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High school installs microphone system to detect gunfire

Technically Incorrect: A California school claims to be the first to use ShotSpotter technology as "next wave in student and staff safety."

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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The ShotSpotter technology is in use in 90 American cities. ShotSpotter/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

America's twisted love affair with guns continues apace as the innocent keep falling.

The country doesn't have a gun culture -- guns are American culture, it often seems. By one tally, 42 percent of the world's civilian-owned guns are in the hands of Americans.

It's lamentably unsurprising, then, that a high school has decided to install technology that is specifically designed to detect gunfire.

As the Contra Costa Times reports, Newark Memorial High School in California has installed a microphone system made by local company ShotSpotter.

This is a system, originally built to detect gunshots outdoors, that's already in use by law enforcement in 90 cities. Some might see something deeply tragic in a school employing it too.

Newark Unified Superintendent Dave Marken, though, told the Contra Costa Times that this was "the next wave of student and staff safety." He said his was the first high school to install this technology and compared it to nothing more dramatic than a fire alarm system.

It's a comparison that ShotSpotter's chief executive has also made, calling his company's technology "an automatic fire alarm for active-shooter situations."

ShotSpotter claims that its microphone system "detects the fullest range of gunfire, covers exponentially more geographic area, and collects data that helps communities define the scope of illegal gunfire."

It can apparently distinguish between genuine gunshots and noises that sound like gunshots, such as backfiring cars or even slamming doors. It detects the location of the gunshots and their nature.

Though the Newark area isn't one associated with high levels of gun violence, Marken justified the school installing the technology like this: "Unfortunately, we have an increase in deranged individuals who go into campuses, churches, malls and theaters with one thing in mind: to create as much carnage as possible."

He was speaking a day after nine people died in a shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina, church, allegedly targeted by a young man hoping to stir up a race war.

How much fear must America's children grow up with? And how does that fear translate itself when they become adults? They buy guns to protect themselves.