Child being wanded before entering school

Opinion

Youth Voice: The Answer to School Shootings? Mental Health and Gun Control, Not Metal Detectors.

Emma Floyd

At the beginning of this school year, my fellow students and I were met with an unfamiliar sight as we entered the building: metal detectors.

It was inevitable. With recent school shootings and the presence of metal detectors at every other D.C. public high school, few were shocked at the new addition, but no one welcomed it. 

At first, students were outraged. Our high school’s claim of fostering an environment without barriers seemed ironic if metal detectors were the first thing you saw when entering the building. But over the past few months, our attitude has shifted to simple annoyance. 

Students have to take off their belts each time they enter the building, are stopped and scanned down when their earrings set it off, and told to not bring any metal forks or glass bottles to school. 

These things may seem trivial, but they serve as a hindrance to students getting to classes on time. The lines and tardy slips that result from these procedures are counterproductive to the goal of school: learning. 

But we can deal with annoyances. The larger issue is that metal detectors don’t address the roots of the problem. Why would a teenager bring a weapon to school in the first place?

A Mental Health Epidemic

Each year, one in five children in the U.S. experiences some kind of mental disorder, according to NPR. Mental breakdowns are not uncommon in high school. The pressures of school, peer pressure, bullying, problems at home, depression, anxiety, these are all things teenagers deal with constantly. 

Due to the lack of adults in schools who are equipped to recognize signs and help, many students go unassisted. My school is lucky enough to have four academic counselors as well as a school psychologist, while the national average of students to counselors is roughly 500 to one. 

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I do appreciate that the faculty at my school have taken measures in tandem with the metal detectors to address mental health issues. In our weekly advisory meetings, the school has created bullying lessons in an effort to help unite the student body. 

These include activities such as identity circles, where kids would stand if they identified with a certain group and everyone would clap to show their support as a way to reinforce diversity and inclusion within the school building. 

Unfortunately, the activities weren’t taken very seriously by the students, and didn’t seem to have much impact. Still, it’s a start. 

Metal Detectors Break Down Trust

Though I understand why DCPS mandated that we install metal detectors, research suggests that increased security in schools is less effective in preventing school shootings than addressing signs or threats before anything happens. Schools across the country are implementing stricter security to prevent shootings, but there’s no proof these “solutions” work. 

Furthermore, putting metal detectors in schools makes students feel like criminals and ruins trust between students and faculty. Schools should foster an environment where students feel safe, trusted, and are focused on learning and growing. Making students feel as if they’ve done something wrong before they walk into the building diminishes that objective. 

Though schools, teachers, and counselors certainly have a part to play, they can only do so much. School officials and educators across the country are overwhelmed with work and should not be expected to stop school shootings from happening. 

Stricter gun control is also necessary to prevent shootings, and that is the responsibility of lawmakers. Governments and schools need to work together to keep children across the country safe. 

Ultimately, mental health support and gun control together are the keys to ending mass shootings. Governments and school boards need to appoint counselors to every school, and they need to correspond to the student population. To simply place metal detectors in every school is to slap a band-aid over a much larger wound.