Gun Lockdowns and School Shooting Fears Now a Common Reality for Teachers

Teachers often find themselves compelled to seek refuge in their classrooms, with many harboring concerns that a potential shooting incident could transpire at their workplace due to a significant surge in school gun violence in recent years, according to a newly published survey by the Pew Research Center.

Revealing the results on Thursday, Pew Research Associate Luona Lin labeled them as “startling”: Almost a quarter of educators reported experiencing a lockdown due to a firearm – or apprehensions thereof – on their school premises during the last academic year.

High school teachers and those situated in urban settings were notably more prone to encountering lockdown situations. Among high school educators, 34% disclosed experiencing at least one gun-related lockdown in the 2022-23 school year, while a similar scenario was reported by 31% of urban educators.

“One of the most notable findings is the considerable number of teachers who have encountered a lockdown,” Lin conveyed to The 74. Following interviews with educators to grasp their daily routines and perspectives on pressing matters, the Pew researchers delved into their viewpoints on school gun violence, with gun violence being a recurring topic throughout.

“Many teachers expressed their concerns about the possibility of school shootings transpiring in their institutions,” Lin added. “One teacher we spoke with even stated, ‘I think about it every day.'”

Even though the Pew data does not provide insights into the frequency of firearms being discovered, records of campus attacks have demonstrated a marked upsurge, with unprecedented figures noted over the past three years.

James and Jennifer Crumbley were recently sentenced to 10-15 years in prison after being adjudged guilty of involuntary manslaughter for not preventing a school shooting in 2021, carried out by their then-15-year-old son. The incident at an Oxford, Michigan, high school resulted in the tragic deaths of four students. The Crumbleys are the first parents in U.S. history to receive prison sentences following an active shooting committed by their child. Federal data indicates that over two-thirds of active shootings at K-12 campuses are perpetrated by individuals aged between 12 and 18.

For numerous teachers participating in the Pew survey – among whom 59% expressed concerns about a potential school shooting at their institutions – gun-related lockdowns are a recurrent occurrence. While 15% encountered one lockdown in the previous academic year, 8% were compelled to seek cover at least twice.

The latest data concerning the perceptions of K-12 teachers is released approximately 25 years after the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999, which put a spotlight on school violence nationally when two student gunmen claimed the lives of 13 of their classmates before taking their own lives. Since then, the expenditure on school security has significantly increased, paralleled by a rise in campus attacks as well.

Despite the politically contentious nature and devastating repercussions of school shootings on communities, they are statistically infrequent. Between 2000 and 2021, there have been 46 “active shooter incidents” at K-12 campuses, resulting in 108 fatalities and 168 injuries, according to the most recent federal data. Active shootings are defined as incidents where a gunman indiscriminately fires at individuals in a public setting like a school.

Besides active shootings like those at Oxford and Columbine, data on campus gun incidents in the 2021-22 school year indicate 188 shootings with casualties – more than double the previous year, marking a record high at that time.

While a majority of educators harbor concerns about school shootings, 39% believe their school’s preparation has been fair or inadequate, whereas 30%, particularly those within districts with school-based law enforcement, commend their district’s excellent or very good preparedness.

Regarding preventing future attacks, 69% of educators advocate for enhancing mental health screenings and treatments for children, 49% endorse campus police, and 33% favor the implementation of metal detectors.

Only 13% of teachers partaking in the Pew survey view arming educators as an extremely or very effective strategy to avert such tragedies.

The responses from teachers often mirror those given by parents and students in prior Pew surveys on school shooting fears and preparedness, with all groups being influenced, at least partially, by partisan affiliations.

Teachers leaning toward the Republican ideology are more inclined than their Democratic counterparts to endorse campus police, metal detectors, and arming teachers. In contrast, Democratic teachers are more supportive than GOP educators of initiatives aimed at enhancing students’ mental well-being.

In a survey conducted in fall 2022, two-thirds of parents expressed at least some degree of concern about a possible shooting incident at their child’s school, with 63% advocating for improved mental health services for students as a preventive measure, a rate higher than other interventions.

From a similar Pew survey in 2018, 57% of teenagers conveyed being somewhat or very apprehensive about the occurrence of a school shooting on their school premises.

The Pew educator survey compiled responses from 2,531 public K-12 teachers in October and November who are members of Rand’s American Teacher Panels, representing a cross-section of U.S. educators nationally.

“Gun violence and all related gun policy matters are undeniably divisive,” Lin remarked. “The perspectives of teachers, parents, and individuals, in general, are indicative of the broader population’s stances on this issue, underscored by partisan disparities as well.”

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