Keeping Guns Out of Schools Does Not Require Metal Detectors

Three recent gun incidents in New York City schools coupled with mass shootings in the United States and terrorist attacks in California and Europe have led to new calls for metal detectors in school buildings. This is an over-reaction and would be a mistake. Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union calls metal detectors in 193 city schools "incompatible with the sort of nurturing and supportive environment that schools should work to cultivate." The NYCLU describes metal detectors as part of school disciplinary policies that are "criminalizing the classroom." I agree.

The campaign to brand public schools as unsafe is led by a pro-charter school group, Families for Excellent Schools, which wants to promote its own agenda. Recently, they were supported by the President of Local 237 Teamsters, the union representing school safety personnel.

There are 1.1 million children attending over 1,800 New York City public schools. These are the incidents that have provoked the latest call for metal detectors.

On March 22, a fourteen-year-old middle school student in Brooklyn was discovered with an unloaded 9-millimeter semi-automatic handgun and two partial bullet clips. School administrators found the gun while questioning the boy, who was then arrested. The previous week an eleven-year-old fifth grader and a fifteen-year-old high school student, both in Queens, both brought loaded guns to school. The high school student and the grandfather of the younger boy were arrested. Two other guns were seized in New York City schools so far during the 2015-2016 school year. It appears that in each case the gun was discovered by school authorities without the use of metal detectors.

The Department of Education reports a twenty-nine percent drop in crime in city public schools over the past five years and that ninety percent of students surveyed said they feel safe in school hallways, bathrooms, cafeterias, and locker rooms. The Department is also reconsidering the placement of metal detectors in schools because of charges that the policy is racially biased. According to a recent survey, because of their placement and because so many schools are racially segregated, half of the city's Black high school students pass through metal detectors to enter school, but fewer than 15% percent of White students.

While school-based crime has declined in New York City, felony crimes in the subway system increased by thirty-five over the previous year and assaults tripled. In addition, there has been a wave of "slashings." Thousands of New York City school children travel on the subways to school daily and are potentially at-risk, but no one is demanding that metal detectors be placed in the subways. The issue with the demand for metal detectors is not school safety, but scoring political points at the expense of public schools.

Metal detectors in minority schools target Black and Latino students and are a form of racial profiling. If metal detectors are really about safety and not race, they should be in every school. I do not believe middle -class and White and Asian parents would tolerate this.

There is always a trade-off between liberty and security. Total security, as we are learning in the war with ISIS, is an impossible goal with the potential to destroy the liberty essential to our society. In the same way metal detectors, by criminalizing Black and Latino students, effectively undermine the purpose of education. Benjamin Franklin famously said, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." I agree with Ben Franklin also.