Monday, January 7, 2013

Armoring Our Children In School?

One of the armored backpacks being sold.
(UPDATED -- see below)

Ever since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, there have been a number of news articles reporting a drastic increase in sales of armor – yes, armor! – for children attending school.  Namely, we are talking here about bulletproof jackets and bulletproof linings in backpacks to use as shields. 

My initial reaction to the first news report about armored backpacks was, "Has it really come to this??"

One company that makes armored backpacks, BulletBlocker, reports “a 300% to 400% increase in sales since the tragedy.”  More from that article:

The idea for BulletBlocker was sparked after the 1999 Columbine shootings. Creator Joe Curran wanted something to protect his school-age children.

“Then he started sharing them with friends who had kids,” Uy said. “Our company is basically built around a single child’s backpack.”
Combat apparel company Amendment II, based in Utah, says their sales have also skyrocketed — at least 500% since Friday.

"(Bulletproof backpacks) were kind of a niche product before that shooting," co-owner and sales director Derek Williams told the Daily News.

"When we're selling a few a week, it doesn't take many to increase your sales," he said. "But yesterday we had over 200 requests for products."

Most were for bulletproof backpacks or backpack shields.
Child protective vests manufactured in Columbia

A company in Columbia that sells bulletproof vests, with bright colors in pink and blue and looking much like normal kids jackets and vests, will now market to the U.S.  They typically sell their products in violent Central American countries, but now, sadly, see the United States as a good market, and are producing these products with the U.S. in mind now.  From that article:

Products include child-sized armored vests, protective undershirts and backpacks with ballistic protection that can be used as shields. 
The products are designed for children ages 8-16 years old and cost $150-$600 depending on the complexity of their construction. Each piece weighs 2-4 pounds. 
"The products were created with the American market in mind, not for the Latino market," said Caballero. "All the designs and colors, everything is thought out with them in mind." 
Caballero performed a test on a pink-and-yellow striped bulletproof backpack attached to a pale blue protective vest, firing a 9mm pistol and a machine gun to show it could withstand a barrage of bullets. 
He said the backpack-vest combo and other protective gear have already been ordered by a U.S. distributor, although he would not identify it.

Of course, many countries in Latin America are extremely violent, thanks to the drug trade.  Adding armed guards in every school, office, and even ATM hasn’t stopped the violence there, proving beyond a reasonable doubt the foolishness of the NRA’s suggestion of militarizing school campuses to keep kids safe.

I’m not going to argue against the purchase of these armored vests and backpacks, really.  Unlike the preposterous idea of arming teachers or having armed civilians to guard the schools, no one is likely to get hurt by having bulletproof clothing or backpacks, unless you consider that these kids now have to lug around more weight all day.  I remember how very heavy my backpack was in school.  The thought of adding a thin steel plate to that would have made me more than a little incensed.

Of course, it’s really more of a feel-good option.  The ammo and AR-15 used by Adam Lanza in Newtown likely would have punched right through these vests and backpacks.  Plus, the kids in Newtown were sitting at their desks, not wearing coats or backpacks, and were shot at extremely close range, often in the head and extremities (as reported by the mother of one young victim at Sandy Hook).

And, though last year I know of at least 37 school shootings in the U.S., schools are still statistically havens of safety (thank you, gun-free zones!) compared to the communities around them. 

All in all, American schools remain extremely safe places for children, especially elementary-school students. Children in school are statistically safer, on average, than in the homes in which they live or the vehicles in which they ride. That space heater [PDF] you've been meaning to replace, that annoying car noise or fluid leak you haven't gotten around to fixing, or the cup of coffee in your SUV console as you fumble for the radio station while backing out of your driveway are more likely to be the cause of injury or death to a child than the rampage of some marauding psycho, especially at a school. Sadly, child victims of homicide are most often killed at or near home, by a family member or peer, or collateral to gang violence.Inside school is far, far safer for children than outside -- as Bill Clinton would say, it's just arithmetic -- and all the compiling and reciting of lists of violent school incidents or public mass murders in the U.S. doesn't change that.

The saddest part here is that people feel unsafe in their community, to the point that they would over-react and armor their children as a result, as well as arm themselves with concealed handguns, or suggest, as the NRA and other extremist have, arming teachers with assault rifles or having “armed volunteers” to patrol the schools (as the extremist and racist Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio, has now done in Arizona using armed volunteers, some with criminal backgrounds. Imagine J.T. Ready or Shawna Forde guarding your school!).  Those are just over-reactions. 

And, let’s not forget, the kids themselves will know they are armored.  Alarming my children about the insignificantly tiny chance of a school shooting will only alarm them unnecessarily, potentially affecting their performance and willingness to be there (simply having security guards in school have shown this to happen).

There are ways to make our community safer, and one way is to put sensible restrictions in place to keep guns out of the hands of madmen (or mad children) to begin with (such as mandatory background checks for all gun sales, banning assault rifles and high-cap ammo mags, and better mental health reporting), not proposing shoot-outs to deal with the aftermath of lax gun regulation.  Treat the causes, not the symptoms.

I, for one, won’t be armoring my kids when I pack their lunches and drop them off at their school. 

UPDATE (8/22/13):  These armored backpacks and whiteboards get low marks from actual school security analysis experts.  From an article:
Safety consultants say these items might give educators and pupils greater peace of mind but are unlikely to be the difference between life and death. 
"There's feeling safer and then there's actually being safer," Trump said. 
"In the past five years we’ve seen draconian cuts to school security and emergency planning programs," he added. 
"Schools have limited resources and they ought to use that money very wisely, put it into an additional school psychologist or a school police officer, train your staff and work with first responders. The most valuable school security tools are invisible." 
Dorn said instead of buying shields, schools can improve security by revamping their drills so that staff members beyond the principal are involved in decision making and doing something as simple as making students line up in double rows when they move through the building. 
"We know if you put kids in in double rows and practice a brisk walk with them, you can reduce the time of evacuate and shelter by 30 percent," he said. "You can do that in the largest schools in the nation for less than the cost of one security camera." 
Gregory Thomas, who used to run security for New York City schools and now heads Alan Thomas Security, said "feel-good" solutions like armored book bags don't hurt anything but the wallet. 
But for his money, an ounce of prevention — particularly training school staff about the warning signs of violent students — is worth a lot more than any piece of polyethylene designed to absorb a gunshot. 
"You need to start with seeking out and identifying the kids that are likely to do these shootings before it happens," he said.