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With No Evidence Active-Shooter Drills Work, We Should Conscientiously Object

I oppose active-shooter drills because teaching people to live in constant mortal fear of mass murder is no way to run a civilization… and it distracts us from teaching people to deal with more common, everyday hazards.

Vox notes that an entire industry (ALICE training? That’s folks making money off your fear) is rising to capitalize on the expectation that schools terrorize our children with grim shoot-’em-up dramatizations, even without evidence that active-shooter training works:

But for school districts, some of which are now mandated to pay for such training, the marketplace has grown faster than the evidence, and despite arguments that it can heighten anxiety and trauma for children. After more than a decade of mainstream practice and millions billed to public schools, there’s a troubling lack of data backing a program taught to students at more than 3,700 K-12 students and 900 universities learning the ALICE way.

…there’s virtually no evidence about its effectiveness. “There’s what you would call a paucity of data,” says Kenneth Trump, a longtime critic of the program and himself a rival school safety consultant. “Anything anyone tells you is anecdotal.”

…“There is still no national standard for this,” says B.J. Bilbo, president of the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officials. “There’s no data. We are trying to organize something. We’re in the process of polling schools across the country, but we’re not there yet.”

…Part of the reason for the lack of data is that until 2018, Congress had effectively banned the Centers for Disease Control from studying gun violence as a public health issue by withholding funding [Peter Rugg, “The Big Business—and Questionable Effectiveness—of Mass Shooter Trainings,” Vox, updated 2019.10.17].

If all we have are anecdotes, we can find plenty of counter-anecdotes in which active-shooter drills injure participants:

This might help mitigate the teachers’ lack of tactical expertise, but can also go badly. In March, Indiana teachers said they were bruised and traumatized after being forced to kneel down and be shot “execution style” with plastic pellets as part of an active-shooter drill conducted by the county’s sheriff’s department….

Besides the cost of training, districts can also be hit by lawsuits. Iowa insurance company EMC reportedly paid out more than $250,000 in 2010 to settle claims by teachers injured in drills….

There are traumatic mental-health effects of the drills themselves, exemplified by the Oregon teacher who sued the school system after an active-shooter drill, arguing that she wasn’t told about the drill in advance. It wasn’t the first such suit either. In 2014, a Colorado nursing home worker sued her employer after an off-duty officer hired for a surprise training flashed a gun at her. That same year, an Ohio teacher sued his district for $125,000 after a cop tackled him during a lockdown drill [Rugg, 2019.10.17].

We should apply conscientious objection to active-shooter drills. As surely as the government cannot force us to pick up a gun and participate in war, the government (in this case, our public school districts) should not be allowed to force adults and children alike to participate in pretend-war scenarios that do violence to their bodies and minds and encourage them to practice violence. A teacher or a student who finds active-shooter drills morally objectionable should be able to decline to participate in that violence without repercussion.


  1. mike from iowa 2019-10-18 07:08

    With guns in schools surely they need not trust in dog, amirite?

  2. PlanningStudent 2019-10-18 11:38

    St. Joe’s Catholic School in Pierre was doing active shooter drills in the late 80’s… We called them John Lock drills. If John Lock was requested to report to the principals office we taught how to hide, lock the doors, stay away from windows, ect..

    Never thought much of it. Didn’t feel traumatized. We learned there are bad people in this world who commit violence for inconceivable reasons and we need to protect ourselves.

  3. Porter Lansing 2019-10-18 14:00

    Do fire drills and earthquake drills damage kids, too? Is there evidence beyond anecdotes to their effectiveness? How about blizzard preparedness training? I live in a town that seems to attract school shootings. Five in the last 20 years, starting with Columbine. The kids are now taught that sometimes it’s proper to be more than a hider in a dark closet. The last student turned killer at the local STEM school was ended when three kids jumped the shooters and disarmed them. Being subjectively proactive is part of the new active shooter training.

  4. Ben Cerwinske 2019-10-18 15:20

    I’m open to persuasion on this issue. However, just because some districts clearly do these drills wrong, does that mean ours shouldn’t do them at all? Also, as Porter asked, what about other kinds of drills? When was the last time you heard about a significant fire at a school (I don’t think I’ve ever heard this. My only reference for a fire in school was the movie “Kindergarten Cop”)? How often do you hear about a tornado causing damage to a school while kids were present (I remember this happening in Oklahoma a few years ago)? My impression is that school shootings are more common than either of these two things we also do drills for. It makes sense to me that we at least have some kind of practice that we’re not completely in the dark if something happens.

  5. o 2019-10-18 15:44

    I am surprised that the Right/GOP/Conservatives have not rallied against these drills in schools. Hasn’t the NRA sent word that this promotes an anti-gun agenda?

    Now we can add “Stop the Bleed” training to our teachers’ plates. Classrooms now have tourniquet and bandages for trauma preparation. It has become the “duck and cover” of this generation.

  6. Donald Pay 2019-10-18 21:54

    I agree that elaborate scenario drills are not good, but schools should do some planning for lock down situations so that teachers and students know how to respond. Lockdowns happen often in urban schools. Most such lockdowns in our city have been due to a person with a gun fleeing a crime scene near a school.

    The agency I worked for began annual walk-through training on this several years ago. I don’t think we would have reacted well to it if it was play-acting training, though. I think it helped everyone know what to do and what not to do in such situations.

  7. Debbo 2019-10-18 22:07

    Drills in the nature of fire drills probably would be all right. It’s the traumatizing nature of drills when they try to fake a shooter in the school that is a problem.

    Think especially of children in the first few grades. They already have a tough time distinguishing reality from fake. Those realistic drills are terrorizing to such little kids. They’re bad enough on older children and adults.

    Schools don’t try to fake tornados, earthquakes or fires when they have a drill.

    When people of any age are terrified enough, their brain shuts down and they aren’t going to benefit from the drill anyway.

  8. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-10-18 23:31

    I’m not opposed to drills that impart defensive knowledge to people who may face an armed moron intent on doing damage to them or someone near them.

    This sort of threat appears to be present, maybe growing, and completely unforecastable. Why not discuss defenses?

  9. Ben Cerwinske 2019-10-19 08:11

    Oddly enough, based on how our district does drills, I’ve seen just as much, if not more,aggravation for kids during tornado and fire drills. I think it’s because lockdowns are pretty quiet. There’s no alarm, just a calm announcement.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-19 08:21

    Interesting, Ben—your experience shows that we can do lockdown drills that don’t involve the kind of active terrorization that the ALICE pushers create. Active-shooter drills are like having a tornado drill where we actually turn on giant fans and throw walls and trees at students.

    CIRD, I think the harms outweigh the benefits. Students aren’t really that likely to face an armed gunman in their schools. They are more likely to be killed by people in their household. If we must teach people to be ready to fight, maybe we should have PE classes on how to punch one’s drunk abusive dad.

  11. Porter Lansing 2019-10-19 08:44

    Assuming that teachers as a group or even one teacher, for that matter, conscientiously object to participation in ALICE training, that’s what unions are for. As far as parents who choose not to allow their child to be ALICE trained, that’s surely within their rights … isn’t it?

  12. Ben Cerwinske 2019-10-19 09:08

    We do use ALICE here in Spearfish. I should point out that I work in the 1st/2nd grade school. I don’t know how far they take it in the upper grades, but I haven’t heard any complaints after being put into use.

  13. mike from iowa 2019-10-19 09:48

    Anybody remember when Hitler Weasel Bush (?) had military choppers surprise landing at Colorado school and freaked everyone out? What kind of a drill was that?

  14. Debbo 2019-10-19 14:11

    “They are more likely to be killed by people in their household.”
    100% true. I’d like schools to spend some with students on their rights to safety, including in their own home. But then a parent will complain, “I can’t even hit my own kid no more!” In the meantime, more and more children are severely beaten, raped, starved, neglected or murdered by the dad who could hit his kid more. 🤬🤬🤬

  15. Debbo 2019-10-19 14:14

    One last thing. How many school shootings have there been in SD? There was one at RC Stevens. I’m pretty sure there have been others. What I’m thinking is, what are the odds in SD? My guess is they’re really minimal, but I’ll leave that to someone with a brain for math who feels like answering.

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