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Shawn Vestal: In the congressional void on gun safety, we offer kids a political education with drills and bulletproof backpacks

This Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019 photo shows bulletproof backpacks that for sale at an Office Depot store in Evanston, Ill.. With the rise of mass shooting, companies like Guard Dog Security, TuffyPacks and Bulletblocker are creating bullet-resistant backpacks for children for the back-to-school shopping season. Many say they’re seeing an increase in sales in their products leading up to the fall, and typically see a spike in sales after a mass shooting. (Teresa Crawford / AP)
This Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019 photo shows bulletproof backpacks that for sale at an Office Depot store in Evanston, Ill.. With the rise of mass shooting, companies like Guard Dog Security, TuffyPacks and Bulletblocker are creating bullet-resistant backpacks for children for the back-to-school shopping season. Many say they’re seeing an increase in sales in their products leading up to the fall, and typically see a spike in sales after a mass shooting. (Teresa Crawford / AP)

When my son enters seventh grade this week, he’ll be entering another year of education, via lockdown drill, about the political soul of this country.

Another year of discovering implicitly that we will teach kids to duck bullets in third period, but do nothing in the nation’s capital to keep guns away from murderers, while Team NRA in Congress, including Cathy McMorris Rodgers, cashes checks from arms dealers.

Another year of learning to lock the door and turn off the lights and be very, very quiet, because we have no will to do anything about the assault rifles or 100-round double-drum magazine that might someday be carried through the halls. Another year of being taught to regard school shootings the same way we regard fire or floods or lightning strikes – forces of nature to which we can only prepare and respond.

No, kids, there’s nothing to do but lock the door, turn off the lights, duck and hide, and imagine someone is trying to break in and shoot you.

Then get up, turn the lights on, and pledge allegiance.

We have passed another one of those moments lately, a moment similar to the ones that followed Sandy Hook or Parkland or Orlando or Las Vegas in which the nation briefly, desperately and pointlessly hopes that its political class will act on gun-safety measures, only to watch as Republicans in Washington, D.C., mumble about mental illness for two days and then blow it off.

After the double whammy of El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, it arose again: the sensation that this time, finally, the defenders of the murder weapon would have to yield to the overwhelming public support for taking gun safety seriously. Even the president paid lip service to improving background checks.

But a few days of mumbling have passed now and it seems certain – following a phone call between the president and the nation’s chief lunatic arms dealer, NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre – and we have returned to situation normal.

Do nothing and cash the checks.

So it’s back to school, kids – or, in the terminology of gun zealotry, back to the “soft target.” And while the political class has done nothing to make you safer, rest assured that you can keep practicing how to respond if someone shows up and starts shooting.

That’s not all, though. You can also take advantage of the newest national response to the school shootings: bulletproof backpacks and bulletproof inserts for backpacks. In a range of colors and styles. For all budgets and ages, including preschoolers. You can buy them at your friendly neighborhood office supply store, along with notebooks and pencils and protractors.

A new industry has sprung up in the modern era of school shootings. An entrepreneurial spasm, born in the void left by Congress, that has grown to a $2.7 billion “school security” industry, according to the Washington Post.

One small example is Bullet Blocker, an American company. Bullet Blocker has been in business for 12 years, according to its website. That means it went into business in 2007, the year that 33 people died at Virginia Tech when a disgruntled man carried two pistols onto campus and went on a rampage. It remains the deadliest school shooting in the country’s history.

In the do-nothing years since, Bullet Blocker has developed a truly impressive array of back-to-school items.

The Bullet Blocker Lunch Bag and Backpack Combo, for example, sells for $160 and comes in pink and blue colors. The Canvas Classic Pack – with its “Classic & Discrete Silhouette” – come in an attractive tie-dye design for just $210. You buy a bulletproof notebook folio for $210, or a bulletproof tablet case for $120.

You can go all-in on protecting your little learner with the School Safety and Survival Pack, which comes with everything the child of a sick nation could want: a backpack that provides “160 square inches of ballistic coverage area,” bandages, gauze dressing, a trauma pad, antibiotic ointment, eyewash, burn cream, exam gloves, light sticks, a flashlight, a lighter, a hand-crank radio … and “space for additional items as needed.”

Like books or something.

This is … what? Absurd? Tragic? Sickening?

All of these. But it’s also something else: old hat. Ho-hum. Unsurprising. We are so deeply enmeshed in the gears of a machine that supplies and supports massacres that outrage itself feels stale and impotent. Huge majorities of Americans support stronger background checks, magazine limits and an assault weapons ban – and that’s been true for a long time, as the NRA checks clear and nothing is done.

A child might ask how in the world decent adults let this happen. Our answer is to have that child prepare for being shot at.


 
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