In the aftermath of the murders of school children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut , many have cried out to “do something,” to prevent future murders.“Doing something” has taken many guises. Sandy Hook Elementary is no more; it has been demolished. President Obama’s grandiose gun control measures–none of which would have done anything to hamper the Sandy Hook killer–failed in spectacular fashion. This has not, of course, stopped anti-freedom activists from proposing a wide variety of anti-gun laws, even though they often admit their laws would not have so much as inconvenienced any known school shooter . . .
There is only one question that truly matters in stopping active shooters: when a shooter is about to enter a school, how will the lives of students and staff be protected? This is a question I recently answered here at TTAG. The obvious, proactive answer is to arm willing staff with concealed handguns. No other policy is capable of not only deterring school shootings, but of stopping active shooters, potentially before anyone is injured or killed.
Unfortunately, that rational, low cost solution remains a hard sell in much of the nation. This sad state of affairs has, however, opened opportunities for those proposing expensive, reactive “solutions.” I wrote of one such product–bullet-resistant whiteboards–in August of 2013. The whiteboards cost from $300 to $500 each and offer scant protection indeed.
Now comes a far more expensive “solution,” that offers no more real protection against bullets, but is certainly more inventive in marketing. The photograph at the beginning of this article displays the product. The New York Daily News reports:
“Soft and fuzzy security blankets have met their match.
Developers in Oklahoma have revealed an unusual new product hoping to appeal to nervous mothers and school officials: bulletproof blankets.
Amid a rise in school shootings and deadly tornadoes across the country, the Bodyguard Blanket is touted as able to withstand being punctured by 200 mph falling debris and protect against ‘90% of all weapons that have been used in school shootings in the United States.”
Touting the blanket as proof against tornadoes is a clever marketing ploy. The manufacturer, ProTecht, (get it?) is very cautious with specifications and claims, providing only vague reassurances.
“According to its manufacturer, ProTecht, the shield is made from the same materials used in military and law-enforcement body armor.
‘As a bullet enters the Bodyguard Blanket, its incredibly strong materials ‘catch’ and deform the bullet. This deformation of the bullet occurs within the layers of the blanket and allows a high degree of energy absorption,’ according to ProTecht.
CNET reports that the bullet-proof pads are priced just under $1,000, though ProTecht hopes they’ll be able to offer discounted rates to schools and nonprofits if they buy in bulk.”
There is no such thing–arguably outside the armor of an M1 Abrams tank and some lesser armored vehicles–as “bullet proof.” Police officers wear “bullet resistant” vests that provide protection only against handgun projectiles and shotgun pellets. Most common rifle ammunition will easily penetrate them. This is why ProTecht cautiously claims that their blankets will “protect against 90% of all weapons that have been used in school shootings in the United States.” Most school shooters have used handguns and the occasional shotgun. The Sandy Hook killer used an AR-15. The .223/5.56mm ammunition used in such rifles would easily penetrate ProTecht’s blankets as it would the bullet resistant vests of most police officers. That’s the other 10% ProTecht doesn’t specify.
Vests that will stop rifle ammunition are available, but are far too thick, heavy and expensive for daily wear. A blanket made of such materials would cost thousands and be far too heavy for most school children, while providing no more practical protection than the $1000 dollar model. Notice that I said “practical” protection. ProTecht’s product, on a theoretical level, might seem attractive, but particularly where preventing shootings is concerned, it provides little other than the appearance of safety.
As this photograph illustrates, the blankets incorporate backpack-like shoulder and waist straps that attach the blanket to the wearer. Notice too that the blankets cover only about 2/3 of the bodies of these relatively small children, leaving their legs from the knee down exposed. Tragically, these blankets would provide, at best, limited protection from bullets, and might extend the lives of students by mere seconds, if they could don them in time, and if they could keep them in position between themselves and a gunman while simultaneously being unable to see what he was doing.
The tactical limitations of any shield are older than ancient Greece. Shields, of necessity, limit the mobility and vision of their user. Even so, they are useful in battle because they can absorb and ward off the blows of one’s opponent until an opening can be found or made to get beyond their shield and kill them. When everyone has a shield and sword, they have the same limitations and strengths. A warrior armed with only a shield will only live long enough for their opponent to push the shield aside or knock them down.
Notice that the teacher in the photo is removing blankets from a container and outfitting students one by one. This presupposes that in a school attack, they’ll have that kind of time. Notice too that the blankets have multiple creases, which allows them to be folded for storage. These creases are weak points where there is much less ballistic material and where projectiles may penetrate. Another significant drawback of the design is that much of the shield has no solid backing.
By this I mean that a significant part of the effectiveness of bullet resistant vests is that every inch is held in place by the body of the wearer in contact with the interior of the vest. A bullet striking the vest does not displace it, or skitter off at an angle, but flattens, distributing its energy over a portion of the surface of the vest and not penetrating. This would be true with the blankets only if a bullet strikes directly over the torso of the wearer. Strikes anywhere else, such as near the sides, would merely brush the blanket aside. The effect can be seen by merely throwing a baseball at such a device at moderate velocity.
The terrible reality of this particular product is that it does nothing to deter attacks, and its protection is limited in time and effect. Imagine a shooter entering a classroom. All of the children and the teacher have had sufficient time to don their blankets, and are huddled together in a corner, covering as much of themselves as they can. The shooter is armed only with a handgun, and fires several rounds which by chance, strike the blankets in their sweet spots and stop the projectiles. Noticing that he can’t penetrate the blankets, he plays by the rules, curses his bad luck, and leaves.
In the real world, all he need do is walk to the pile of blanket-covered children and pull their blankets aside, one by one, shooting the exposed children and teacher beneath because they can only cower behind the blankets. They have no means to stop him and their blankets have bought them only a few additional seconds of life.
But what if the children and teachers could use the blankets to hold off the shooter until the police arrive? Analysis of school shootings reveals that no one can expect police help for an average of 15 minutes after an attack begins. The Sandy Hook attack is illustrative.
In that attack, it took more than five minutes for the first 911 call to be made to the police. It took about 30 seconds for the first radio call to officers on the street. The first officer arrived within about 4 minutes–an amazingly rapid response to any school shooting. Unfortunately, the first officer could not enter the building until more than 9 minutes after the 911 operator received the call, about 15 minutes after the attack began. The shooter killed him self within about 10 minutes of the start of the attack.
Had the Sandy Hook attacker still been alive when the police entered, it would almost certainly have taken them at least two minutes to find and neutralize him under the best of circumstances, and likely, longer. Fifteen minutes and more is a very long time when a killer merely has to pull aside ballistic blankets, or simply push the barrel of his gun behind them. In any school attack, seconds mean lives. Unless the attacker can be immediately engaged and stopped, there will be injuries and deaths.
This is the ancient problem. Unaccompanied by a weapon capable of stopping an attacker, a shield is of little use. What of a teacher and students attacked in the school library, an athletic field, waiting for a bus, or at recess where there are no ballistic blankets, or will students have to wear them everywhere like little red turtles?
But what of tornado protection? Theoretically the blankets could provide some limited protection against wind-driven projectiles and crushing injuries, providing the wind didn’t simply strip the blanket away first, and providing whatever struck the child wasn’t heavy enough to render the blanket meaningless.
But that’s not the issue. How may school shooters be deterred and what will be done when they’re not deterred, when they’re in a school and about to begin killing? At $1000 each, these blankets are prohibitively expensive. For an elementary school of 500, that’s a half million dollars. A million for a high school of 1000. As ProTecht suggests, bulk purchases might earn a discount, say a mere $400,000 for an elementary school of 500 and even if a school district had that kind of spare money–and very, very few do–for what? A false sense of security? The possibility that some number of students and teachers might be able to get to their blankets in time and perhaps live a few seconds longer until the shooter began peeling them away?
Shortly before the Virginia Tech killings, school spokesman Larry Hincker commented on the defeat of a bill in the legislature that would have allowed students and faculty to carry concealed handguns on campus:
“I’m sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly’s actions because this will help parents, student, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus.”
I wonder if, after the attack, Hincker understood the terrible irony of his thinking?
ProTecht can’t be faulted for manufacturing and marketing a legal product, but adults responsible for the safety of children can be faulted for making faulty choices that make them “feel safe,” rather than implementing the sole policy that can actually deter and stop killers when and where they attack.
Mike’s Home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.