Think Like a Security Pro: Weapons Detection Versus Threat Detection

As more and more school districts make the decision to acquire security screening technology, new questions need to be asked. Perhaps the most important one is: what am I trying to find?

Think Like a Security Pro: Weapons Detection Versus Threat Detection

Image Courtesy of Garrett Metal Detectors

Metal detectors, weapons detectors (but see below), x-ray scanners, and millimeter wave scanners – these are all screening solutions educators and law enforcement have turned to in order to combat the infiltration of weapons into our school campuses, from early K-12 to college athletics programs. When deployed strategically as a part of a holistic approach to school security, these tools can be instrumental in deterring and detecting the smuggling of contraband onto the premises of an educational facility. Athletic programs in particular have taken a keen interest as gameday security and training facility needs are often segmented out with regards to both location and security resources. As deployments of these technologies proliferate across the country, new problems are emerging that America’s school leadership will need to address. Here’s one question not enough educators are seriously asking.

“What am I trying to find?”

This may seem almost trivial to answer at first, but the response to this question may determine what screening technology is even appropriate. The first answer might be “weapons,” which certainly explains the marketing decision to call some modern metal detectors weapons detectors. There is more to the story though, as some principals and superintendents have belatedly discovered. Sold on stories of school shootings or the scariest weapons a detector can find, they miss answering the related but far more important question.

“What is the smallest threat I must find?”

Knowing what your smallest threat is – and testing your potential equipment on it – is what will ensure you purchase only technologies that can actually address your fundamental security concerns. Here are a few threats, all of which are smaller than most guns, that your school may still need to catch.


While the largest of knives are larger than the smallest of guns, most knives are smaller than most guns. Because so much media attention is devoted to tragic mass shooting incidents, it is easy to overlook the nearly twenty-eight thousand schools (that’s nearly one-third of all US schools) where possession of a knife or other sharp object was reported for the 2021-2022 school year. While being able to catch guns might keep your school out of a tragic national news story, being able to also catch knives may do far more to protect your students and staff in the day-to-day of campus life.

Disassembled Firearms

Even if your threat concern is focused on firearms, you still need to be able to catch disassembled guns. An assembled weapon is relatively easy to catch, but the individual pieces (slide, clip, barrel, etc.) are much smaller. Anyone who can sneak every piece of a gun through a checkpoint can in the end sneak the whole gun through that checkpoint. You must reliably catch at least one critical component of the firearm to prevent reassembly inside the school. Not only that, but the intentionality and planning required to make this more sophisticated smuggling attempt means that disassembled firearms are strong indicators of intent. These students are precisely the kind that law enforcement most needs to catch.


There is a reason this article uses the phrase “threat detection” in contrast to weapons detection. Simply put, all schools have threats to the health of the school environment that are not weapons. CDC studies put the incidence of vaping at 10% of all US high school students, which shockingly is a reduction from the previous year. E-cigarettes are habit-forming and dangerous to the health of their users, so many schools are highly motivated to find and confiscate these devices. If the objective of security screening is to protect the life and health of students and staff, vape detection is a very sensible extension of that project. Vapes are harder to detect than knives and disassembled guns for most detection technologies, but there are screening devices that can reliably pick them up.

The answer to the question “What am I trying to find?” can vary from school to school. Some schools (like universities) do not have an issue with vaping students. Others have a disproportionate number of knife-related incidents. However, when searching for the right security screening technology, the answer to this question should always be the same.

“I am trying to find my smallest threat object.”

Once you know what that is, you are armed with the most important tool you will need to evaluate your existing technology or any future acquisition. Your threat object will keep you on task and hold security companies to task when addressing their detection capabilities, so don’t get caught without it.

Garrett has nearly 40 years of experience providing school security for campuses and stadiums. Check out our resources page to see how we’ve helped others and how we can help you too.

If you are looking for security screening technology or just want to talk to industry veterans, you can reach out here.

If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century

This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety Conference promo