No-brainer: Metal detectors vital at elementary schools

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Every high school in Philadelphia school district has walk-through metal detectors. Putting them in elementary schools shouldn't be this huge leap.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Every high school in Philadelphia school district has walk-through metal detectors. Putting them in elementary schools shouldn't be this huge leap.
Posted: March 27, 2013

METAL DETECTORS in elementary schools? Hell, yeah.

Think that's a knee-jerk reaction? Well, not any more than the hand-wringing over the - gasp - sorry state of our society if we'd - shudder - stoop to such a thing.

The reaction to Philadelphia school officials merely discussing the idea was typical:

What message would it send?

What proof is there that they work?

There has to be another way.

Safety doesn't come from metal detectors. It comes from community, good parenting . . . the Easter Bunny.

OK, no one actually said the Easter Bunny, but considering how some think children are just magically going to be kept safe, it's not a stretch.

"IT'S COME TO THIS," screamed the headline on Monday's Daily News story.

Good headline. But no, it hasn't come to this. It's been this - for a very, very long time.

There seems to be a story every week from one place or another in the U.S. about an elementary-school student coming to school with a gun or a knife or, in one memorable instance in South Philly in 2010, a grenade. It turned out to be fake.

Barely a day goes by when we are unable memorialize some school shooting. There are more than 250 listings of school shootings in the U.S. on a Wikipedia page, with 170 separate dates. Feb. 2 and May 18 each have five shootings.

Sunday marked 15 years since an 11- and a 13-year-old pulled a fire alarm at a middle school near Jonesboro, Ark., and shot at classmates and teachers as they scrambled to escape. Five were killed, 10 wounded.

As I write this, it's been two years since Michael Phelps, a 15-year-old suspended student, shot a classmate at a Martinsville, Ind., middle school. The boy lived. Phelps was convicted of attempted murder in 2011, and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The following year, there were nine more school shootings, including the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Would a metal detector have saved them? We'll never know.

But tell me, how many deaths are we willing to accept - because that's what we're doing by doing nothing - before we realize that this fantasy about schools being safe havens is as dated as poodle skirts and Ford Thunderbirds?

And save the nostalgia. Even in 1955, the first year the T-Bird was manufactured, a 20-year-old Swarthmore College student shot and killed a fellow student right here in Pennsylvania.

There are no guarantees. There have been at least two instances where metal detectors didn't stop a shooting. One in 2005 at the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota and another in January in Atlanta.

Of course, the real answer here is gun control. But we can't wait for gun reforms before we protect children.

According to my colleague Solomon Leach's story, all district high schools have walk-through metal detectors, as do some middle schools. Currently, no elementary schools have them.

We've been lucky. Philadelphia schools haven't had a serious gun tragedy. But luck has a tendency to run out.

We have crossing guards at every school because we smartly presume that there are bad drivers, texting drivers, drunk and dumb drivers on our roads. There are lockdown drills at schools. If run correctly, schools make visitors sign in and show ID.

We do these things not because they guarantee safety, but because they are prudent. We should take whatever precautions we can to keep children as safe as we can from realities that we may not like, but that we can't hide from.

So having metal detectors placed in elementary schools shouldn't be this huge leap.

It's going to cost us. It's going to mean budgeting guards to monitor them. Worse, it's going to mean having difficult but necessary conversations with the children in our lives. It's sad. It's not fair. It certainly isn't going to be easy.

But if we could stop one child from being hurt or killed, wouldn't that be worth it?

I say yes. Bring on the metal detectors.


Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

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