My View: Fear Itself – Why Davis Should Not Install Metal Detectors at Its Schools


Columnist Bob Dunning, discussing the potential threat at Harper this week, noted that while most of us – myself included – believed that the threat was most likely a hoax, “The Parkland shooting is a stark and horrific reminder of the dangers of ignoring warnings of specific behavior.”

The problem that the district has is how to take such threats seriously, while at the same time not giving too much power to a student or individual seeking attention without the means to carry out their threats.

After going through a litany of comments, Mr. Dunning writes with a good deal of accuracy: “What this brings me to conclude is how terribly unprepared we are to deal with such a threat and how incredibly vulnerable our schools truly are. Virtually every other school district in the country faces the same dilemma.”

But then he takes it a step too far: “Why is it that the California State Capitol building, the Yolo County Courthouse and a million other state and federal buildings across the country are so well protected with metal detectors and armed guards that you almost never hear of a weapon getting inside?

“Are the folks who occupy those buildings more important to us than our children?”

I have visited schools that have metal detectors and high fences with razor wire.  I remember going to such a school when I was at a high school competition down south, just north of Los Angeles in the late 1980s.  It didn’t feel like a school – it felt more like a prison.

The research is mixed on metal detectors, and the politics of them are polarized.

A study in the Journal of School Health looked at 15 years of research on the use of metal detectors in schools and concluded: “There is insufficient data in the literature to determine whether the presence of metal detectors in schools reduces the risk of violent behavior among students, and some research suggests that the presence of metal detectors may detrimentally impact student perceptions of safety.”

A Massachusetts newspaper spoke to Ken Trump, president of Cleveland-based National School Safety and Security Services, and reported that he “believes metal detectors are an unsustainable, knee-jerk political reaction. He cautions against their use for practical reasons like cost, and because they are often seen as a replacement for better strategies.”

Meanwhile, following Sandy Hook, which followed shootings like Columbine and Virginia Tech, security experts warned that the hard reality is that safety measures cannot prevent these types of incidents.

“There is not a single safety measure that anyone could have put in place at that school that would have stopped what happened,” said Bill Bond, the school safety specialist for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “When you allow absolutely insane people to arm themselves like they’re going to war, they go to war.”

CNN notes that he believes that metal detectors are “useless.”

But not everyone agreed – in 2016, the New York Post cited data which they claimed showed that metal detectors are making school safer.  Mayor De Blasio has been fighting the war against metal
detectors since he became mayor.

NYPD data showed that 37 of the 52 boxcutters smuggled into schools were detected by scanners.  Also eight of 20 gun busts came after the weapons were detected by scanners.

But, in the wake of Parkland, the mayor met with 100 high school students and the majority of them were concerned about “the overuse of metal detectors in schools primarily made up of people of color and mistreatment by school agents.”

One thing that we have to be careful with – transferring data and debates from inner city schools and applying them to Davis.  The reality is that those schools have to face regular and very real crime and have to make tough decisions as to the best way to protect their student populations.

That is not the case in Davis.

In fact, during the safety discussion, the administrator noted: “DJUSD does not qualify for safety grants due to low City crime rate and few incidents of school violence.”

We may feel unnerved by Parkland and we certainly are unprepared – and there is no reason we shouldn’t look into getting more prepared.  But we should be taking realistic measures.

Since 1999, there have been 25 fatal mass school shootings in the U.S.  That is in 19 years.  That is just over one a year.  From a moral standpoint, that number is far too high.  But  the number of deaths in that time is 122 – a high number, but consider too, there are over 70 million children in the U.S. at any one time.

If we look at this logically, your child is far more likely to be killed or critically wounded in a vehicle accident on the way to school than to be involved in, let alone killed or critically wounded in, a mass shooting at school.

Does the chance of being killed in a vehicle accident stop you from driving your child to school?  No.  You take reasonable precautions like having safety features in the car, wear seatbelts, license drivers, etc.  But as much precaution as we take, we can never reduce the chance of mortality to zero.  We simply play the odds each day and hope that they hold.  And usually they do.

The research on metal detectors and security at school shows the harms that such a system can do to the psyche of children.  “The presence of metal detectors may detrimentally impact student perceptions of safety,” which can do harm.

If there is a real threat, it is at least debatable as to whether the trade-offs are worth it.  Many students in inner cities apparently question whether the trade-off is worth it even in higher crime areas.  In Davis, I think we can and should argue that.

That doesn’t mean we do nothing.  But instead of panic, we need to take comfort in the fact that it is highly unlikely ever to happen here, and ever to personally impact us.  We should take reasonable steps that can protect us while minimizing unnecessary panic, harm, and costs in attempting to make our learning environment as safe and productive as it can be.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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50 thoughts on “My View: Fear Itself – Why Davis Should Not Install Metal Detectors at Its Schools”

  1. Howard P

    Metal detectors are used to try and keeps weapons out of schools.  According to the article, nowhere near 100% effectively.

    Arming teachers, or adding armed SRO’s guarantee that there are guns in schools.

    1. Keith O

      Yeah, good guys/gals with guns.  I hope if I or one of my family are ever caught up in a shooter situation that there are good guys around with guns.

        1. Keith O

          So if a shooter was present you would be more worried about friendly fire that’s trying to protect you than the assailant?  That makes no sense.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            In the rare event of a shooter, I have read enough during my research on officer involved shootings to be skeptical that a person untrained can deal with such a chaotic situation and make the right decision. Trained officers have enough problems in such conditions. Adding more guns to a chaotic situation is a recipe for danger and therefore, in the minute chance that I would ever be in such a situation, I will take my chances without people with guns trying to be heroes.

            But there are added elements to that because actual active shooter situations are quite rare and most of the time, I am more worried about situations where people misperceive the situation and have guns.

        2. Keith O

          Yeah, it’s always better to just have the shooter with the gun.

          I guess you missed the part where any teachers that volunteer to carry a conceled weapon would have to undergo training.

        3. David Greenwald

          Yes in general, the fewer guns, the better. And you missed the part that even trained police officers have problems in chaotic situation and teachers aren’t going to have training on par with cops.

        4. Keith O

          Yes in general, the fewer guns, the better.

          So you are seriously saying that it’s better to just have the shooter at a school with the gun than to have any others such as SRO’s or teachers with guns to try and protect the students?

          That’s unbelievable to me.

        5. Howard P

          Guns in the classroom… what could go wrong with that?  The number of shooting incidents would very likely go up… a teacher may “wig out” and become the “active shooter”… a student could get a hold of the teacher’s gun (nah, teachers never have anything stolen from their desks or purses)… total body count in any incident likely be less, but if your child is killed, would it make you feel better that it was only them, and didn’t include 16 others?

          Unless every teacher was armed, what are the odds of an armed teacher as in the vicinity of the shooter?  What are the odds, given the chaos/panic, that even in the vicinity of the shooter a teacher can get off a clean shot immobilizing or killing the shooter, without ‘collateral damages’? A hit from a 22, unless it was a clean “head shot”, would likely only wound (pissing off the shooter, who is already deranged), and maybe not even that if the shooter was wearing “protection”.  You pretty much need a 45 or a shotgun to flat out stop a person without a perfect shot.

          Methinks someone watches too many movies, TV shows. Things need to be “thought out”, visualizing what a real life situation would look like.

        6. Keith O

          a teacher may “wig out” and become the “active shooter

          Methinks someone watches too many movies, TV shows.

          Howard, it sounds like you’re the one that’s been watching too many movies and TV shows.

  2. John Hobbs

    Metal detectors and armed teachers are Band-Aids on a sucking chest wound. A nominally chambered .223 cal. AR-15 has an effective range of 1200′-1800′ so one doesn’t need to get into the school. In 2010, your community applauded and endorsed a high school slacker who parked his truck, with TWO shotguns inside, at school, next to a “gun free zone” sign. His mother got the NRA to throw down and the boy’s well earned expulsion was overturned. When an Idaho mother was killed by her two year old having access to her 9mm semi-automatic pistol, one Vanguard poster kept (and keeps) repeating “but guns make you safer in the hands of the good guys.” I guess the two year-old was  a bad guy, right? The problem is the abundance of guns and their easy availability. To paraphrase Golda Meir, until we love our kids more than our guns, nothing will change.

  3. Howard P

    The way to reduce the risk is defensive, not MAD.  Expensive, but technologically possible, when a panic button was pushed, every single door closes and locks.  If the shooter is inside, they are isolated, and effectively “captured”.  Teach all children about “if you see something, say something”… you see signs like that in airports, transit, etc.  Train all teachers to know what to do if an alarm goes off… whether it is to tell students to duck and cover, go to a closet and hide, whatever.  Permit the triggering of school wide alarms from any classroom, hallway, etc.

    Not going to completely stop incidents or casualties, but may well reduce body counts.

    1. Howard P

      Got bad news for folk… all we can do is risk management, we cannot eliminate risk.  In the schools, on the street, wherever.  As we saw in Texas, not even a church service is without risk.

  4. Keith O

    I like how liberals play up school shootings when they feel it’s politically advantageous but downplay the number of shootings when it comes to adding more security at schools.

    1. Howard P

      Yeah, like those NRA backed “liberals” who just passed a law in FL to introduce guns in as many schools as possible.  They were reacting to Parkland.  Damn liberals!

  5. PhilColeman

    Let’s see if we can completely dismiss the idea of arming teachers in a classroom. Such an idea is idiotic, and anybody that likes this alternative should say they’re willing to fund the liability implications alone. Imagine the insurance premiums that would have to be paid by a school district after we allow teachers to carry guns in class?  Easily a high 6-figure annual sum when you add the periodic firearms safety training all armed teachers would be required to do.

    More important than cost, law enforcement and military training have a relevant history here: An armed good-guy is almost powerless to respond to a shooting by return fire in a room of innocents.

    In a combat shooting situation such as this, to think that the armed good-guy can shoot at a bad-guy in a field of panic innocents running around–and miss the innocents–is folly. You can’t train any group of armed persons to that level of shooting precision. It’s highly problematic that you could even train one!

    OK, maybe you’re persuaded, but what can be done should a crazed shooter penetrate the interior of a school? There is an alternative, and I’m surprised with all this national dialog, this option has yet to be posed. Nobody, strangely, has offered a non-lethal alternative, something that is used commonly by SWAT Teams charged with going into these very same scenes, and expected to minimize harm to everyone.

    Instead of giving teachers guns, give them “flash-bangs,” a highly effective non-lethal device that anybody can use. Flash-bangs do what they say, they confuse and disorient everybody in their presence, including a bad-guy aiming at a kid. Tossing a few of these in a school hallway containing an approaching shooter is a fascinating scenario to contemplate. At a minimum, it gives the bad-guy something else to think about besides shooting innocents, and gives the police extra time to respond in force.

    Liability implications with flash-bangs? An accidental discharge of a flash-bang by a negligent teacher will (further?) confuse and disorient the kids, but it won’t kill them. Teacher unions and school districts could easily obtain liability exemptions from state lawmakers if it went towards saving children’s lives. Not even tort lawyers would dare get in front of that one.

    1. David Greenwald

      “An armed good-guy is almost powerless to respond to a shooting by return fire in a room of innocents.”

      Exact point I was trying to make to Keith, hopefully your explanation work better than mine.

    2. Ken A

      I agree with most people that metal detectors are a big waste of money (even a bigger waste of money than buying a new MRAP for each school and paying for a guy to sit in the armed turret in the parking lot all day).

      I have never thought about “flash bangs” (or flash bang “grenades” as I have always called them) for the schools but I think it is a great idea.

      I’m wondering with Phil thinks about “tear gas canisters” (or tear gas “grenades” as I have always called them)?

      A friend had a situation years ago where kids were drinking and smoking late in to the night in an area near his home he was worried that they would start a grass fire.

      After clearing the area a couple times with CS tear gas grenades the kids stopped coming back.

      P.S. I would be surprised if even a single teacher in Davis wanted to take a gun to work, but if we do have an in the closet slow fire pistol champ in the school district I don’t have any problem in they bolt a gun safe to their desk and take a gun to school every day…

  6. Jerry Waszczuk

    Only in America and Nigeria kids in schools are being shot . In Nigeria by Boko Haram . This is sick .

    I living in USA since 1982 . I am not against guns but  fail to I don’t understand why assault rifles are easy accessible basically for anyone  and 17 children  are being shot in schools or 50   people enjoying music (Las Vegas) because a  sick maniac had access to machine gun with 700 rounds per minute .

    1. John Hobbs

      “Only in America and Nigeria kids in schools are being shot .”

      Mar. 13, 1996
      Dunblane, Scotland

      Apr. 28-29, 1996
      Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia

      Mar. 1997
      Sanaa, Yemen

      Apr. 28, 1999
      Taber, Alberta, Canada

      Dec. 7, 1999
      Veghel, Netherlands

      Mar. 2000
      Branneburg, Germany

      Jan. 18, 2001
      Jan, Sweden

      Feb. 19, 2002
      Freising, Germany

      Apr. 26, 2002
      Erfurt, Germany

      Apr. 29, 2002
      Vlasenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina

      Sept. 28, 2004
      Carmen de Patagones, Argentina

      Sept. 13, 2006
      Montreal, Canada

      Nov. 7, 2007
      Tuusula, Finland

      Sept. 23, 2008
      Kauhajoki, Finland

      Mar. 11, 2009
      Winnenden, Germany

      Apr. 30, 2009
      Azerbaijan, Baku

      Apr. 7, 2011
      Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

      July 22, 2011
      Tyrifjorden, Buskerud, Norway

      Mar. 19, 2012
      Toulouse, France

      Sept. 21, 2013
      Nairobi, Kenya

      Jan. 7, 2015
      Paris, France

      Guns are just easier to get and more socially accepted here.

  7. Tia Will

    As an MD, I have a different perspective on this. So far the posts today have focused on secondary prevention, on the assumption that the bad guy already has the gun, so how are we going to keep him out of the school or disable him if he gets in.

    I see this from the aspect of primary prevention. How do we keep these individuals from showing up anywhere with the gun? It does no good if we keep them out of schools, but allow access to churches, theaters, political events ( many of which I took my children to), shopping centers, concerts, etc.

    So what would I propose based on what we do know about shooters and what we don’t:

    1. Repeal the Dickey act which prevents use of federal research dollars for gun harm reduction.

    2. Make strict background checks universal for all sales of firearms. No state reciprocity for concealed carry.

    3. Red flag laws which allow judicially warranted confiscation of guns if there is evidence of known danger as investigated by law enforcement/social services. People with depression with suicidal ideation should not have guns. Domestic violence perps should not have guns. Schizophrenics and those with uncontrolled PTSD should not have guns. We should be looking at serious research into what other groups should have limited access to guns. I might start by looking at children/youth known to have grown up in families where there is history of domestic violence as one example. This does not mean that they could never own or use guns. I would recommend controlled settings such as gun ranges if they are target shooters, or checked in and out of hunting clubs if rural and applicable. Intervals, and petitions could be considered at intervals to get guns back if condition resolves as depression frequently does.

    4. Encourage medical providers to routinely ask patients about the presence of guns in the home just as we do to ensure that seat belts are being worn, and to discourage patients from driving under the influence ( pick your drug).

    I am sure they are many more, but must go live my real world life.

    1. Howard P

      Those are worth a shot (pun unintended), and have merit… but it is entirely conceivable that mental health issues are not evident until later in life where the person already legally owns a weapon… even then it may not be diagnosed, or diagnosed improperly…

      Likely the best way to manage risk is to have a full toolbox, knowing all may not be effective dealing with any individual… but we will never get to zero risk.

        1. Howard P

          Actually it wasn’t intended, but once I had typed it, and realized what I had typed, did not change it… so guess it ended up being ‘quasi-intended’… the lack of re-wording was intended, for sure… unless of course the first use was a case of implicit, or unconscious intentional punning…

      1. Tia Will


        Why ?  We used to have many more automobile deaths. We imposed safety regulations such as speed limits, seat belts, air bags. We used to have many more deaths related to tobacco abuse. We were able to cut down through taxes, more widely disseminated information, limitations on advertising and age restrictions. We used to regularly die from diseases such as polio, measles, small pox. With research, eduction and widespread treatment/vaccination, we have decreased all markedly. AIDS used to be an almost universally fatal disease and is now, with appropriate treatment, a chronic condition.

        The challenges at our current time are cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimers, DMII, the opioid crises and gun injury. This issue needs to be treated as the epidemic that it is rather than characterized as a constitutional issue, which in reality it is not. What we lack to address this problem is not the capability but the will. When  people start seeing it as an epidemic instead of a moral failing ( as they did with AIDS) or a ploy to confiscate all guns, we will make progress on this issue also.

        1. Ken A

          It is interesting to note that for three of the past five years the number of auto deaths in the US has INCREASED (and I can’t think of any five year period in history when we have had more auto safety advances like auto braking that did not exist five years ago and is now on every Prius and Subaru).

          As a kid a read a lot of Louis L’Amour books and there sure a lot less “gunfights” outside Saloons today than in the late 1800’s but I’m pretty sure it has a lot more to do with a change in culture than all the new gun laws, waiting periods and background checks that have started since then.

          P.S. It is interesting to me that when a white (or “white hispanic”) shoots anyone the media goes wall to wall with coverage but I almost never see any coverage of the hundreds of “kids of color” who gun down hundreds of other “kids of color” every year…

        2. Jerry Waszczuk


          After the last tragedy we hear everyday same rhetoric and arguments   that we had have heard after the  Columbine or Sandy Hoook massacre.   Parents who lost their children during the massacres  are  powerless and helpless .  I have problem even to think about that  it happening over and over and nothing was done about .

          I don’t know and don’t’even imagine how I would react or what I do if my children would be killed in school , For me is terrible to think about. I live in USA since 1982 , and I don’t have weapon in my home . My kids never were exposed to guns . I don’t see myself any useful reason to have gun if I don’t hunt.


    2. Ken A

      I’m no expert on this, but don’t we already have “red flag” laws where the cops can take guns from people? I know of two guys who are super stable without any problems that had their guns taken away (and later given back) in the past ten years in CA.

      One guy had a crazy girlfriend who got even crazier when a friend broke up with her and she told the cops he had guns and was going to kill her.  Another friend had his wife go nuts when she found out she was not going to hit the jackpot after dumping him since he didn’t actually own even 1% of his family business and that the ~$5 million home they lived in was actually owned by his parents so she told the cops he was going to kill her with his guns.

      1. Howard P

        And it works the other way too… where the apparently mentally healthy, completely shock their family and closest friends, by doing very bizarre, violent things… up until that moment, they could pass any screening yet devised…

  8. Ron

    I’m wondering why school shootings are a relatively recent phenomenon, since we’ve had high-powered weapons (and disgruntled, mentally ill individuals) for many years.

    Seems like it gets a lot of media attention, which probably encourages others.  Still, I suspect that the risk for any individual student is exceedingly low.  (Perhaps about the same as a passenger jet purposefully crashing into a highrise workplace.)  Makes for headline-grabbing news, though.  (Especially when children are involved.)

    And now, “fake” threats (e.g., from immature students) have to be responded to, as well.

    1. Howard P

      It’s not just immaturity, necessarily… it may also be a sign of latent/emerging MH issues.  Pulling a fire alarm to get out of taking a test is one thing… communicating that an incendiary bomb is present is quite another.

      If the reaction is disciplinary only, without at least some evaluation to discover or eliminate MH/personality disorders as a factor, I think we’re fooling ourselves…

      1. Ron

        Good point.  But, some students do all kinds of crazy stuff for amusement.  (Sometimes, with friends.)  Probably more so, if news organizations cover it.  If they’re also stupid enough to post about it on social media, then they’d probably get caught.

        Never thought of the “fire alarm to get out of a test”, when I was in school.

        My underlying point is that there may be an over-reaction at schools, these days.  When these incidents occur, you never hear about the millions of students who go through their entire education, without experiencing anything like this.

        Guns and violence are not issues that are exclusive to schools.  (Example – the Veteran’s Home in Yountville, just yesterday.) And, everyone who is killed or injured during “normal” crimes, every day. (We could also address wars for which these weapons were supposedly “designed”, but maybe some other time.)

  9. John Hobbs

    Here’s a good article on the topic.

    “Their topline message: Don’t harden schools. Make them softer, by improving social and emotional health.


    “If we’re really talking about prevention, my perspective is that we should go for the public health approach,” says Ron Avi Astor at the University of Southern California, who also helped draft the plan.”

    “A public health approach to school shootings, Astor explains, would be much along the same lines.


    Instead of waiting for people to, again, be rushed into emergency rooms, you go into the community with preventive resources. You do your best to lower the background levels of bullying and discrimination. You track the data and perform what is called “threat assessments” on potential risks.

    And, these experts say, you remove the major “environmental hazard” that contributes to gun violence: the guns.”


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