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November 22, 2017
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Source: straitstimes.com.

Last December, the Sandy Hook school shooting cost the lives of 20 school children and six staff members. The shocking tragedy horrified the world and forced us to question why the perpetrator, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would target the school's innocent youth.

Since then, gun-related incidents in American schools have continued; Taft Union High School, Detroit's Osborn High School and Hazard Community and Technical College in Kentucky are among the institutions that fell victim in January of this year alone. Events such as these have sparked further input into the ongoing gun control debate as terrified parents watch and worry about the safety of their kids. Several companies are now offering one sort of solution: bulletproof products aimed at school children.

Bulletproof whiteboard gun control
A bulletproof whiteboard.
Source: news.discovery.com.

While bulletproofing schools may not get to the root of the problem, it would relieve the daily anxieties of some parents and teachers who fear their children could be next. However, it also raises psychological questions of whether such cautionary moves normalise violence in schools and beyond.

School-specific bulletproof products currently range from backpacks, vests and t-shirts to whiteboards and clipboards. Although the majority of companies selling the protective items never intended to have such lines geared specifically towards children, the recent tragedies have ignited fears across the country and offered an opportunity for new target markets.

Co-owner Derek Williams of Salt Lake City's Amendment II, specialists in American armor products, told the Associated Press, "[The Sandy Hook shooting] highlights the need to protect our children. We didn't get in this business to do this. But the fact is that our armor can help children just as it can help soldiers."

Amendment II saw the sale of 200 children's backpacks and armored inserts on the Wednesday after the Sandy Hook shooting alone. Similarly, protection-wear specialist company Backpackshield designed a backpack in response to the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, but had seen perhaps one sale a month. The day after the Sandy Hook shooting, the company sold 15 backpacks in one day.

The market potential has also been noticed from abroad. Miguel Caballero, who has previously been referred to as the "Giorgio Armani of body-armor," created a hugely successful company in Colombia in the early '90s at the height of the drug war. He has created fashionable protective gear for the likes of Prince Felipe of Spain, former President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, former President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez and actor Steven Seagal. And now Caballero's new line, MC Kids, offers up a selection of "Level II," or medium protection, bullet-proof kids' gear.

Will it become the norm for kids in schoolyards to be outfitted similarly to soldiers on the battlefield?

The Guardian reports that Elite Sterling Security, the American distributor of Caballero's creations has "sold over 300 backpacks in the last two months and received inquiries from some 2,000 families across the US." While the gear offers increased protection, the Associated Press cites that "Most of the children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre were shot at close range and likely would not have been saved by armored backpacks," adding that "at any rate, children don't usually wear their backpacks at their desks or while walking around school."

Whether or not the gear offers full protection, the increase in kids' protective products is a depressing reminder of the current state of society. Will it become the norm for kids in schoolyards to be outfitted similarly to soldiers on the battlefield? Will teachers receive regular training from former secret service trainers on how to defensively and offensively respond to attacks using ballistic shields disguised as whiteboards and clipboards, which have already been installed at Worcester Preparatory School in rural Maryland? And then there is the issue of the cost of bulletproof gear and what it implies about who exactly is protected.

Nevertheless, bulletproofing schools may offer psychological relief to the potential victims of such crimes. Teachers may feel safer thinking they can actively respond or at least provide protection for children in the case of a shooting. Parents may send their children to school reassured in knowing they added an extra layer of protection to their daily lives.

However, on a broader scale, such moves also have the potential to perpetuate a society built on fear, which can eventually lead to damaging consequences. A constant focus on safety and bullet-proofing may detract from other important aspects of a learning environment. Anne Marie Albano, psychiatry director at Columbia University's Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, told the Associated Press, "This is not serving to keep children safe. This is serving to increase their fear and their suspicion of their peers."

School safety ought to be a primary concern and children should be able to attend school without fearing for their lives. However, selling bulletproof gear to children and teachers is far from a bulletproof solution. It offers one more band-aid solution to a much larger problem that may actually perpetuate rather than deter future violent incidents in schools and beyond. 

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