Gun Policies in Schools


What can the Dartmouth High School incident teach us?

Lockdowns in high school usually are routine drills in which classes try to fend off boredom while following the instructions of staying away from windows and doors while being silent; but, a lockdown at  Dartmouth High School on February 20 wasn’t business as usual.

Dartmouth High School was put under lockdown for several hours after a 15-year-old boy threatened another student with a fake firearm. The boy eventually surrendered to the police and has been charged with assault with a weapon, threats, pointing a firearm and possession of a weapon. While the situation luckily resolved without injuries or harm to students, it does raise the question of what schools should be doing regarding firearms in schools, both real and fake.

First, it’s important to know that individuals at least 12 years old can acquire a minor’s firearms license, which allows them to borrow non-restricted firearms for purposes such as target shooting and hunting. Conditions can be applied to the license such as supervision when using firearms, and minors are not allowed to possess licenses that use restricted or prohibited firearms. It means that junior and high school students may possess firearms licenses and know how to use firearms, which schools might want to keep in mind while creating gun policies and assessing potential security threats.

It’s essential when formulating gun control policies in schools to consider the role of teachers and the administration during lockdowns. Teachers are already required to take on many roles when it comes to educating students, and protecting students in school shooting type scenarios is invariably going to add to their workload if they’re required to do additional training. There’s always the question of if teachers should be armed, although asking a teacher to shoot one of their students that poses a threat may not be realistic. At a minimum, teachers and the administration should be aware of how to put school policies around guns and lockdowns into effect to ensure the safety of their students.

The role of parents should also be considered when it comes to potential school shooting situations, given that they will most likely rush to schools to make sure that their children are safe. While guardians or parents are often required to pick up their children as a safety measure in those situations, they can also impede the ability of police to control the scene and get necessary resources. Even when parents are told to back off, the fact that students can communicate with their guardians using cellphones, like during the lockdown at Dartmouth High School, can help ease anxiety while lockdown situations are being resolved.

It’s important that police services react to security situations in schools involving firearms appropriately as well. Since school shooters often seek to do the most damage possible, it becomes more important to eliminate threats as quickly as possible instead of isolating buildings and waiting to negotiate. Those strategies, along with other lessons from situations like Columbine, have been incorporated into training for Halifax Regional Police, according to Staff Sgt. Mark MacDonald. Given that the huge police response to the incident at Dartmouth High School helped resolved it without injuries, the training seems to be paying off.

Fake firearms are becoming a bigger problem and have been involved in several lockdown incidents in schools across Canada, which gun policies should take into account. While fake firearms may not cause the same amount of harm as the real deal, they can still be used to coerce individuals. Not to mention, if 3D printers become more widespread, it may become very easy for schoolchildren to print fake or even functioning firearms. Luckily, Canadian law does take into account the dangers that imitation firearms present, which means those that use them to threaten others are charged with the same penalties as possessing an actual firearm.

Even in the bigger context, gun crimes are rising in Canada, especially involving handguns. In itself, this poses problems for schools if firearms are easier for students to acquire. What should be more worrying for schools is the fact that suicide was the leading cause of Canadian firearms deaths between 2000 to 2016. Students in schools like Dartmouth High School are in the middle of a stage in their lives where many changes are occurring that may cause instability or mental health issues, which can lead to suicide or school shooting situations. These factors should be considered when formulating gun policies in schools to ensure that the safety of their students is guaranteed.

Schools should draft gun policies that take into account the different parties involved in school shooting type situations and general firearm trends nationwide to ensure students are able to receive an education in a safe environment.