Protecting Schools From Shooters

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President Donald Trump has reportedly just renewed his earlier controversial call to arm teachers, but there are many steps school boards, schools, and individual teachers can take now without waiting for Trump’s just announced Federal Commission on School Safety, or on Congress to act, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

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In the face of criticisms of Trump's original proposal to arm teachers, Banzhaf was one of the first to report that such programs have been used successfully in many states for many years; that contrary to Trump's suggestion that schools should arm some 20% to 40% of teachers, many schools apparently find it effective to arm only a few but to not disclose their identities; and that there is an effective non-lethal alternative designed for schools which can be employed by individual teachers to disarm active shooters.

Based upon his research, and the advice of experts, Banzhaf suggests that school boards, schools, and individual teachers consider taking the following actions to help protect their own lives, and the lives of their students, without waiting for possible - and possibly watered down - help from Washington.

FIRST, many school shootings have demonstrated how very important it is for teachers to be able to lock classroom doors quickly from the inside to keep out an active shooter, and the difficulty if not futility of trying to do it by moving desks or tying door handles together.

In the wake of a number of shootings at universities and schools, some universities - often as a result of requests by faculty - have agreed to be sure that classroom doors can quickly and easily be locked from the inside in case there is an active shooter, terrorist, or other similar threat.

But it is not enough that the doors be lockable from the inside; locking them must be very easy, quick, and close to foolproof, since any teacher may forget (or even panic) in a stressful situation.

USA Today reported that: "safety experts say that while school officials across the nation re-evaluate campus safety in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy, many are overlooking a simple solution: putting locks on the inside of classroom doors. . . . security experts say locks go a long way toward keeping out danger. Interior locks may have saved lives during a 2005 school shooting on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota."

Similarly, Inside Higher Ed said: "In general, doors that lock from the inside have been in place on college campuses for several years . . . , while it is impossible to eliminate risk entirely . . . locks absolutely work. People are able to secure themselves in rooms and shooters haven't been able to get to them."

If schools are unwilling to install such locks, individual teachers can act on their own. There are many portable door locks - designed for people staying in hotels, B&Bs, or in other rooms temporarily - which can be used to lock most classroom doors very quickly (often even if the doors do not have locks), and which provide significant protection to prevent a gunman from entering. Many cost less than $30, and are small enough to be carried in a purse or stored easily in any classroom.

In addition, teachers who are especially concerned about their own safety might even wish to purchase widely available bullet-proof briefcases or backpacks. A less expensive alternative would be to purchase bullet-proof insert panels designed to be fitted into brief cases, backpacks, etc.

SECOND, although most states have laws preventing even trained teachers with concealed gun permits to remain armed in the classroom, and some schools ban it even where state law does not, teachers need not be completely defenseless. Now they can buy the same kind of highly effective irritant sprays which hikers use to stop charging grizzly bears dead in their tracks.

It can shoot 25 feet, stop even gunmen wearing goggles or a gas mask, and precision in aiming obviously isn't necessary. While not as effective as a gun, it works even for teachers opposed to deadly force, or who might be reluctant to use lethal force when the time comes. Even if a mistake is made, the spray will not cause any permanent injuries.

The spray canisters are small enough to easily fit in the drawer of a classroom desk, or to be stored in a classroom closet. They can even be purchased already installed in a small safe which can be mounted in a desk, closet, or even on a wall, and can be opened by pushing a few numbered buttons in the correct sequence - something easily done, even one handed, if there is panic, tear gas already present, etc.

These non-lethal alternatives are available from

THIRD, teachers can press their school to have detailed and realistic plans for dealing with any report of an active shooter, something many schools apparently do not have, but a simple step which could slash casualties if there is a gunman. Similarly, teachers can demand that the school conduct active-shooter drills at least as frequently as fire drills. Knowing what to do, and practicing it over and over, will help to prevent life-endangering panic and assure that everyone will act almost instinctively should the need arise.

FOURTH, although students at any given school - because they interact with other students and try to stay abreast of their postings on social media - are perhaps in the best position to identify potential shooters early enough to head off a tragedy, most students are understandably reluctant to "rat" on their fellow students. But many might be convinced to make a report of a suspected school shooter if they come to believe and accept that their lives and the lives of their friends may be in serious danger.

Students probably cannot be expected to report to teachers or school authorities if they become aware of hazing, drug use, inappropriate sexual activities, etc. since they probably (incorrectly) perceive these activities as relatively harmless, and as behaviors indulged in by many fellow students.

On the other hand, school educational programs and events can emphasize that, unlike those "harmless" activities, student shooters leave many students dead, paralyzed, or with lifelong impairments, and that only the most deranged people would consider shooting up their schools.

Students, therefore, should be urged to report any very suspicious social media postings, serious threatening statements or behaviors, etc. to a trusted teacher or to school authorities. Those reporting should be guaranteed anonymity, and even immunity from punishment if they report activities they may have been involved in before recanting and cooperating.

Finally, if such reports are made by students, and found to be credible by teachers and others most able to knowledgeably evaluate them, they should be reported to local as well as state and federal authorities. In addition to a telephone call, a CERTIFIED MAIL letter will help to insure that such reports are not overlooked.

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