School Shooting Simulations: At What Point Does Preparation Become
More Harmful than Helpful?
By Lauren Rygg*
In response to a number of school shooting incidents, especially the Sandy Hook
Elementary shooting, there has been a national push for legislation to address preparedness for
active shooters in schools.1 The focus of the legislation is a mandate requiring that school districts
participate in annual “school shooting drills.”2 The objective behind these drills is to enhance
awareness and preparedness of students and staff should a school shooting emergency arise.3
However, the extent to which the simulation is carried out borders, if not flagrantly crosses, the
line of appropriateness.4 This raises the question of whether state legislatures are taking the
correct steps in securing the safety of the nation’s schoolchildren.5
The current legislation in the states with drill mandates is generally vague,6 allowing the
school districts vast discretion in determining how to carry out the drills. This discretion has led
to a number of problems with heightened simulations that are often terrifying to the students,
especially when those simulation drills are carried out without any advance notice from the
school district.7 Furthermore, the drills often include participants from the community or from
school staff, which has the potential for fostering distrust amongst students.8
Six states currently require mandatory active shooter drills.9 Typically, an active shooter
drill requires the participation of local law enforcement.10 Thirty-two other states require school
drills for instances other than fire, earthquake, or tornado.11 With these base outlines, school
districts have exhibited a significant and sometimes alarming degree of discretion, sometimes
implementing procedures that include the use of real guns and blank ammunitions.12
This Article will first discuss the background of school shootings in Part II, from the
1990s, to the most recent tragedies including Newtown, Arapahoe, and others. Part III will
examine the legislative proposals and enacted legislation for the active shooter drills in various
states, as well as any citizen complaints that have arisen as a result. Next, Part III will also
explore how teachers are required to respond in these drills. Part IV will then discuss the efficacy
B.A. 2008, University of Pittsburgh; J.D. Candidate 2016, Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
1 Rachel Bronstein, School Shooting Drills Can Be More Terrifying Than Helpful, DAILY BEAST (Apr. 03, 2014, 5:45 AM),
3 See Britt Peterson, ‘Lockdown’ vs. ‘Silent Safety Drill’: The School Security Language Debate, BOS. GLOBE (Nov. 30, 2014),
debate/v30JvvEZR8T2R8dARoGG2H/ story.html (explaining how new protocols, concerning drills and the language used in those
drills, have been initiated in schools to further student safety in light of recent school shooting incidents).
4 Bronstein, supra note 1 (describing the active shooter drill involving student and local community member volunteers as being
traumatizing to many of the other students and teachers involved).
6 See School Safety Drill Act, 105 ILL. COMP. STAT. ANN. 128/15–40 (West 2015).
7 Bronstein, supra note 1 (explaining how an active shooter drill was carried out at a school in Illinois with no forewarning to the
students or their parents).
10 See id.
12 See id. (describing how the volunteer active shooter carried a gun filled with blank ammunitions simulating a hostage situation with
a student volunteer).