One college has decided to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to protecting its students against school shootings.
The University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) recently announced that it would purchase 200 bulletproof whiteboards from armor manufacturer Hardwire LLC. The 18-inch by 20-inch portable drawing boards, which also come in blue, green and pink, are able to absorb “multiple magazines of ammunition from any handgun or shotgun without ricochet or injury,” and retail for $299 each.
According to Hardwire owner George Tunis, the point of the boards is to provide teachers a way to protect students in the event of a school shooting. As of last year, 297 people have been killed in school shootings since 1980; an average of roughly 9 murders each year.
While rare, a recent spate of mass killings at educational institutions has drawn national attention to the issue of school violence. A 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, left 20 children and six adults dead, and a 2007 attack at Virginia Tech killed 32.
“When Sandy Hook happened … a light bulb went off that it’s really the teachers and administrators [that need protection],” Tunis told the Baltimore Sun. “Those brave souls were trying to close the gap and get to the shooter and stop him, but they didn’t have anything that could stop the bullets along the way.”
UMES President Juliette B. Bell echoed these sentiments to the Sun, warning that the University, which has never experienced a shooting incident, must still ready itself for the unimaginable. ”Being able to respond accordingly is very important,” said Bell. “It’s all about being prepared.”
While UMES is the first university to embrace bulletproof whiteboard technology, it is not the first school to do so. Hardwire reports that it has sold the product to over 100 schools in five states, and an increasingly large industry has grown around marketing protective gear to schools.
The company also sells bulletproof clip boards (available in white, black, and camouflage), as well as a bulletproof insert that can be placed in a child’s backpack. For $1499, Hardwire sells a bullet-stopping cover that can be affixed to a classroom door.
Another company, Elite Sterling Security, also sells bulletproof backpack inserts as part of its line of “Children’s Items.” Other products include a child-sized bulletproof vest, and an insulated winter vest with bulletproof protection hidden inside. The field has grown competitive enough that a local news station recently tested two competing backpack inserts to see which version performed better.
The technology may be gaining popularity because it offers a defensive alternative to parents and school districts looking for new ways to protect against school shootings. The NRA has advocated arming teachers as a method of preventing future Newtown-like tragedies, but their suggestions have come under fire, with some accusing the plan of “turning schools into prisons.”