Everytown for Gun Safety, Teachers Unions Urge Schools to Reassess Lockdown Drills

Although 95% of American public schools regularly conduct some sort of active shooter drill, the groups recommend students not be involved.

Everytown for Gun Safety, Teachers Unions Urge Schools to Reassess Lockdown Drills

On Tuesday, an advocacy group for gun control and two large teachers unions released a whitepaper outlining the longterm effects active shooter lockdown drills can have on students.

The whitepaper, “The Impact of School Safety Drills for Active Shootings,” was created by Everytown for Gun Safety (Everytown), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the National Education Association (NEA) to discuss the “detrimental impact of school safety drills for active shootings, as well as considerations and recommendations for schools that decide to include students in these exercises.”

Regular active shooter safety drills are conducted by 95% of American public schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, but the trio does not recommend schools involve students in active shooter drills. They support growing concerns that these drills have not been proven effective in preventing violence and that they may even traumatize some students.

Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety in America, a subset of Everytown, began looking at emerging evidence that “these drills cause trauma, whether it’s anxiety or depression, sleeplessness, worsening school performance in kids,” she told NPR.

Watts referenced an extreme incident in Indiana where officers conducting an ALICE training made teachers kneel down and face a wall before shooting them in their back with pellets.

“When we have a fire drill in a school, we don’t set a fire in the hallway,” she emphasized.

According to the whitepaper, Dr. Laurel Williams, chief of psychiatry at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, has warned about the anxiety active shooter drills can induce for children.

“It’s psychologically distressing for a young child to practice active shooters coming into your area. It’s not clear to them that the drill is not real. The younger the child, the less likely they are to understand that an act of violence is not occurring during a drill,” she said. “If you’re constantly given the viewpoint that the world is scary and unpreventable things happen, it pervasively makes us less secure as a society. We see everyone as suspicious, and it changes the way we act around people.”

Additionally, a 2019 research paper found a lack of empirical evidence in favor of active shooter drills and other hardening measures, partly because gun violence in schools is very rare, according to NPR.

If schools choose to include students in these drills, the whitepaper recommends the following to protect students’ well-being:

  1. Drills should not include simulations that mimic or appear to be an actual shooting incident.
  2. Sufficient information and notification must be provided to parents or guardians in advance about the dates, content, and tone of any drills for students.
  3. Drills should be announced to students and educators prior to the start.
  4. Drill content must be created by a team including administrators, teachers, school-based mental health professionals, and law enforcement and be age and developmentally appropriate. The content should incorporate student input.
  5. Drills should be coupled with trauma-informed approaches to directly address students’ well-being as standard practice.
  6. Information about the efficacy and effects of the drills should be tracked by schools, including symptoms and indications of trauma (e.g., bad dreams, fear of coming to school, asthma attacks, increased antidepressant prescriptions) so drill content can be reevaluated if students and/or educators are exhibiting signs of trauma.

You can view the full whitepaper here.

About the Author


Amy is Campus Safety’s Senior Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

In her free time, Amy enjoys exploring the outdoors with her family.

11 responses to “Everytown for Gun Safety, Teachers Unions Urge Schools to Reassess Lockdown Drills”

  1. Matt W says:

    What do they mean by “these drills have not been proven effective in preventing violence”? These drills are not run to prevent…they’re run to prepare. Why wouldn’t you want your students to be able to face a threat with some sort of preparedness? Now maybe simulated shooting is a little extreme, but, otherwise practicing how to handle a threat, I think, is considered thinking ahead.

  2. Reasonable lockdowns have a value in school safety threats beyond the active shooter. Lockdowns have gotten a bad rap because of those cowboys who’ve made a business out of active shooter threat trainings. And big business it is. The original concept of the lockdown was to provide a safe area where child will be under adult supervision and protected against a number of potential threats which are much more likely to occur in the school environment than the active shooter. Just to name a few examples where a lockdown can be effective: a law enforcement action outside the school – a animal on school grounds – a domestic situation on school grounds – the report of a suspect gun inside the building – and the list goes on. When lockdowns are conducted in an age appropriate manner they are no more harmful to students than a fire drill. The key is for them to be conducted in a common sense manner. Keep the cowboys and their tactics outside of the schools.

  3. Dave says:

    So in the 60’s and 70’s schools conducted bomb safety drills, students had to take cover under their desks. “Duck and Cover” came out of these drills. Almost all schools were fall out shelters. Schools also practice severe weather drills, where to go inside the school in the case of a tornado, etc. Schools also practice fire drills. So practicing active shooter drills seems logical. All of these potential incidents are rare but very real. So being prepared for these types of incidents creates a sense of action and creates muscle memory, so in the event of an incident no one has to stop and think, what do I do! Are these drills wrong? Can all of these drills cause the same “traumatizing effect” or is it the hype?, the messaging? social media? or are we adults being overly sensitive?

  4. Gene Harris says:

    Well of course drills don’t prevent violence! Anything associated with Bloomberg’s Everytown for gun safety organization must be viewed with the knowledge Bloomberg has a political agenda to disarm every American except those like him who can afford to buy armed guards for themselves.

    That said, people in general must realize no government agency, and no one, can guarantee their safety, that reality must first be understood before anything of use can be done. Once people come to grips with that reality they can begin to learn how to protect themselves by being more aware of their surroundings, those in their surroundings, and what items in their surroundings can be used as tools to protect themselves.

    This concept probably isn’t something young kids can grasp, but their teachers and other school staff better get a grip on it at work and in their every day lives to protect themselves and the innocents in their lives.

    Guns are not the problem, never have been. This has been said over and over but the truth is not accepted by those who want the government to take care of their every need. Guns are just a convenient scapegoat that can be demonized by those like Bloomberg who want to run people’s lives.

    People are the problem, and bad people will always find a way to hurt others! Deal with the bad people, not the billions of items in our day to day lives that can be used as weapons!

  5. allan lee says:

    Lockdown Drills that are run in schools are not run in order to prevent gun violence, and yes there are some people that run these drills in a “too” realistic manner. That being said I feel that the drills do more than give students and idea of what can happen and how to properly respond in a school setting, it should give the students and teachers some idea of how to respond outside of a school setting. More and more we see active assailant events happening in malls, movie theaters, and other public places. Getting everyone involved to understand that this type of training not only applies to one type of setting and situational awareness, and appropriate response action is key.

  6. James Bolling says:

    Failing to conduct drills with the children to get them familiar with procedures is a terrible idea. Drills are designed to practice the procedures the teachers and children will follow and have absolutely no role in prevention. The drills do not have to be established with “gore” or “simulated shots” of any kind. Drill the procedures of locking/barricading doors, running, or hiding, whatever the procedures are. Failing to drill is ludicrously negligent.

    I taught my kids at home from an early age the basics of run, hide, fight. Also all 3 have been around firearms and are competent shooters. All of them started shooting at age 3, and understand exactly what gunshots sound like in a range environment (they have no emotional trauma from being around gunshots, and enjoy shooting). I taught them to leave their backpacks on to provide some ballistics (I actually ran tests and shot several backpacks to test them ability to protect my children). Another thing I instilled in them all was to ignore their teachers if they are trying to get them to huddle together and do nothing but wait to die. I have zero faith in educators having competent abilities to lead when the worst day comes. My children were taught to get away if they can, hide if they cannot get away, and fight to live if they have no other option.

    Failing to drill because you are going to scare someone has eroded my faith in educators even further.

  7. Arming qualified school staff or having onsite intervention capable armed SROs is where time and resources are best utilized. In Missouri the School Protection Officer program was passed by the legislature a few years ago and now many have completed the training. The math is simple, law enforcement response time vs time table of attacks. Having qualified, well trained people on site saves lives. You can see more about the SPO training at http://www.peacekeeperstraining.com

  8. Broeck Oder says:

    ““When we have a fire drill in a school, we don’t set a fire in the hallway,” she emphasized.”

    True, BUT you teach the children how to REACT and RESPOND (i.e., evacuate correctly, assembly location, etc.). Cardinal rule no. 1 of emergency planning and management is that students will respond to an emergency just the way they have been trained. If students are not to participate in shooter drills, then they are being de facto trained to be sitting ducks, literally.

  9. G. Hunter says:

    As with everyone’s comments noted above, Active Shooter Drills don’t prevent violence any more than Earthquake drills prevent earthquakes and Fire drills prevent fires. Can an active shooter drill be too intense and age-inappropriate? Absolutely! However the right kind of drill can also serve reassure students so they feel like their school is prepared and trained to safeguard their safety. Students see school-directed violence all over social media and if not addressed at the school, is likely just as stressful.

    Given the unions’ and Bloomberg’s Everytown political agenda, I could have predicted the outcome of the “study” before it was even conducted.

  10. Steve Hoban says:

    Seriously? I’ve been working directly as a school safety and security professional for 30+ years. First, there is a significant difference between a lockdown drill and an active shooter exercise. As others have pointed out, we don’t set a fire to conduct a fire drill. A lockdown drill, like a fire drill, is intended to walk participants through what they should do during a real or potential violent threat inside the school building to make them as safe as possible. The practice during a drill will help staff and students get into a defensive safety position quicker. How can that be a bad thing? Gun control debate aside, the fact is that we do have guns in this country and enough school and other mass shootings to warrant taking preparedness steps to mitigate the potential damage of these events.

    Having conducted and facilitated many active shooter exercises, I’ve never advocated for including students, and have always involved public safety agencies in the process. The planning and safety precautions taken are quite thorough, and the learnings for police and fire personnel are as significant as the learnings derived by school staff.

  11. J. Curtis says:

    Everytown, ATF, and the NEA use the most extreme examples of active shooter drill failures to opine that drills with students should not be conducted. They cite research but fail to look at real life active shooter events where students have utilized the methods they were trained in to survive. The goal of the drills (and related trainings) is to be intentional about cultivating survival outcomes. Anytime you have Everytown involved you have to view their stance with caution. Please keep highly political organizations out of the conversations about school safety.

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