After the Sandy Hook massacre when 20 school children were gunned down in their classrooms along with several of their teachers, many of us thought the country would finally wake up to the insanity of allowing civilians to arm themselves with weapons designed to inflict mass carnage. Instead, what we have seen is tragedy descend into farce as all efforts to pass sensible gun reform measures have collapsed and gun makers, their lobbyists and now security companies are lining up to exploit the deaths of these children for profit.
The cunning geniuses in the NRA are on track to make millions of dollars in the wake of the massacre by developing a whole new revenue stream with their plan to have armed guards in every American school. Not to be left out, security companies are also getting in on the action by launching new ranges of bulletproof clothing and accessories designed exclusively for school children. It might seem counterintuitive for a society to respond to the threat of gun violence by enriching the manufacturers of guns and their allies in the security business, but apparently, this has become the price of our freedom, or at least the price of the freedom to own guns.
The logical response should be to control civilian access more tightly to these kinds of [military] weapons...Indeed, any weapon. But we are not logical.
Elite Sterling Security, a Denver-based company, has developed a new line of "children's items", including a ballistic puffer vest that sells for $1,040, a ballistic backpack that sells for $295 and a ballistic jacket that sells for $380. According to a recent report by the Guardian, the company has sold over 300 bulletproof backpacks in the last two months in Colorado alone and has received over 2,000 inquiries from across the US. The company is also talking with dozens of schools in the state about equipping them with ballistic safety vests.
If this becomes our new normal, it will cost parents nearly $2,000 per child to kit them out in bulletproof gear to go to school – or more, if their kids have designer tastes. Miguel Caballero, the "Giorgio Armani of bulletproof couture", has also launched a children's range and some of the jackets in his summer line are going for the bargain price of £80,000 (pounds sterling). The upside is that the clothing and backpacks all weigh 3-4lb per item, so at least kids will get a bit of a workout toting the extra weight around.
One might have thought that in a state like Colorado, which has seen more than its fair share of mass shootings (most notably, in Aurora and Columbine), that people might be less willing to propagate the gun culture that allowed the shootings to happen. Instead, however, either out of fear for their safety or fear that new gun control measures might be enacted, after each massacre in the state, gun sales shot up. Now, in addition to boosting the profits of gun manufacturers, the state is leading the charge to the next frontier of craziness and boosting the profits of security companies, too. The sickening truth, of course, is that mass killings are good for the gun business.
No one knows this better than the NRA, which has shamelessly capitalized on the deaths of the children in Sandy Hook and appears to be succeeding with its battle plan to convince the American people that the best way to counter gun violence in society is to introduce even more guns into the mix. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 132,183 schools nationwide. If we put armed guards in all those schools, that means at least 132,183 more potential gun sales. The estimated cost of the "school shields" program is somewhere in the region of $4bn, and the taxpayer will foot the bill, naturally.
That amount will only cover the cost of the guns, the personnel and the training. The cost to our children, who will have to grow up in an increasingly militarized environment, is inestimable.
It's too early to say how fearful and paranoid and even trigger-happy the next generation will be if we subject them to an upbringing of normalized and omnipresent firearms that involves daily interaction with armed guards and bulletproof vests. We do know that our schools are already over-policed. We also know that we have a far too established school-to-prison pipeline that needlessly funnels children into the criminal justice system for minor infractions. Research suggests that this police presence does little to enhance safety in schools, but does a lot to cause children distress and to create a negative learning environment. Despite this knowledge, we seem to be all set to go along with the NRA's self-enriching plans rather than enacting sensible gun control measures that would have a far greater impact on public safety.
The simple truth is that if Adam Lanza's mother had not been legally able to purchase a stockpile of weapons, including the .22-caliber rifle her son used to shoot her and the Bushmaster XM15-E2S semi-automatic rifle he used to shoot the children and their teachers and the semi-automatic handgun he used to kill himself, the terrible tragedy in Sandy Hook would never have happened. The logical response should be to control civilian access more tightly to these kinds of weapons, or indeed, to any weapon.
But we are not logical, and so far, our response has been to hand a gift voucher to the weapons manufacturers and their affiliates. The freedom to buy guns that kill has just gotten very expensive.