While some parents clamor for stricter security measures at a Houston elementary school where a kindergartner accidentally fired a gun that injured three students, school security and national security experts say the rarity of such incidents among younger students make spending limited resources on such things as metal detectors impractical.
Experts say more effective prevention efforts include working directly with parents and students on gun safety, better training of faculty and staff and building better trust between teachers and students.
Police say an unidentified 6-year-old boy took a semi-automatic pistol in his backpack to Ross Elementary on Tuesday. Later that morning as he and more than 40 other kindergartners were having lunch in a crowded cafeteria, the boy accidentally fired the gun as he was showing it off to friends.
The boy, as well as another 6-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl were injured. All have since been released from a Houston hospital.
Houston police say the gun belonged to a friend of the boy's family and they are still determining whether anyone will face charges, including the gun's owner.
The kindergartner who brought the gun faces an automatic one year expulsion. If expelled, he would go to an alternative elementary school.
Some parents said the incident has made them wonder if additional security measures, including extra officers and even metal detectors, are needed.
But the Houston school district, calling the incident an isolated case, said it doesn't plan on installing metal detectors or additional officers, in part because it can't afford to. No schools in the district currently use metal detectors.
The school district will instead focus on educating elementary school kids and their parents on the potential dangers of guns.
Lacy Becerril, whose 6-year-old son Carlos was in the cafeteria at the time of the shooting, said she thinks the school district should reconsider its decision.
"I'm not satisfied. The boy wouldn't have been able to take the gun into class if he had passed through a metal detector. They would have caught him right then and there," said Becerril, 29, a patient care technician.
Kenneth Trump, president of the Cleveland-based National School Safety and Security Services, said he understands the concerns of parents like Becerril.
Few schools have metal detectors
But such incidents at the elementary school level are "exceptionally rare" and using metal detectors might not be the best approach because they can be costly and are labor intensive, he said.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, metal detectors are not used by most schools across the country. The most recent statistics, from the 2007-2008 school year, showed that only 0.3 percent of elementary schools had daily metal detector checks. Only 2.2 percent of middle schools and only 4.2 percent of high schools in the country required students to pass through metal detectors daily.
Trump said metal detectors are also not infallible.
He pointed to an incident in October at an elementary school in Cleveland in which a third-grade student managed to get a handgun past metal detectors. No one was hurt as a teacher confiscated the weapon. The metal detector had been placed at the elementary school as well at all schools in Cleveland in response to an October 2007 shooting at a Cleveland high school in which a student wounded two teachers and two classmates before killing himself.
"What parents are really asking for when asking for a metal detector is not a metal detector but a guarantee it won't happen again," Trump said. "You can't do it with a quick fix through equipment. Security equipment can be good too. But the best defense is a well trained staff and student body."
Thomas D. Townsend, the superintendent of the Putnam County School District in northeast Florida, said when a 5-year-old pre-kindergarten student in January brought a loaded gun into an elementary school, some parents in the school district also asked whether extra security measures like metal detectors were needed. But the incident, in which no one was injured, did not result in any security changes. The boy was taken out of the pre-kindergarten program.
"In this case, we had a young child that we were convinced was unaware of the severity of the incident," Townsend said. "The safety of our children is always first. We reflected, reviewed, talked to the responsible parties and made a decision on what was best."
Glenn Muschert, a sociology professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, said he was glad to hear that the Houston school district chose to focus on educational and outreach efforts in response to the incident at Ross Elementary.
In such incidents, "people default to security measures. But in terms of really working, the education efforts are probably a better way to go," said Muschert, who has done research on school related shootings. "But it takes a little bit more faith. You can't see it. It's hard for people to point at it and say here's how we have improved (security) whereas they can point at a camera or a metal detector and say, 'This is what we did.'"