The threat of gun violence feels ever-present these days, touching everywhere from elementary schools to grocery stores, to celebrations of our nation’s independence. Since January, we’ve seen more than 300 mass shootings in the U.S., including more than 25 school shootings. These horrific tragedies have prompted legislative action, including the first major gun safety legislation in 30 years. But it’s clear that this problem can’t and won’t be solved by our elected officials alone.
As we grapple with the tragedy of hundreds of lives cut short, a friend and colleague of mine challenged me to consider how tech innovation can help save innocent children’s lives. Her push was correct. Like many of my colleagues in the tech industry, I firmly believe technology can help address the world’s biggest problems, including protecting our most valuable asset—our children.
We have the tools to prevent the next school shooting. Schools around the country are already using technologies that could save lives, but we can do much more. Here are some of our options.
Identify and restrict gun buys by potential school killers. Many of the killers seem to be of the same cloth: they are white teenage males without a father figure and have a history of sociopathic behavior. More, many have telegraphed their intent to do harm. It wouldn’t take a lot other than facts and searching social media with artificial intelligence tools to develop a scorable database of risky white teenage males who can be screened for potential danger.
The highest scorers should not be allowed to buy guns. This is basically what red flag laws do and have been accepted and implemented in many states, including Republican-governed states. The objection that these laws could unfairly target innocent buyers and violate privacy rights does not appear to be a problem in states like Florida with existing red flag laws.
Use tech to monitor school entrances. Best practice requires schools to allow only one entrance into the building. But fire laws and other safety codes require multiple exits, which can easily be left open or otherwise accessible to those who would do harm. Technology can help monitor whether doors are open or closed and locked. Cameras can indicate whether unauthorized visitors are seeking entrance. Facial detection combined with cameras or electronic passes can help ensure only authorized students and staff can enter.
Use tech to monitor classrooms. Cameras in classrooms can give real-time video to authorized users. Many summer camps and daycares already make use of this technology, which also provides peace of mind for parents. Similarly, schools often have PA systems reaching classrooms; these systems could also be used as microphones to track activity and relay information in each classroom.
First responders could benefit from this technology to determine what is going on in any closed classroom situation. More, available heat-sensing technology can indicate where people are located within buildings.
Leverage tech to improve first responder communication. The ability of first responders to communicate in an emergency is critical. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, for example, a bipartisan commission recommended actions including creating a network specifically for public safety. While it took over a decade, that recommendation eventually led to the creation of FirstNet—an AT&T-powered network that now offers priority coverage for emergency responders across 2.81 million square miles of the United States. This is a phenomenal example of the power of technology to solve real and pressing problems—when Americans push Congress to act.
Empower children with technology. When my 14-year-old son’s school had a credible active shooter threat and ordered an evacuation, he had a phone with him—despite my wife’s objections. My son called his grandparents, who raced to the school. At the risk of disagreeing with my wife, I think the advantage of empowering students outweighs the potential harm if limits are put on phone use.
Expand access to mental health treatment through telehealth. Bipartisan gun legislation signed by President Joe Biden last month contained several provisions that flew under the radar; among them are measures that will help expand access to mental health treatment. Within the next 18 months, the federal government will issue guidance and provide technical assistance to states on improving telehealth for services covered by Medicaid—the single largest payer for mental health services—and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. While I’ve advocated for making the COVID-era waivers that allowed broader telehealth access permanent, sharing best practices around expanding access is a good first step.
Technology is a tool. How we use it matters. It can be used to keep our kids safer at the same time it takes away some privacy. Neither safety nor privacy is absolute. There are trade-offs. We give up some of our privacy to get on a plane, attend a concert or visit a military base. Our kids are so precious that we must be willing to accept some limits to better protect them.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the U.S. trade association representing more than 1500 consumer technology companies. He is the author of the book, Ninja Future: Secrets to Success in the New World of Innovation.