The media, as always, misleads us to think the number of school attacks are on the rise, and America is uniquely dangerous. Fortunately, this isn’t true. School kids in America remain quite safe, but because such attacks are always possible and can happen anywhere at any time, school authorities rush to respond to public concerns. Unfortunately, they virtually always engage in school security theater, which amounts to the illusion of safety rather than actual safety. This is an updated version of an article I first posted in June of 2018. The marketing of security theater is no less intense, and no less deceptive circa January of 2020.
One of the interesting, and perhaps a bit disturbing, sideshows of school attacks is marketing. We’re very good at capitalizing on tragedies and making money and/or seizing political power. One can’t blame people for making an honest buck selling legal products, but we can surely take politicians to task when they fail to do what’s necessary to ensure the safety of students and staff, and buy into marketing ploys that support progressive narratives–feeling safe–rather than actual safety instead.
Among those ploys are Kevlar backed whiteboards, as I noted in August of 2013 in The Ephemeral Protection of Whiteboards. Another is Kevlar “blankets” kids are supposed to strap on when an attack occurs, as I explained in June of 2014 in School Safety: A Blanket Full Of Promises.
These devices, both of which are quite expensive, are marketed slightly differently. The whiteboards come in different sizes, and are marketed as sort of Captain America shields for teachers, except they’re not made of Vibranium, and are surely subject to the laws of physics, unlike Cap’s iconic shield. Teachers are apparently supposed to keep their whiteboard/shield close at hand, and when a shooter comes into view, use it to ward off bullets, at least for a few seconds, and at least for themselves. Students are pretty much on their own.
The blankets are marketed as shields not only against bullets, but tornados–I’m not kidding–for individual students. As the promotional photo shows, the teacher is handing out blankets to students, who buckle them in place, apparently on their backs, turning themselves into little red turtles. This will, of course, take some time, and…just take the links where I explain why both ideas are, to put it kindly, silly.
Several companies are even marketing what amounts to “bullet-proof” igloos for classrooms. For $30,000+ per classroom, these companies will construct little rooms within rooms that will supposedly protect kids in school attacks–and tornados. Unless, of course the bad guys, knowing about the well-publicized magic igloos, simply step into a room and start shooting before the kids can igloo up, or bring explosives, the weapon used in the most deadly American school attack, committed on May 18, 1927. There really is nothing new. This “solution” is particularly silly in the upper grades where kids are much bigger than third graders, requiring much bigger and more expensive igloos. Even constructing an elementary sized igloo in most classrooms would take far too much space in already too small classrooms. Constructing one big enough for up to 30 high school kids would render too small classrooms all but useless for teaching. Of course, few kids would fit in such altered rooms, so igloos are a sort of bizarrely self-imposed/solved problem.
The latest school attack “solution” is enjoying a resurgence of interest. Actually, it’s been on the market for years, but the Media, all in against the Second Amendment, and absolutely loath to say anything positive about guns and the good uses to which they are daily put, are helping to market this product: bullet resistant backpacks.
NOTE: “bullet resistant,” because an M1 Abrams tank is bullet proof, and various other armored vehicles are impervious to most small arms, but little else is. No vest or other device will stop all possible projectiles.
The [Louisiana] state Legislature recently approved the idea, and several companies are already selling armored book bags for kids.
It’s the result of a sad reality parents are faced with when they send their kids off to school. They fear a school shooting like the one that played out in Texas last week and the Florida school massacre in February.
‘There is nothing to protect them, nothing that a parent can do that says you’re protected,’ says Monroe Sen. Mike Walsworth.
But what if you could shield your child with something as elementary as a backpack? Walsworth brought that idea to the Legislature this spring.
‘I’ll be honest with you. It’s not one I ever thought in my wildest dreams or nightmares to have to talk about this,’ says Walsworth. “But state law at this moment doesn’t allow a child to have a bulletproof backpack for his protection.”
His proposal would allow the wearing or possessing of body armor in schools, specifically backpacks.
Let us, for the moment, put aside the idiocy of a state legislature writing a law that would prevent the wearing of such a product in the first place. Did they want to spare educrats the embarrassment of public realization kids are in danger and educrats are doing nothing effective about it? In any case, parents should surely have the option of so equipping their children, poor option though it is. This is still America after all–sort of.
Local station Fox 8 purchased several of the backpacks: a model with an integral Kevlar insert, and a Kevlar insert sans pack that would fit into many backpacks. They took them to a range and had the folks there shoot them with a .357 Magnum, a .40 S&W and a .223. The Kevlar inserts were common types, certified only for handgun ammunition, and that’s what the shooting test revealed: handgun bullets were stopped; rifle bullets were not. No surprises there.
We should point out that neither of these products claimed it would be able to stop bullets from a high-velocity weapon, which is one reason why Senator [J.P.] Morrell calls the legislation – which passed with flying colors – well-intentioned but misleading.
‘The concern I have is that when you have a bill like this, you really push a false sense of security on parents that by purchasing this, their kids are safe if a shooter enters the school,’ Morrell says.
Kathleen Whalen is the project director for the Safe Schools NOLA Initiative.
‘It’s a ridiculous false sense of security,’ she says.
Whalen argues the backpacks would do more to soothe parents’ fears than to protect their children.
‘In reality, what you’re doing is literally putting school safety on the backs of children, and that makes no sense,’ says Whalen.
No sense indeed.
[Parent] Shalani Mallik says she would invest in a bulletproof backpack.
‘Yes for my child’s safety, I think it’s better than nothing,’ Mallik says.
The products do come with instructions for parents to teach their child how to shield themselves in an active shooter situation if they have their backpack nearby. But that’s still not guaranteed protection.
“If they have their backpack nearby.” Mallik is correct: the backpacks are better than nothing, but not much. The problems are obvious.
Ballistic backpacks provide protection only if a child can impose them as a shield a microsecond before bullets are fired at them. Children, particularly small children whose backpacks are heavy with books, to say nothing of the Kevlar insert, are going to have a hard time picking them up off the floor, pulling them out from under desks, maneuvering and lifting and holding them in position so the slightly larger than a piece of typing paper insert is between them and a shooter.
Few kids are going to have the presence of mind, and time, to do that. Few are going to be able to anticipate the shooter’s intentions and next moves, to say nothing of instantaneously calculating the path of the next bullet(s). The insert only protects a portion of a child’s body, leaving at least half of the body unprotected at any given moment.
One cannot count on a shooter, having fired at a child and having their bullet stopped by a Kevlar insert, simply giving up in disgust and walking away. More than likely, they’d simply walk up to the child, pull the pack down and shoot them, or just poke the barrel of their weapon around the backpack and shoot. Either option would take mere seconds, and in school attacks, seconds matter.
The lesson proponents of these pseudo-shield devices are ignoring–they that will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it–has been known for millennia: shields are useful in close range warfare, but have serious limitations.
But don’t police officers wear bullet resistant vests? If it’s good enough for them, why not for kids? Officer’s vests cover most of the torso, front and back, and are worn–if the officer is smart–all the time. The good news is school shootings are still rare, but police officers face real danger every day. The other major difference is cops are prepared to use cover and concealment, employ useful tactics, and most importantly, shoot back.
That’s the ancient lesson: shields are useful to stop or momentarily deflect the weapons of one’s enemy until a weakness can be exploited that will allow the defender to get around an enemy’s shield and kill them. An army armed only with shields would be slaughtered in minutes.
A closely related lesson: shields are useful only against weapons wielded by a single person that cannot, when used normally, penetrate the shield. Sword against sword, sword against spear, flail against mace, etc. Arrows, because of their velocity, reduced the effectiveness of shields, and firearms made them, and plate armor, useless. Likewise, a mass flung by a trebuchet or catapult rendered individual shields and plate armor equally useless.
One might suggest training a classroom of kids to use Roman techniques, and construct a sort of backpack shield wall, which could theoretically be expertly maneuvered to present an impenetrable bullet barrier. But then we have the problem of a shooter simply pulling backpacks aside, shooting over the top or around the sides of the “wall,” all of which would be unnecessary if the shooter was using a rifle. Fortunately, most mass attacks are done with handguns, but one can’t count on that, any more than one can count on being safe from school attacks, as Santa Fe, Texas recently learned.
Until parents convincingly demand the only effective means of deterring and stopping school attacks–concealed carry by willing teachers and other staff–feckless educrats and politicians will continue to substitute feel good measures like backpacks, whiteboards, blankets, igloos and gun-free school zone signs to try to trick people into feeling safe. Better to ensure they are as safe as possible, but that doesn’t support D/S/C security theater narratives.