Bulletproof Backpacks: Prevent A School Shooting – From $400 Or Only $1 Per Student

Bulletproof BackpacksFree-Photos / Pixabay

PTAs, Local Civic Organizations Consider Installing ADA Locks on Classroom Doors 

WASHINGTON, D.C.  (August 20, 2018) – Parents are so concerned about their child becoming the next victim of a school shooter that they are willing to spend up to $400 for bulletproof backpacks, but there’s a far better and much less expensive option which many schools have already adopted, some legislatures have mandated, and some PTAs and local civic organizations are now considering sponsoring as part of their public service outreach, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

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More than a half-dozen manufacturers now make bulletproof backpacks for kids, ranging from elementary to high schoolers, with prices starting around $130 and going up to $400. These increasingly popular products also have caught on with college students, as have so-called ballistic shields designed to fit into school backpacks.

It's no wonder, noted Banzhaf, since in a recent survey 74% of parents said they were worried about a shooting at their child's school just this year, and at least 20% admitted to purchasing some form of ballistic protection for their children.

Also, a  growing number of schools are either arming some of their personnel and/or permitting those with permits to carry the guns concealed while at the school - with all of the risks that such plans arguably create.  Indeed, as of January, nearly one-third of states already arm - or want to arm - teachers.

Where that isn't permitted or there is reluctance to using deadly force, teachers are arming themselves with a special bear-spray-like weapon designed especially for educators which can shoot 25 feet, stop even gunmen wearing goggles or a gas mask, where an accurate aim isn't necessary, and there is no risk of permanent injury to any student, including even the shooter.

The product, designed specifically to permit teachers to stop armed intruders, is available for about $89 which, for a typical class of about 24 student, costs less than $4 for each student protected.

But in many ways the best, and also by far the most effective from the perspective of the many experts quoted below, is to be sure than classroom doors can be easily and quickly locked from the inside.

At least one leading state, California, has gone so far as to mandate that all classroom must have doors which can be locked from the inside, at least regarding future construction.  The legislature took their step at the urging of the California Federation of Teachers, California Teachers Association, and California School Employees Association, and with no formal opposition.

The official legislative findings supporting the law said that "the locks in most school classrooms, offices, and other rooms where pupils and staff gather can be locked only from the outside, and the safety of school staff and pupils could be placed in jeopardy if school staff is required to go out into a hallway to lock doors during a violent incident. . . .  Locking mechanisms that lock a door from the inside, commonly referred to as classroom security locks, have been developed to quickly lock doors to classrooms, offices, and other rooms from the inside."

Indeed, while there are several types of locking mechanisms developed especially for schools, the common type of door lock (technically "latch") found in most hotels and motels, where the guest simply swings a latch horizontally to engage a ball-tipped prong, is as good as any, meets all the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act [ADA], and will lock both single- and double-door classrooms securely.

It is also simple enough to be operated even by young children who might find themselves in a classroom during an active shooter alert without a teacher.

Best of all, since such locks are readily available from many sources for under $20 apiece when purchased individually, the cost to protect a student in a typical classroom of over 20 students is less than $1 - far less per student than bulletproof backpacks, ballistic shields, chemical sprays, or any other measure - and almost certainly far more effective than relying upon young children with bulletproof backpacks, and even teachers with guns or chemical sprays, to act appropriately and effectively if an active shooter is detected.

It is obviously far less expensive, even after allowing for the minimal costs of adding these latches to existing doors with or without locks, than the "active-shooter" insurance policies which schools are now purchasing at costs reportedly starting at about $1,800 for $1 million in coverage.

Given both the very real school-shooting risk (over 187,000 students at 193 schools have experienced a school shooting since Columbine) and the much higher perceived risk (almost 3/4th of parents worry about a shooting at their own child's school each and every year), it is not surprising that many concerned about children's safety are not willing to wait for a state or for local school boards to act.

Instead, some PTAs, and local civic organizations like Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, etc. are seriously considering not only raising money to put locks on classroom doors, but of even offering to have their members do the installation.  The amount of money such a group would have to raise isn't large - at $20/lock and a school with 30 classrooms, the cost would be only $600 - but the benefit would be lasting, very visible, and possibly life saving; something which cannot be said for raising a similar amount to fund a scholarship or sponsor a school trip, argues Banzhaf.

"What great public relations, and a big boost to the visibility and credibility of such an organization if it not only raised enough money to put locks on each classroom door for a local school, but actually had its members visit the school on a weekend wearing tool belts and carrying portable drills to actual volunteer to install them," says Banzhaf.

Here's what the experts say.

The  Sandy Hook Advisory Commission recommended that "all classrooms in K-12 schools should be equipped with locked doors that can be locked from the inside."

Likewise, the National Association of State Fire Marshals - which has frequently expressed concerns about children or even teachers not being able to escape in time in the event of a school fire, or of first responders not being able to reach people trapped inside - nevertheless strongly recommends that "to help protect teachers and students in the classroom, the classroom door should be lockable from in the classroom without requiring the door to be opened."

The GUARDIAN has reported that "once a shooter is in a building, most security experts agree getting into a locked room is one of the most effective deterrents against getting injured or shot."

Similarly USA TODAY advised that "security experts say locks go a long way toward keeping out danger.  'You have to think in terms of we've got to have the least amount of tragedy and the most amount of saving, and that may be this key situation, . . .Interior locks may have saved lives during a 2005 school shooting on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota."

Even regarding shooting risks at colleges and universities, INSIDE HIGHER ED quoted the   President of Crisis Reality Training as saying that "while it is impossible to eliminate risk entirely, in his experience locks absolutely work. People are able to secure themselves in rooms and shooters haven't been able to get to them."

And the magazine CAMPUS SAFETY urged its readers that "it is vital for staff to be able to successfully secure classrooms from the inside to protect students from potential threats."

For parents and civic groups which care, it's time to stop waiting for legislators or school boards to take the one simple step most likely to prevent even more school shooting deaths, argues Banzhaf.

About the Author

JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D. Professor of Public Interest Law George Washington University Law School, FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor, Fellow, World Technology Network, Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) 2000 H Street, NW, Wash, DC 20052, USA (202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418 http://banzhaf.net/ jbanzhaf@law.gwu.edu