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Active-shooter-drill bill in California would require advance notice, ban fake gunfire

Democratic Assemblymember Chris Ward speaks at a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Assemblymember Ward has introduced a legislation that would create statewide standards for school shooting drills and ban fake gunfire during these drills. (AP Photo/Trân Nguyễn)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Fake gunfire would be banned from active-shooter drills in California's public schools under legislation proposed Tuesday that would also require schools to notify students, teachers and parents ahead of time whenever a drill was planned.

The measure was introduced by Democratic Assemblymember Chris Ward, who argues that some districts have gone too far in their efforts to prepare students for possible tragedy, such as by too realistically re-creating shooting scenes.

Schools across the state have ramped up active-shooter drills in recent years in response to the rise of mass shootings, but there has been little guidance about how the drills should be run.

Without formal guidelines, some drills have been conducted with trainers acting as school shooters, students playing dead and fake weapons being used to shoot blanks, Ward said when introducing the bill.

Last month, a principal at an elementary school outside of Los Angeles was put on leave after pretending to shoot students and announcing that they were “dead” during a drill, KTLA reported. In some cases, schools also don’t notify teachers, parents and students about the shooter drills, resulting in confusion and panic.

Ward said such simulations could “do more harm than good.”

“When it comes to fire drills, we are not filling the halls with smoke and turning up the thermostat,” he said. “We should not be doing the same to our kids when it comes to active-shooter drills.”

With school security ballooning into a multibillion-dollar industry in recent years, some groups are pushing lawmakers to do away with shooter drills. A 2021 study by Everytown for Gun Safety and the Georgia Institute of Technology associated active-shooter drills with an increase in depression, stress and other mental health issues among students.

The legislation would require the state Department of Education to provide standardized guidance on active-shooter drills. It also would ban the use of fake gunfire, require schools to notify parents about a shooter drill before and afterward and make a schoolwide announcement before a drill begins.

Schools would also have to design age-appropriate drills and make mental health resources available afterward.

“Currently, there are no standardized processes for school shooting drills, which is mind-boggling to me,” said Democratic Assemblymember Mike Gipson, who supports the bill. “This is a commonsense piece of legislation.”

Ireana Marie Williams, a member of Students Demand Actions at California State University, Sacramento, said shooter drills and lockdowns are traumatizing for students. Williams was locked out of her classroom when her high school went into lockdown a few years ago. She didn't know if it was a drill or not.

“There are no words, no way for me to describe the sheer horror of feeling like a sitting duck, waiting for a gunman to turn the corner and start shooting," Williams said Tuesday. “Every lockdown, every drill, every second spent scanning for exits is a type of gun violence.”