Gardena High shooting raises question: How to keep guns out of school?
The Los Angeles school district will review its security policies after the apparently accidental shooting of two students at Gardena High School. But experts are split on whether big-money projects like metal detectors and surveillance cameras are the way to go.
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“Fundamentally, thinking only about the dangerous kids might cause us to lose sight of the ones who are just there for an education,” says Joel Jacobsen, an assistant attorney general for the state of New Mexico. Metal detectors “are telling students that they are right to be frightened to be in their school. That can't be conducive to learning.”
For Philadelphia, metal detectors have worked
Yet for Harris Lewin, a regional superintendent in Philadelphia right after Columbine in 1999, the decision to go with metal detectors and security guards with scanning wands was not all negative. It was a tradeoff.
“I realize this does seem to send a negative message: that we are checking everyone just for the few aberrant ones, but that seems to be part of our world,” says Dr. Lewin, who is now director of graduate education at La Salle University in Philadelphia. “It’s now like an airport with scanners and security guards, but we have not had an in-school event ever since.”
Lewin says his classroom management programs are moving away from a curriculum of physical control to get teachers, administrators, and staff to be more reflective and caring. “That’s our thinking at the moment,” he says.
For his part, New Mexico's Mr. Jacobsen suggests that metal detectors can only be as good as the guards who run them.
“Will the guards remain more loyal to the administration than to the students they see every day?” he asks. “We know that jail guards are frequently bribed or scared or seduced. Why wouldn't school guards be at least as susceptible?”
“The [Supreme] Court’s current interpretation of the Second Amendment means that relatively few gun restrictions are permissible,” says Jessica Levinson, adjunct professor of law at LoyolaLaw School in Los Angeles.