American Schools Look to Weapons Detection Technology as Mass Shootings Reach a Decade-Long High

Subscribe To Download This Insight

By Elizabeth Stokes | 2Q 2023 | IN-6928

American schools are adopting weapons detection technology as school shootings reach a historic high. In a desperate bid to protect students and teachers, school districts are relying on video analytics software to quickly detect shooters and alert authorities, even as critics express doubts over the technology’s effectiveness.

Registered users can unlock up to five pieces of premium content each month.

Log in or register to unlock this Insight.


American Schools Adopt Surveillance Solutions as Shootings Increase Across the Country


American schools are adopting video analytics weapons detection technology at a fast pace as mass shootings in the country reach a horrifying high. According to Forbes, as of early April, the number of mass shootings and deaths that have occurred at this time in 2023 is the highest in at least a decade. The nation’s gun violence has spilled into schools at a high frequency—according to one tracker, more school shootings occurred in 2022 than in any year since 1999. School districts are increasingly adopting video analytics software designed to autonomously identify persons carrying weapons and alert security teams, school staff, and first responders to an approaching threat. In the past four months, school districts in Michigan, Oregon, and New Mexico have adopted video analytics weapons technology.

Relying on Video Analytics to Save Lives


Many school districts interested in weapons detection technology are adopting ZeroEyes, a video analytics software that can use a school’s existing video surveillance cameras to identify guns. The Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered video analytics technology is designed to detect guns in the camera’s frame. If a gun is identified, ZeroEyes’ monitoring personnel are alerted and verifies the detection before security teams, school administrators, and emergency first responders are alerted. The company claims that the monitoring team can communicate with security and first responders in as fast as three to five seconds once the threat is verified. ZeroEyes’ solution is a popular choice for schools looking to augment their security plans, as ZeroEyes focuses solely on gun detection and calibrates its technology to detect guns frequently used in mass shootings, like pistols and AR-style rifles. Other companies with gun detection software solutions include Actuate and Omnilert.

As active shooter incidents have increased across the country, school districts have independently searched for ways to fortify campuses from intrusion and violence. While American schools have adopted various measures to prevent mass shootings, like adding metal detectors and increasing the number of police officers on campus, the recent increase in weapons detection technology represents a shift in the type of tasks society is comfortable allocating to surveillance technology. The school districts adopting weapons detection software have placed an extraordinary amount of trust in these solutions and represent the many ways in which consequential human decisions are now shared with AI technology.

Approach Skepticism and Growing Demand with Caution


The vast majority of public schools in the United States have video surveillance cameras, and so video analytics companies like ZeroEyes have ample opportunity to find customers that already own much of the equipment vital to their solution. Many of these customers would certainly be inclined to allocate funds to solutions that can quickly capture oncoming threats and potentially save lives. 

However, certain human rights activists and education specialists are skeptical of the claims made by weapons detection companies. A senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote last year that video analytics technologies like ZeroEyes are an unfit solution for the country’s gun violence problem. As the ACLU piece states, many weapons detection solutions like ZeroEyes cannot detect concealed weapons. In the future, shooters could sidestep increasingly popular AI detection solutions by simply hiding their weapons. Weapons detections video analytics companies in the future might attempt to provide additional solutions, like physical scanners, to make their products more comprehensive and harder to evade. Evolv Technology is a weapons detection system, for example, primarily relies on physical screening solutions similar to metal detectors to detect concealed or visible weapons as groups of people enter a venue together. These types of solutions might be more applicable to all types of shooter scenarios, but Evolv Technology has also been accused of not being an efficient weapons detection solution.

Like other video surveillance technology, privacy is also a concern with video analytics weapon detection solutions. If this technology proves to save lives, privacy activists worry that local governments will be inclined to install more surveillance cameras in schools and in other areas of daily life where mass shootings have occurred, like houses of worship, music festivals, banks, hospitals, and clubs. Though it would be a great achievement if these solutions are able to reliably prevent shootings, activists warn that success could encourage states to use more video analytics solutions, like facial recognition and behavior detection, for purposes beyond public safety.

Finally, weapons detection technology vendors must be careful not to capitalize on tragedy and fear. The Atlantic reported in 2022 that interest in AI scanning technology for concealed weapons detection surged after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 elementary students and two teachers were killed. As in all industries borne out of public safety, sales can be influenced by incidents of violence and fear. AI security vendors should not stretch marketing claims to meet growing demand and video analytics weapons detection companies should accurately report occurrences of missed detections and false alarms. Errors in other types of video analytics solutions, while troublesome, are minor annoyances when compared to the consequences of false alarms in weapons detection video analytics solutions. To ensure accuracy, video analytics companies should perhaps follow the lead of ZeroEyes by having monitoring teams verify all alerts. In many ways, weapons detection technology vendors have a greater responsibility than other video analytics companies to be truthful and accurate as they navigate a market that is unique to the United States.