When horrific gun shooting massacres occur in schools killing needlessly deep searching questions are asked – not least how the tragedy could have been prevented. Along with all the talk about violence and society, people would like to see action and physical measures put in place that might stop a massacre happening else where.
Metal detectors, as found in airports and other public places, have been suggested as one way to prevent school massacres. Some 88% of voters at debate.org voted in favour of them. They could be placed at the entrance points of the school and used to scan every person entering the grounds. Anyone carrying a weapon would be discovered before they entered the school.
The scenario gives some peace of mind to parents but sadly metal detectors – even if there were infinite resources available to place them at every entrance to every school in every street of every city of the world – are fairly ineffective in preventing tragedies. Here are some reasons why they would fail to prevent the shooting tragedies that have plagued schools in recent years.
They do not stop the violence
Metal detectors do not get to the root of the violence problem that exists. At best they would shift the violence from the school grounds to the steps of the school, or the street, or the bus, or somewhere else. Metal detectors do not deal with the underlying issues causing violence. The perpetrators are not stopped and the victims are not any safer. However, they could be a convenient way for the school to “protect” itself against litigation, showing they had taken “reasonable steps” to ensure safety on their grounds. But in reality metal detectors have done nothing to get to the root of the problem.
They do not help predict attacks
The best way to prevent a school shooting is to predict it in advance and take steps to ensure that it does not happen. Fortunately, most shooting attacks on schools are not random, and there are plenty of warning signs that enable perpetrators to be spotted in advance. The violent individual may have a grievance against the school after repeated trouble, or be known to have been caught in violent behaviour prior to the attack – either as a victim or a perpetrator. In many cases there are threats made on social media well in advance of the attack informing others of their intentions. Various “profiling” techniques can be used to identify potential perpetrators, and so predict in advance which individual might make an attack. When these predictions are made appropriate interventions can ensure that aggression is diffused and violence does not occur. Metal detectors are totally useless in making these sorts of predictions about who is at risk of violent behaviour and hence cannot help stop violence before it occurs.
They are not 100% effective
Metal detectors are just a piece of equipment which can malfunction and/or be evaded thus they are not completely effective in ensuring that no guns ever get into school grounds. The determined aggressor, who wants to shoot on school property, will find a way to smuggle a gun into the establishment. For example, they will conceal a gun in a sports bag and throw that over a fence retrieving it later. Most likely they will just shoot any security guard first and then enter the school grounds passing through the metal detector as if it were any other open door. The metal detector is totally useless in preventing violent behaviour and massacres in schools.
Other forms of violence will be found
While the gun is the favoured method of massacre at the moment there are plenty of other ways that tragedies can be inflicted in schools that do not involve objects that could be detected by metal detectors. Perpetrators could use chemicals to poison victims, or simply bring petrol and start a fire randomly dousing people with the fuel. Metal detectors are useless in preventing school tragedies inflicted by the many means that determined aggressors might choose to use.