In the days to month following the fifth and first deadliest shootings in modern U.S. History, one Florida private school is preparing for gun violence by taking the matter into its own hands—or, its students’ backpacks.
The Florida Christian School in Miami is selling bulletproof ballistic panels for its students’ backpacks. George Gulla, the school’s dean of students and head of security, told CNN that for $120, these insertable, lightweight backpack panels can add another level of protection to students in the event of an active shooter on its pre-K through 12th grade campus. Students are drilled to wear their backpacks on their chest and hold them close in the case of an active shooter situation.
“It’s just a tool,” Gulla told the Miami Herald. “I’d rather be prepared for the worst than be stuck after saying, ‘Wow, I wish we would’ve done that.’”
The panels come from Applied Fiber Concepts, a body armor company ran by Alex Cejas, who has two children, ages 11 and 13, who attend the school. Cejas told the Herald that he began using the armor plates in his children’s backpacks when they began school. The armor, about the size of a binder and weighing under a pound, can withstand bullets from a .44 Magnum and a .357 SIG, but not from rifles.
Cejas, who has worked in the body armor industry for 25 years, said he saw a wave of interest in bullet-resistant school supplies after 1999’s Columbine High School shooting. Investment has only grown since—according to a 2012 article from the Washington Post, one body armor company reported that its bulletproof backpack sales rose more than 500 percent after the Sandy Hook school shooting. In 2013, the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore purchased 200 bulletproof whiteboards in response to the shooting, as well.
The backpack insert might serve parents’ peace of mind, but school security expert Kenneth Trump, no relation to the president, called the panels a “quick fix” that circumvents finding a more direct solution. Trump said products such as a bulletproof panel might be well-intended, but aren’t “well focused” for a children’s environment.
Trump disagrees with the using bulletproof products such as the backpack insert, and has served as a expert witness in school security cases where students are hurt or killed. He told the Herald that a connection between these cases isn’t a failure in technology but in a school’s preparations.
“The first and best line of defense is a well-trained staff and student body,” Trump said. “If you need a bulletproof backpack, don’t you need a bulletproof front pack, headgear, and bulletproofing the rest of your body down to your toes?”