken lockdown to the next level; they mandate specific active-shooter drills in which armed police officers often bust down classroom doors, fake guns fully loaded…
[Other school districts are even more extreme.] This is where the ALICE Training Institute comes in…
ALICE—which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate—is billed as the nation’s first active shooter response program, which has, according to Crane, trained 22 million people to use a menu of SWAT-like defense tactics in the event of an armed assault…
This past January, one middle school in Alabama sent a letter home to parents in advance of ALICE training telling them to equip each of their children with a can of food. “Our mission has been [that] there should never be an American who doesn’t know what to do when they’re under fire,” Crane said.
…he program often incorporates materials like Airsoft guns and air horns to replicate the sound of gun shots emerging from a hallway. “They can hear the air horn getting closer, which brings up their anxiety level,” Crane said…
Certain schools in states including Oregon, New Jersey, and Florida have started implementing unannounced active-shooter drills on the grounds that they better prepare kids for surprise attacks. Forget what you’ve learned about fake blood and Airsoft props on-site—in these schools, the word “drill” is a frightening misnomer; neither students nor faculty are given any advanced notice of them.
Last November, a middle school in Florida made headlines after students believed an unannounced drill, in which two gunmen barreled down the school’s hallway with a pistol and AR-15, was real. Turns out the shooters were local police officers yelling, “This is a drill!”—but that didn’t stop many students from texting their parents hysterically, telling them they feared for their lives…
[In another instance] local law enforcement …issued a “code red” emergency protocol after receiving reports of a student carrying a suspected weapon. That weapon turned out to be brass knuckles, and the student was soon arrested—but still, according to Joy, everyone reacted as if they were in the midst of an active shooter situation. “Some of my friends in the auditorium were put in a stage door closet. Other people were stuck in cabinets or the bathroom,” Joy continued. “They prepare us, but it’s nothing like the actual scenario.”
There is no evidence that any of this works. For example, the ALICE company cannot point to a single example where its techniques have stopped a shooter. Here is an example of what ALICE looks like:
Instead of preventing de-escalating our irrational paranoia about violence, we have been investing millions to make America more like a war zone.
in Texas, Camey Elementary School, which has never experienced a shooting, recently spent $21.5 million rebuilding a facility with bulletproof glass on the front doors, 50 security cameras, and a panic button… even bulletproof blankets made their way into naptime defense budgets…
The Washington Post reported about the multi-billion dollar school shooter preparedness industry:
But fear has long dictated what schools invest in, and although campus shootings remain extremely rare, many superintendents are under intense pressure from parents to do something — anything — to make their kids safer…
As Home Depot and Walmart market $150 bulletproof backpacks to frightened parents, administrators are being inundated with pitches from entrepreneurs pushing new concepts that make grand promises. One superintendent who responded to the survey said that within hours of a shooting earlier this year, her inbox was “flooded from vendors with some pretty disrespectful and tacky statements: ‘had you had this . . .’; ‘if you had this . . .’ ”
The industry is also rife with self-appointed experts and consultants who claim to know what safety measures are most effective, but given that so little government or academic research has been done on what insulates students from on-campus gun violence, it’s enormously difficult for schools to reach conclusions based in fact.
All this to make it easier to allow more Americans to have easier access to guns than in any other nation. Especially for the kids:
The United States, home to 5 percent of the industrialized world’s population under 15 years old, accounts for 87 percent of its unintentional firearm fatalities involving that age group, according to a 2003 paper.