In the last couple of days, you may have heard something about a bulletproof blanket: A bright orange tool developed with Marine-grade armor specifically to protect elementary school kids from blunt force trauma, whether it be bullets from a handgun or debris from a tornado. But like lots of technological buffers between America’s gun violence epidemic and its young victims, or even between lack of funding for public schools and those same victims, the blanket ignited new debate in a country that has seen at least 74 school shootings since the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre
last year in 2012.
A company selling high-tech blankets to protect kids from school shooters and tornadoes struck more than one publication as a case of crass profiteering. But according to one of the founders of the company, Protecht, it had more to do with desperation. Dr. Steve Walker, the Oklahoma-based podiatrist who first proposed the idea to one of his patients, inventor Stan Schone, says he started thinking about last-ditch options after Sandy Hook. But it wasn't until a deadly tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma, and killed 24 people last year that Walker decided to actually do something. After all, his own two young kids went to an elementary school that lacked a tornado shelter.
"If a tornado shelter is not in a school, then our children line up in the hallway, and get in a tucked position, and their heads and necks are exposed to falling debris," Walker explains. "And the other thing that struck me is that there were so many stories about these heroic teachers who were sacrificing their bodies, and those teachers sustained so many injuries. It’s just silly that we have to depend on heroic teachers to protect our children," he said.
But what about the availability of guns to mass murderers in the first place? And the school budgets that don’t provide enough money for tornado shelters in areas that get hit with them regularly?
"We see this political gridlock, and nothing gets done. That’s the unfortunate thing. Our kids are still not protected," Walker says. "We by no means think this is a perfect thing, but at least we tried to think outside of the box and do something different."
For now, Walker says he and his business partners have tried to come up with a solution above the fray—he doesn’t want to take sides in the gun control or tornado shelter debates. But when a roughly $1,000 blanket tries to protect kids from gun violence, or provide an alternative to a $5 million tornado shelter, the product stands out less as a viable solution and more as one powerful comment on the magnitude of the problems.