School active-shooter drills: Helpful or harmful?

The 360 is a feature designed to show you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

Speed read

What's happening: Active-shooter drills for students and teachers have become protocol amid the rise in school mass shootings. In recent years, up to 95 percent of schools in the U.S. held some sort of drill or lockdown to prepare them for the possibility of becoming the next Newtown or Parkland.

Why there's debate: Critics say rather than preparing students (most of whom will likely never experience an active shooter) with potentially life-saving safety procedures, the training videos and exercises can instead cause traumaGun-control supporters say the programs unfairly place the responsibility for children's safety on the children themselves.

Proponents of the drills say the potential negative effects are a worthy tradeoff, even if the statistical likelihood is low that kids who get the training will experience a shooting.

It’s difficult to quantify the effectiveness of the training, and most data is anecdotal, i.e. some survivors of school shootings have said the techniques they learned saved lives, while other accounts suggest the drills actually put students in more danger.

What's next: Pushback against the methods used in active-shooter drills has increased in recent years. News coverage of tactics some schools have utilized — including mock executionsofficers firing blanks and allowing students to believe the drill was a real shooting — have led to calls for standardized guidelines for how the drills are carried out. Some drills have resulted in lawsuits.

The president has called active-shooter trainings "very bad for children" and instead endorses plans to "harden" schools, such as arming teachers and installing bulletproof doors. Some schools have begun to change their approaches to minimize the anxiety of students.


Active-shooter training saves lives

"My teachers are the light. Through a combination of training and determination, they calmed the fear of some and saved the lives of others. … Maybe heroism can’t be taught, but preparedness certainly can be. Every teacher should have training for a school shooting like mine did." — Carson Abt, Parkland shooting survivor, The New York Times

"We cannot keep waiting around for something to change. Through regular active-shooter drills, schools can equip their students with the skills to react quickly and safely to frightening situations. It might frighten them at first, but they’ll get used to it, just like they’re used to fire drills." — John G. Iannarelli, The Wall Street Journal

Most kids will never experience a shooting. All kids are at risk of psychological damage

"Lockdowns save lives during real attacks, but even when there is no gunman stalking the hallways, the procedures can inflict immense psychological damage on children convinced that they’re in danger. And the number of kids who have experienced these ordeals is extraordinary." — Steven Rich and John Woodrow Cox, Washington Post

The drills should be made less traumatic

"A growing number of schools are experimenting with ways to lessen the toll of the drills while still doing everything possible to keep students safe. For some school districts, that means using age-appropriate language; for others, it involves having guidance counselors or school psychologists available during and after the drills," Elizabeth Chuck, NBC News

The benefits outweigh the negatives

"Administrators increasingly accept that boosting school safety may rely on realistic active-shooter drills that can upset staff and students." — Emily Ann Brown, District Administration

The culture of fear is damaging to children

"Despite the statistical rarity, obsessing over the risk and frequent reminders that a Columbine-style shooting could happen anywhere do more to elevate fear than alleviate it. Surrounding students with a fortress-like environment sends a strong message of imminent threat: The bad guy is gunning for you!" — James Alan Fox and Kristy Kellom, USA Today

"Preparing our children for profoundly unlikely events would be one thing if that preparation had no downside. But in this case, our efforts may exact a high price. … School-preparedness culture itself may be instilling in millions of children a distorted and foreboding view of their future." — Erika Christakis, The Atlantic

Active-shooter drills make people less prepared to respond in a real shooting

"The ones who have the training, they miss more life-and-death action steps. They forget to order lockdown, they forget to call 911, they forget to lock the door, they forget to pull fire alarms in a fire. So that's of great concern." — School safety expert Michael Dorn, quoted in Pacific Standard

"The result is a population of administrators, staff and students that are as ill-prepared as they are terrified, an approach that does nothing to empower them to deal with these situations in ways that can actually help save lives." — Jason Perry, The Hill

Gun control is the only real way to protect kids from school shootings

"Almost everyone seemed resigned to the fact that mass shootings will happen and there is little we can do about them. And when I brought up the most obvious solution — to pass gun-control laws that make it harder for people to buy guns — the idea was brushed off as a pipe dream, or simply taboo." — Alexia Fernández Campbell, Vox

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