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 the shooters just as much as they train the victims. We are training an entire generation of students to strategize about mass shootings every year in some of the safest places where people 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 play at their schools and it is going to make the idea much more salient for them.
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 mass 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 opening fire during a weekly ball game at a 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 do it because administrators would never want to interrupt a nice sporting event for mass-shooter theater. We have our priorities.
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 rescuers.
The US has a much bigger fire-death problem than most 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 it has been dropping due to actions spurred by press reports about fire deaths, but it is 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, so why don’t we do more fire drills instead of mass-shooter trainings?