For Many Teachers, Gun Lockdowns and School Shooting Fears Are Now Inescapable

‘I think about it every day’: new Pew poll finds 59% of teachers said they fear a school shooting could unfold on their campus.

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Teachers are routinely forced to hide in their classrooms and most fear a shooting could unfold at their workplace amid an unprecedented spike in school gun violence over the last several years, a new Pew Research Center survey reveals.

Pew Research Associate Luona Lin called the findings released Thursday “jarring”: Nearly a quarter of educators said they experienced a lockdown due to a gun — or fears of one — on their campus last school year.

Teachers who work in high schools, and those located in urban areas, were far more likely to experience lockdowns. Among high school educators, 34% reported at least one gun-related lockdown during the 2022-23 school year, as did 31% of those who teach in urban areas.

“One of the most striking findings is just the sheer number of teachers who say they have experienced a lockdown,” Lin told Maybach Media. Pew sought to probe educators’ perspectives of school gun violence after researchers conducted interviews to understand their “day-to-day lives and their perspectives” on hot-button issues, she said. Gun violence came up again and again.

“A lot of teachers definitely talked about worrying about school shootings happening in their school,” she said. “One of the teachers we talked about it with actually said, ‘I think about it every day.’”

Though the Pew data don’t offer insight into the frequency that firearms are ultimately found, tallies on campus attacks have shown a staggering upward trend, with record numbers over the last three years.

Just this week, James and Jennifer Crumbley were each sentenced to 10-15 years in prison after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for their role in failing to prevent a 2021 school shooting that was carried out by their then-15-year-old son. The shooting at his Oxford, Michigan, high school led to the death of four students. The Crumbleys are the first parents in U.S. history to be sentenced to prison in response to an active shooting perpetrated by their child. More than two-thirds of active shootings at K-12 campuses were carried out by perpetrators between the ages of 12 and 18, according to federal data.

For some teachers who participated in the Pew poll — 59% of whom say they worry about a school shooting unfolding at their schools — gun-related lockdowns are frequent. While 15% said they experienced one lockdown last school year, 8% said they were forced to take cover at least twice.

The new data on the opinions of K-12 teachers comes roughly 25 years after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in suburban Denver, which became a national flashpoint on school violence after two student gunmen killed 13 of their classmates before taking their own lives. Since then, national spending on school security has surged — and so, too, have the number of campus attacks.

Though school shootings are politically fraught and carry devastating consequences for communities, they remain statistically rare. Between 2000 and 2021, there have been 46 “active shooter incidents” at K-12 campuses, which resulted in 108 deaths and 168 injuries, according to the most recent federal data. Active shootings are defined as those where a gunman fires indiscriminately at people in a public place like a school.

Beyond active shootings like those at Oxford and Columbine, federal data on campus gun incidents indicate 188 shootings that resulted in casualties during the 2021-22 school year— more than twice as many as the year earlier, which at the time was a record high.

While a majority of educators fear school shootings, 39% said their school has done a fair or poor job preparing for one while 30% — particularly those with school-based police officers — said their district has done an excellent or very good job.

In preventing future attacks, 69% of educators endorsed efforts to improve mental health screenings and treatments for children, 49% supported campus cops and 33% favored metal detectors.

Just 13% of teachers who participated in the Pew survey said arming educators would be an extremely or very effective approach to prevent the tragedies.

Teachers’ responses were often similar to those offered by parents and students in previous Pew surveys on school shooting fears and preparation — with all parties being swayed, at least in part, by partisan politics.

Republican-leaning educators were more likely than their Democratic colleagues to support campus police, metal detectors and arming teachers. Democratic teachers were more likely than GOP educators to support efforts to improve students’ mental health.

In a fall 2022 survey, two-thirds of parents said they were at least somewhat worried about a shooting unfolding at their child’s school, and 63% endorsed improvements in mental health for students as a way to prevent shootings, a rate higher than any other intervention.

In a similar Pew survey, from 2018, 57% of teens said they were somewhat or very worried about a school shooting occurring on their campus.

Pew’s educator survey included responses from 2,531 public K-12 teachers in October and November who are members of Rand’s American Teacher Panels, a nationally representative sample of U.S. educators.

“Gun violence and all of these gun policy issues, they are definitely partisan,” Lin said. “The views of teachers, the views of parents, are reflective of the overall population’s views on this, and definitely the partisan differences as well.”

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