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US school-safety measures questioned

By LIU YINMENG in Los Angeles | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-05-31 07:26

US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden pay their respects on Sunday at a memorial at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in the country's deadliest school shooting in nearly a decade. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Ineffective steps to prevent shootings generate false sense of security, experts say

Salvador Ramos entered a back door of Robb Elementary School by evading a district officer. He charged into two connected fourth-grade classrooms and barricaded himself by locking the door. He then proceeded to kill 19 children and two teachers in one of the worst mass shootings in the United States.

For years, US school districts have bolstered security measures to prevent such tragedies from occurring. But Tuesday's mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, suggested that even the most comprehensive safety plans at schools could not stop a determined potential shooter from getting access to campuses.

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District has a 21-point security protocol in place that included its own security force, threat-assessment teams, motion detectors, perimeter fencing, security cameras and a system to report bullying and threats.

It also has a strict locked-door policy that requires teachers to "keep their classroom doors closed and locked at all times".

The Border Control agents who killed the gunman had trouble breaching the locked classroom and had to get a staff member to open the door with a key, The Associated Press reported.

The money that the school district spent on security and monitoring services increased from around $200,000 in 2017 to around $435,000 for the current school year, according to the school district's budget documents.

The school district also received a $69,000 state grant in 2020 to fortify security. The money was part of the $100 million school safety grant that the state allocated following the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting.

Victor Escalon, a regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said on Thursday that he could not say why no one stopped Ramos from entering the school.

Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of public health at New Mexico State University who studies school security practices, told The New York Times: "These security measures are not effective. And they are not catching up to the ease of access with which people are acquiring guns in the pandemic. All records are being broken in gun sales."

A woman cries while visiting a memorial for the 19 children and two adults killed during a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 30, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. [Photo/Agencies]

After looking at 18 years of school security practices, he concluded that none of the current methods reduce gun violence.

Schools are creating "a false sense of security" when they adopt these ineffective prevention measures, he said in a 2019 paper jointly written with James Price from the University of Toledo.

"A false sense of security is a dangerous environment that is currently being propelled by mass media, interest groups and policymakers," the two researchers wrote.

Under federal law, a person has to be 21 to purchase a handgun from a licensed gun dealer. However, he or she only needs to be 18 to purchase the same weapon in an unlicensed sale, or to buy a rifle or shotgun from a licensed dealer.

Those deficiencies in laws make it easy to obtain guns. Texas law only require buyers of any type of firearms to be 18 or older.

In 2019, 13 percent of students from grades 9-12 said they had carried a weapon anywhere during the previous 30 days, said a report by the National Center for Education Statistics. Three percent of the students said they had brought them onto school property.

A nationwide "see something, say something" campaign after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut encouraged students to report to adults when they see warning signs of peers hurting themselves or others.

Ramos struggled with family dysfunction and was reportedly bullied in school. However, he had no criminal or mental health history that would have identified him as a potential threat or prevented him from getting guns.

When US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled on Sunday to Uvalde to meet with families of the victims and survivors of the massacre, they received a blunt message. "Do something!" rang out shouts from a crowd in the street as Biden left a church where he attended mass with mourning relatives.

"We will. We will," Biden responded to the crowd, before heading to private meetings with relatives of the dead and with first responders.

The US Department of Justice announced on Sunday that it "will conduct a Critical Incident Review of the law enforcement response to the mass shooting in Uvalde".

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