Here are some recent headlines from schools around the country: In Indiana, officials played a segment of a 911 call of a teacher in a panic during the Columbine High School shooting to students. In Ohio, officers fired blank shots during an active-shooter drill. In South Carolina, an officer dressed in black posed as an intruder on an unannounced drill. In Michigan, a school is spending $48 million on a renovation that includes curved hallways and hiding niches, in hopes of protecting students from a mass shooting. In Florida, a police officer arrested two 6-year-old students for misdemeanor battery. In Colorado, teachers received buckets and kitty litter for students to use as toilets in case of a prolonged school lockdown.
Mass shootings, meaning incidents with at least two deaths, in schools are horrifying. But it is highly unlikely that a child would ever witness one. Research indicates that some security measures brought in to make schools safer — like realistic shooter trainings — may be causing children more harm than good.
It is 10 times more likely that a student will die on the way to school.
Our chances of dying in a fire are also much greater — 1 in 1,500. But we don’t overreact.
More children have died from lightning strikes than from mass shootings in schools in the past 20 years. Still, we don’t obsess about them.
Exactly how common are school shootings?
In the two decades since Columbine, there have been 10 mass shootings in schools according to a recent analysis by James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University who has been studying school violence for several decades. In total, 81 people have been killed, 64 of them students. That’s an average of four deaths per year, three of them students.
Even one death is too many. But for perspective, 729 children committed suicide with a firearm in 2017, and 863 were victims of homicides by guns that year.
Nearly every public school in the country now conducts lockdown drills, and even the youngest students participate (last year, one school adapted a lullaby to prepare kindergartners). But very few studies have looked into the efficiency of these drills. One of them concluded that the practice can be helpful to teach students basic safety procedures. But to the author of the study, Jaclyn Schildkraut, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Oswego, there is no point in dramatizing the drills. “All that causes is fear,” she said.
Restaurants have 10 times as many homicides as schools. Why do we want to arm teachers and not wait staffs?
“There’s a misunderstanding in where the dangers are,” said Dewey G. Cornell, a psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia. “Kids are at far greater danger going to and from school, than they are in the classroom,” he said. “School counseling, academic support, that’s gonna do far more to keep our communities safe.”
Unlike the United States, the other wealthy countries in the Group of Seven don’t do lockdown drills and rarely have school shootings. What is the United States doing that is so different from them?
Many researchers think easy access to guns is an important part of the problem. “Violence in schools is just a small part of the larger problem of gun violence in our society,” Cornell wrote in a statement about prevention of violence in schools and communities.
Misguided safety measures, such as dramatized lockdown drills, may give us the impression that we are protecting children, when, in fact, we are handing them a burden that adults are failing to address.
Sergio Pecanha is a Washington Post Opinions graphics columnist.