“Circumstances are changing for students all the time,” says Mr. Gross. “A gang member may be just getting out of prison and setting up new crews, and a perfectly nice kid feels vulnerable because of it."
"Metal detectors are an OK supplement if you have the money, but what is more important is adults on the ground knowing all the time what happened at the rec center and last night’s ball game," he adds. "Communication is the key. There are no quick fixes.”
Moreover, the money for metal detectors and surveillance cameras might come at the expense of educational programs. “Considering the current crisis in US education, it seems particularly important to ensure that education is not compromised in the name of preventing extremely rare instances of school violence that are nearly impossible to predict,” says Kelly Welch, a criminologist at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.
“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.”
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.