Everytown Research and Policy
Time to Rethink Reactive School Safety Strategies
- Guns in Schools
- Reconsider Active Shooter Drills
- Threat Identification and Assessment Programs in Schools
Active shooter drills are implemented in over 95 percent of American K–12 schools today.1While school shootings are relatively rare—accounting for less than 1 percent of the nearly 38,000 annual US gun deaths2—they instill a deep sense of fear in communities, propelling school systems to “do something” fast.3In a series of recent reports,4 Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund (Everytown), in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), highlighted the importance of proactive school safety planning to intervene before school violence occurs, and outlined a set of concrete recommendations to respond to active shooter incidents. This research concluded that there is almost no research affirming the value of active shooter drills for preventing school shootings or protecting the school community when shootings do occur.5
While there is limited proof of the effectiveness of these drills, anecdotal evidence, including many online conversations, increasingly suggests that active shooter drills may be harmful to mental health. In order to examine these concerns using scientific methods, Everytown partnered with Georgia Institute of Technology’s Social Dynamics and Wellbeing Lab (Georgia Tech) to study the immediate and long-term impacts of active shooter drills on the health and wellbeing of students, teachers, and parents. Researchers applied rigorous big data and psycholinguistic analytic approaches to millions of community conversations occurring over Twitter and Reddit. Social media conversations were analyzed for a total of 114 K–12 schools with a focus on activity in the 90 days before and 90 days after school drills occurred.
The results were sobering: Active shooter drills in schools are associated with increases in depression (39%), stress and anxiety (42%), and physiological health problems (23%) overall, including children from as young as five years old up to high schoolers, their parents, and teachers. Concerns over death increased by 22 percent, with words like blood, pain, clinics, and pills becoming a consistent feature of social media posts in school communities in the 90 days after a school drill. These findings unveil even more reason to pause before rushing toward active shooter drills as a potential solution to school violence, as evidence suggests that they are causing lasting emotional and physical harm to students, teachers, and the larger community.