Do metal detectors really keep schools safe?

A group of school kids make their way past soon-to-be utilized security equipment into the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., in this photo taken April 23, 2018.
A group of school kids make their way past soon-to-be utilized security equipment into the Legislative Building in Raleigh, N.C., in this photo taken April 23, 2018. (Gerry Broome/AP Photo)

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

This week, multiple students across the U.S. were stabbed or brought weapons to school. Many of the incidents happened at schools that didn't have metal detectors installed.

On Tuesday, a 15-year-old boy at a high school in Brooklyn, N.Y., was stabbed in the stomach by another student in a hallway. School safety agents confiscated a variety of weapons from multiple students, including 13 knives, two stun guns and a box cutter. This school did not have metal detectors, but installed them a day after the stabbing occurred.

A day later, a 12-year-old girl was stabbed in the leg in a classroom in the Bronx, N.Y., at a school. The next day, school safety agents set up weapon-scanning devices.

At a Los Angeles-area high school, two different 15-year-old students brought loaded guns onto the school’s campus in separate incidents on Monday and Tuesday. The school reopened on Thursday after metal detectors were installed.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., a metal detector at a high school was able to detect a loaded handgun that a 15-year-old student brought to school. Metal detectors were installed at the school this year following four other incidents in which students brought guns to school.

Why there’s debate

Post-COVID, as students returned to classrooms, educators have noted an increase in negative behavior from students, leaving the school system grappling with how to address school safety.

Advocates for metal detectors say that the mere presence of the devices could avert a violent incident involving a weapon. One study from 2011 shows that students at NYC public schools with metal detectors were 64% less likely to carry a weapon than in those without them.

But some critics warn the security measure could be more of a burden than an actual improvement in keeping schools safe. Besides the morning traffic jam that metal detectors could cause as kids get to school in the morning, there is a lack of evidence that the security device actually increases school safety or prevents school violence.

Metal detectors can also be expensive to purchase, install and keep operational. Instead, advocates for less policing in schools suggest using that money to hire more teachers and social workers.

Additionally, some educators, parents and students fear that metal detectors would cause unequal treatment among students of color. They say security measures create the reverse effect of safety: anxiety, fear and isolation.


Anything is better than nothing

“I'm saying 'yes' to anything that's going to keep our kids safe. For those who say 'nay,' you say nay now because you feel that it looks unfavorable, but what happens when it's your child that's at the end of the knife?" — Parent Quiann Simpkins, to CBS News New York

Physical safety measures disproportionately affect Black and brown students

“The relentless exposure to discrimination, police brutality, the endless viral videos of police shootings, and other forms of racism has been shown to be associated with PTSD and mental health challenges. When you add the toll of the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected Black and Latino communities, the removal of these devices has never been more important. … It makes them feel like they attend school inside of a prison or that their educators perceive them as a threat.” — Kayla Patrick, The Education Trust

The presence of metal detectors alone can foster a safer school environment

"They know they can't bring in a weapon, but they also know the kid behind them can't either. … The idea now is that schools are more of a safe zone and that helps parents." — Former Chief of Police for Boston Public Schools Eric Weston, to

School budgets could be utilized for more immediate needs

"Schools are already struggling with adequate resources — finding bus drivers, finding enough teachers. To have comprehensive school security with 100% weapons detection essentially requires a TSA-style agency that would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to implement across the country. And that's not viable." — Founder of K-12 School Shooting Database David Riedman, to the Associated Press

Metal detectors are not as effective at improving school safety as preventative measures

“Societal illnesses displayed through social media will still terrorize education, lockdowns will still occur and learning will still be interrupted. Policing the violence in our schools will never heal the underlying personal and societal ailments prompting these attacks, and the resource cannibalism away from education and mental health may worsen violence in the long run.” — Valerie Strauss, the Washington Post

Engagement after confiscation can lead to conversation

“If we are able to confiscate a weapon, we can engage that child, that student in a conversation — find out what is happening. It may be a situation of bullying, cyberbullying. It could have been an incident a day or week before.” — Boston City Councilor Michael Flaherty, to local CBS affiliate WBZ News

Students could find workarounds to evade metal detectors

“There’s a number of ways they can be bypassed. Every school I work with that uses them mentions to me, ‘Oh, we see students do X, Y and Z to get around metal detectors.’ It’s very expensive to do it correctly, and it’s limited to specific environments.’’ — Safe Havens International senior analyst Chris Dorn, to USA Today

Metal detectors are already prevalent in other spaces where children frequent

“As we care about protecting travelers and visitors to federal, state and locally owned buildings, we must also show the same sense of urgency, concern and compassion toward children and adults in schools.” — Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, to local Texas station KXAN