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What to Do in a School Shooting: Advice and More

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One of the upsides of the current coronavirus pandemic is that school shootings are at an all-time low. The reason for this is apparent ― many countries enforce strict school lockdowns. Still, this is not to say that the danger has passed. At one point, students will have to return to school and must therefore know what to do in a school shooting 

According to one report, shootings occurred in at least 177 US schools and resulted in a minimum of 356 victims since 2009. The numbers are as harrowing as the stories behind them. Although other countries aren’t immune to this hazard, it seems that the United States is a notorious leader.  

Bullying, threatening a person’s integrity, and other forms of violence are present everywhere, but what’s so special about the US? 

In comparison to other major industrialized nations, the US has had 57 times as many school shootings. From 2009 to 2018, 288 school shootings happened in the US, two in Canada, two in France, and one in Germany. 

There are many techniques to defend yourself from school shootings, and we will lay out some of those here. But first, what’s a school shooting, and are all school shooters religious fanatics or mentally ill individuals?  

A school shooting is a firearm attack at an educational institution, like a primary, secondary school, or university. It can happen in the backyard, in a classroom, or any other place belonging to the educational institution. It usually results in deaths and injuries, as well as long-lasting trauma for everyone else.  

School shootings are no joke, and the motivation behind them is deeply rooted in the shooter’s recent history. 

The Motivations of School Shooters 

Is there such a thing as a school shooter identity? The Federal Bureau of Investigation claims that there is no single profile of a school shooter. They all differ from one another in numerous ways. They vary in age, social category, and other variables. 

Scientists are not in agreement when it comes to the nature of these massacres. Some make a distinction between rampage attacks and targeted shootings. Sometimes the school shooter targets specific people, and sometimes they shoot at random. It’s easy to say that the perpetrators are insane, but there is more to it.  

What to do in a school shooting
Photo by Ian Witlen

It’s chilling to discover that as many as 95% of attackers are current students and that 75% felt bullied or threatened by others. In most cases, the perpetrators meticulously planned the school shooting and even informed many of their peers about it. So, how come nobody stopped it? That’s the thing. People usually thought it was an exaggeration of sorts. 

They downplay it, believing that the future shooter isn’t capable of committing such a horrendous crime. Yet, this only proves how harassment in school can lead to undesired effects, both for the bullies, the teachers, and everyone else. 

Being Violent and Watching Violence

Can watching a violent movie make you more violent? That’s a question psychologists have been trying to answer for decades.  

Their conclusion? Exposure to violence in films, on TV, and in video games increases the viewer’s risk of violent behavior. So why is this important, you may ask. 

For starters, media tend to publicize school shootings, which raises the risk for other similar attacks to happen. In essence, if a student sees another student commit such a heinous act, they could also do it themselves. It seems more plausible and doable.  

There is even a name for this phenomenon ― the Werther Effect. Scientists describe it as duplication or copycat of another suicidal act. 

Moreover, most school shooters had easy access to guns, particularly in the US. In many cases, their parents collected guns and used them for hunting with their sons or when visiting gun ranges. Unsurprisingly, the school shooters used the family guns to commit the ensuing crimes.  

The Best Advice for Behaving in a School Shooting 

Firstly, let’s talk prevention. As we described earlier, many peers of the future school shooter are aware of what could come next. They mustn’t keep their mouths shut and should immediately talk to teachers. This way, we can prevent around 70% of attacks. 

But still, what to do in a school shooting if it happens? 

Secondly, if it takes place, look for exits. In a previous EP Wired article, we discussed the run-hide-fight concept to use in an active shooter situation. The least popular of the three is fighting the shooter because you are putting yourself at significant risk.  

If feasible, try to run as far away from the school or university as you can. You will probably save yourself that way. This option is the most suitable one because hiding doesn’t make much sense if it’s a small school. Meaning, you don’t have too many hiding places. But if push comes to shove, then hide behind something concrete that can repel bullets or behind trees. 

If the first two steps fail, teachers and other adult school staff should gather around and try to fight the shooter. Some hand-to-hand combat skills could be beneficial. That’s their last resort if they want to survive. Either that or the gunman runs out of bullets. 

Finally, people around you will likely get hurt. If you don’t want to be selfish, try helping them out. You first need to ensure that the shooter is out of sight. Don’t put yourself in danger if you aren‘t sure. It won’t help if you are dead on the floor. 


The easiest and most effective way to avoid future tragedies is prevention. Implementing preventive measures constitutes the best and safest method, instead of confronting a shooter during the attack.

We can prevent most school shootings by intervening with and helping out troubled students. There is tremendous value in school-based programs for preventing student aggression. Additionally, some studies show how we can avert shootings. It works. We just have to listen to scientists and the folks who know their stuff. Or else. 

In the words of Parkland school shooting survivor: The right to bear arms does not and never will overpower the individual’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

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