How Schools Are Working to Prevent School Shootings

Having armed guards is worth discussing, but it's not the first route schools should take, experts say.

Joanne Kostecka escorts her daughter Dominika Kostecka, 17, from Shepherd of the Hills Church after a school shooting Dec. 13, 2013 at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo.
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Tuesday's school shooting in New Mexico that injured two students marked the 30th such incident since the Sandy Hook massacre just over one year ago, and was at least the 17th shooting this school year.

Another less-publicized shooting happened just last week, in Jackson, Tenn., when a student brought a gun to school and shot a classmate in the leg. Three weeks before that, four teenagers in Fresno, Calif., targeted an athletic trainer at Edison High School, shooting him several times.

Teachers, politicians and community members called Tuesday's incident in Roswell a tragedy and the newest reminder of a need to improve school safety. But it was also a sign that school shootings are on the rise.

[READ: Sandy Hook 1 Year Later: Little Action on Guns, Lots of Money]

And while some are pushing for unconventional responses, such as arming teachers and staff, experts say schools should instead work to reinforce best practices and improve emergency response procedures, as well as coordination with law enforcement officials.

"There isn't a school board or a school administrator in this country that takes safety for granted," says Tom Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association. "It is taken as a very serious issue to be dealt with, and it is actively being dealt with by school administrators."

In total, there were at least 24 recorded school shootings in the 2012-13 school year, including the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which shooter Adam Lanza killed 26 children and adults before turning the gun on himself.

That number is up from eight shootings in the 2011-12 school year, and from 12 in 2010-11. In fact, throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, there were never more than nine school shootings in one academic year.

But so far, shootings this school year are on track to exceed last year's total. By Jan. 15, 2013, there had been 14 school shootings in the United States.

[MORE: Teacher Shot at Nevada Middle School Being Called a Hero]

The marked increase in school shootings has led some to believe that schools are unprepared to face such tragedies effectively, or that current practices are inadequate.

Dudley Brown, a gun rights advocate and executive director of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners group, says in light of these events, school staff should be armed to fight from the inside, in case an active shooter should enter the school.

"Teachers and parents should be able to carry the tools of self-defense in schools, so that they stand some chance at stopping crazed murderers," Brown says. "But the current policy – creating a criminal safe zone, where murderers can operate with immunity – isn't working, and will never work."

Some school districts already are moving in that direction. In September, a state board in Arkansas voted to allow 13 school districts to train their teachers and staff as armed guards, and at least seven other states – including Ohio, Colorado, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Washington – have armed guards in schools.

While having armed personnel in schools is something worth talking about, Gentzel says those individuals should have a background in law enforcement or a related field, instead of being teachers and principals.

 

"We think that could be a good practice, but our view is that those should be trained law enforcement professionals – people that not only know how to use firearms, but that are trained in dealing with situations that can become confrontational," Gentzel says. "Simply issuing guns to employees raises a lot of potential issues for school districts."

Shannon Watts, founder of the organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, has similar feelings, saying shootings in the United States show a "gun epidemic out of control."

"The idea that you're going to ask a teacher, who did not sign up to be in the military, to become a sharpshooter is asinine," she says.

"This idea that we need to arm everyone in the country and that the good guys are going to shoot it out with the bad guys over our kids' heads ... is not an America that mothers are going to accept," she adds. "We will not tolerate it."