Expert Commentary

Gun violence prevention in schools: Strategies and effects

What are schools doing to prepare against gun violence? We've gathered research on strategies and effects.


In the wake of a school shooting, conversation can quickly turn from grief to prevention. School administrators, parents and politicians debate ideas ranging from restricting access to guns to arming teachers.

But what are schools already doing to prepare against gun violence? How do these preparations affect their students? Are these measures effective?

We’ve collected recent research that addresses these questions, along with a legal analysis of the issue and additional resources offered by national organizations.


Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings from the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2015–16
Diliberti, M.; Jackson, M.; Kemp, J. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017.

Introduction: “This report presents findings on crime and violence in U.S. public schools, using data from the 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS:2016). First administered in school year 1999–2000 and repeated in school years 2003–04, 2005–06, 2007–08, 2009– 10, and 2015–16, SSOCS provides information on school crime-related topics from the perspective of schools. Developed and managed by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education and supported by the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice, SSOCS asks public school principals about the prevalence of violent and serious violent crimes in their schools. Portions of this survey also focus on school security measures, disciplinary problems and actions, school security staff, the availability of mental health services in schools, and the programs and policies implemented to prevent and reduce crime in schools.”

School Shooting Simulations: At What Point Does Preparation Become More Harmful than Helpful?
Rygg, Lauren. Children’s Legal Rights Journal, 2015.

Introduction: “This article will first discuss the background of school shootings in Part II, from the 1990s, to the most recent tragedies including Newtown, Arapahoe, and others. Part III will examine the legislative proposals and enacted legislation for the active shooter drills in various states, as well as any citizen complaints that have arisen as a result. Next, Part III will also explore how teachers are required to respond in these drills. Part IV will then discuss the efficacy of active shooter drills, whether this is the best approach to school safety, and the possibility of alternatives. Part V will look at the impact the legislation has for current and future students as well as potential results and overreached boundaries of the school districts, and any potential legal consequences.”

Parents’ Expectations of High Schools in Firearm Violence Prevention
Payton, Erica; Khubchandani, Jagdish; Thompson, Amy; Price, James H. Journal of Community Health, 2017. DOI: 10.1007/s10900-017-0360-5.

Abstract: “Firearm violence remains a significant problem in the U.S. (with 2,787 adolescents killed in 2015). However, the research on school firearm violence prevention practices and policies is scant. Parents are major stakeholders in relation to firearm violence by youths and school safety in general. The purpose of this study was to examine what parents thought schools should be doing to reduce the risk of firearm violence in schools. A valid and reliable questionnaire was mailed to a national random sample of 600 parents who had at least one child enrolled in a public secondary school (response rate = 47 percent). Parents perceived inadequate parental monitoring/rearing practices (73 percent), peer harassment and/or bullying (58 percent), inadequate mental health care services for youth (54 percent), and easy access to guns (51 percent) as major causes of firearm violence in schools. The school policies perceived to be most effective in reducing firearm violence were installing an alert system in schools (70 percent), working with law enforcement to design an emergency response plan (70 percent), creating a comprehensive security plan (68 percent), requiring criminal background checks for all school personnel prior to hiring (67 percent), and implementing an anonymous system for students to report peer concerns regarding potential violence (67 percent). Parents seem to have a limited grasp of potentially effective interventions to reduce firearm violence.”

Danger K12: Are U.S. Schools Really Safe?
Adkins, Vernita Lynn; et al. Paper presented at the conference of the International Journal of Arts & Sciences, 2016. ISSN: 1943-6114 :: 09(01):53–64.

Abstract: “Through a meta-analysis of the literature, this article addresses the essential components within a federal comprehensive public school safety system and proposes the implementation of a comprehensive school safety program for students in the U.S. K-12 public school system. Review of the literature explores two questions: 1) What constitutes a comprehensive safety plan for students in the K-12 public school system? 2) Why has a comprehensive federal school safety plan not been implemented for students in the U.S. K-12 public school system? The authors contend that addressing school safety in a comprehensive manner will help solve the current inconsistent implementation of school safety policies and procedures. We also contend that the current Safe Schools Improvement Act, amended  in 2013 and the 2015 amendment proposal, focusing only on bullying and harassment, is inadequate to address the myriad of safety issues that impact schools.”

Playing at Violence: Lock-Down Drills, ‘Bad Guys’ and the Construction of ‘Acceptable’ Play in Early Childhood
Delaney, Katherine K. Early Child Development and Care, 2017. DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2016.1219853.

Abstract: “This study examines how acceptable play was framed for a class of pre-Kindergarten children by their teacher and classroom aide. Using comic subjectivity theory, the author explores how children’s playing at pretend violence (bad guy and pretend gun play) is forbidden, but playing at real violence (in the form of active-shooter lock-down drills) positioned the children in the classroom as victims of violence, rather than agentic powerful players. As gun violence in the United States continues to invade school spaces, this paper critically examines how ‘acceptable’ play for young children is being framed and defined by outside forces rather than pedagogical and professional knowledge.”

Adding Security, but Subtracting Safety? Exploring Schools’ use of Multiple Visible Security Measures
Tanner-Smith, Emily E.; et al. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 2018. DOI: 10.1007/s12103-017-9409-3.

Abstract: “In response to continued concerns over crime and violence, schools are increasingly employing visible security measures such as cameras, metal detectors, and security personnel. These security measures are not mutually exclusive, but few studies have considered the relationship between the use of multiple forms of security and youth’s exposure to drugs, fighting, property crime, and firearms at school. To address this issue, we analyzed nationally representative school administrator-reported data from the School Survey on Crime & Safety, using a quasi-experimental design with propensity scores to adjust for potential confounding factors. The results indicated that utilization of multiple security measures reduced the likelihood of exposure to property crime in high schools, but most other security utilization patterns were associated with poorer school safety outcomes. Our findings provide guidance to policymakers in considering whether to use — or expand — visible school security measures in schools.”

Law Enforcement Executive and Principal Perspectives on School Safety Measures: School Resource Officers and Armed School Employees
Chrusciel, Margaret M.; et al. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 2015. DOI: 10.1108/PIJPSM-11-2014-0115.

Findings: “There is a large amount of support for school resource officers from both law enforcement executives and principals. However, in general, both groups of respondents do not believe armed administrators or armed teachers to be an effective school safety strategy.”

Impacts of Metal Detector Use in Schools: Insights from 15 Years of Research
Hankin, Abigail; Hertz, Marci; Simon, Thomas. Journal of School Health, 2011. DOI: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2010.00566.x.

Results: “Each of the papers reviewed utilized data that originated from self-report surveys. Four of the studies consisted of secondary analyses of national databases, with the other 3 utilizing local surveys. The studies varied as to the outcome, ranging from student/staff perceptions of safety at school to student self-reports of weapon carrying and/or victimization, and showed mixed results. Several studies suggested potential detrimental effects of metal detectors on student perceptions of safety. One study showed a significant beneficial effect, linking metal detector use to a decrease in the likelihood that students reported carrying a weapon while in school (7.8 percent vs. 13.8 percent), without a change in weapon carrying in other settings or a decline in participation in physical fights.”

Reducing the Risks of Firearm Violence in High Schools: Principals’ Perceptions and Practices
Price, James H.; et al. Journal of Community Health, 2016. DOI: 10.1007/s10900-015-0087-0.

Abstract: “This study assessed the perceptions and practices of a national sample of secondary school principals regarding reducing firearm violence in high schools. Data were collected via three-wave postal mailings. A 59-item valid and reliable questionnaire was mailed to a national random sample of 800 secondary school principals. Of the 349 principals (46 percent) that responded, 17 percent reported a firearm incident at their school in the past 5 years. Principals perceived inadequate parental monitoring (70 percent), inadequate mental health services (64 percent), peer harassment/bullying (59 percent), and easy access to firearms (50 percent) as the main causes of firearm violence in schools. The three barriers to implementing firearm violence prevention practices were: lack of expertise as to which practices to implement (33 percent), lack of time (30 percent), and lack of research as to which practices are most effective (30 percent). Less than half of schools trained school personnel regarding firearm violence issues. The findings indicate that firearm incidents at schools may be more common than previously thought. A significant portion of principals are at a loss as to what to implement because of a lack of empirical evidence on what is effective. More research is needed to find the most effective school interventions for reducing firearm violence.”

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