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01 April 2015

Guns and other weapons in school

The problem of guns and other weapons in school is a serious issue that deserves the attention of the public and entire educational community. There are a number of factors that contribute to the problem. First is the availability of weapons in the community and home. Second is the student’s reason for bringing a weapon to school. Third, while the gun is a serious weapon of destruction, it is not the weapon of choice. Lastly, the difficulty schools have in detecting concealed weapons.

Easy Access to Guns

According to a recent Gallop Crime Poll, 43 percent of women and 52 percent of men reported a gun in their home (Sun Sentinel, October 29, 2011). Currently, it is estimated that there are over 250 million guns in the hands of 80 million gun owners in America. What does this mean?   Our kids have exposure to more guns in their homes than ever. There are more guns available for criminals to steal during home burglaries and more guns on the street. Some of these weapons will find there way into school as happened at William T. Dwyer H.S. recently (Sun Sentinel, Nov. 2, 2011).

Why Would a Student Bring a Weapon to School?

The number one reason given by students for bringing a weapon to school is concern for personal safety. When students perceive schools to be unsafe, many will avoid coming but others will bring a weapon. In some cases, the weapon is given to them by their parents. There will always be a percentage of the student population who are going to be violent and there are many possibilities for this. The reasons could be genetic, emotional or psychological issues, born to a mother who is drug addicted, brought up in a dysfunctional or abusive home environment, the result of bullying, or are substance abusers and the list goes on and on. “Nationwide, 73 prisoners are serving life sentences …for their role in homicides committed when they were 14 or younger (Sun Sentinel, November 8, 2011.)

Other Weapons in School

While the gun is a serious weapon of destruction, it is not the weapon of choice. According to a story in U.S. News & World Report on Nov. 19, 2007, “When it comes to school crime, it’s not guns, it’s knives according to an FBI Study of crime at schools, colleges and universities.” From 2000 through 2004 there were 10,970 incidents involving a blade compared with 3,461 involving a gun. These numbers don’t even come close to revealing the seriousness of the problem. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) years ago, 200,000 students bring a gun to school every day. Either educators don’t know what to look for or they are not reporting these incidents.  Guess what? Students are aware of these weapons in school and this builds their perception of the school being unsafe and thus promotes their need to bring a weapon for their own self-defense. While national attention and policy talk centers on tragedies like those at Virginia Tech, Columbine H.S. and now Sandy Hook Elementary School, the numbers presented in the FBI study suggest that smaller-scale crimes are very widespread and are the more serious problem. Also keep in mind, the reports of violent incidents were voluntary and the numbers of law enforcement agencies participating vary from year to year.

Difficulty in Detecting Weapons Coming into School

Even with technology, the job of detecting weapons has become more difficult than ever. In the early 1980s, I worked with the training staff at the Nassau County Jail. I was amazed to see the collection of weapons, both commercially produced and prisoner made, taken from prisoners. If weapons can be found in jails where the tightest security imaginable is in existence, how can we expect to keep weapons out of schools? The answer is quite simple, we can’t. Today, weapons can be disguised to look like something else. Guns can be purchased to look like a cell phone, a pager, a belt buckle or even a pen. Knives can be found concealed inside pens, hair combs or brushes. Some bladed weapons are made from cheap or space age plastics, and are just as lethal as steel. These can easily go undetected even through metal detectors. Unless school security and school staff are trained to recognize these items, they can and will find their way into the building.

What’s the Next Step?

I have always been an advocate for school safety training for all school staff, a minimum of 45 hours. Times have changed, but not for the better. The “bad guys” keep improving and learn from the past mistakes of others. The Internet provides a wealth of information in this area. It is imperative that the educational community keep up. There are techniques for spotting a student with a handgun. Are your teachers, administrators and other staff aware of them? “Teacher/ Adult presence” everywhere in the building will go a long way to making students feel safer and reduce student’s need to bring a weapon to school.

“Many educators are putting too much faith in electronic gadgets

and spending too little time on training and planning….

Prepared schools will also train all staff…”

(Source: Ken Trump, President of National School Safety and

Security Services Consulting in Cleveland.)

Over the years, I have commonly heard three reasons given for not providing school staff with the necessary training. First, “We don’t have the money.” Second, “We don’t have a problem” and third, “We don’t want to frighten anyone.” Just think of the alternative. One reason never given is the need to protect the reputation of the school or community.

“Rarely do we know when we have averted a tragedy from

a student who intended to commit a violent act. However,

with absolute certainty, we know when we did not.”

(Source: Dennis Lewis, EDU-SAFE)