Rather than pencil sharpeners, erasers, or Trapper-Keepers, 8th graders at St. Cornelius Catholic School in Pennsylvania received bulletproof backpack shields as their "welcome to high school" gift at a graduation ceremony Monday, Fox 29 reports. The shields were donated by a local company, Unequal Technologies, which also gave 25 of them to the school's faculty.
“It’s sad the times have called for such a product to be invented, but we have answered the call,” said Unequal Technologies CEO Rob Vito, whose daughter attends St. Cornelius, at a rally Monday. "Handguns are useless against a product like this. Shotguns are useless against a product like this."
The Safe Shield is an ultra-thin, 10-by-12-inch plate that's designed to slip into a backpack and provide "personal protection when terror strikes," according to the company's website. It retails for $149.95.
In video of the event, the graduates appeared uncertain how to react as they passed the shields to one another. "I never though I'd need this," one student told Fox 29. Principle Barbara Rosini justified the decision to accept the shields, explaining that it's her job to do "anything that we can do to protect our children and our staff." Jim Caldwell, the executive vice president of Unequal Technologies, told VICE News that the company began manufacturing the shields around a month and a half earlier at the request of Rosini.
As surreal as it may have been for those students to receive bulletproof shields as a back to school gift, Rosini and other school administrators have reason to be concerned, given the recent wave of shootings on school grounds in America. Although the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and Santa Fe High in Florida and Texas, respectively, have received the most media attention, they're far from the only ones.
According to CNN, there's been an average of one school shooting every week in 2018, and as of mid-May, more Americans had been killed at schools than while deployed in the military in 2018, according to a Washington Post analysis. The Post also reports that over 26,000 American children have been killed by guns since the Columbine shooting in 1999 — which makes firearms the third-leading cause of death for American kids, according to the journal Pediatrics.
After the Parkland shooting, sales of bulletproof backpacks spiked, TIME reported, and Louisiana recently passed a law allowing students to wear bulletproof backpacks at school and on school buses. However, many have warned that such backpacks, while providing a degree of physical protection and psychological comfort, don't protect against gunfire from the weapon of choice for many mass shooters — the AR-15 rifle.
“The chances of a ballistic backpack coming into play during an attack or saving a child from injury are slim,” Aaron Westrick, an armor expert with the Ballistic Armor Research Group, told ABC News in March. He added that in order to stop bullets from an AR-15, a backpack or insert would have to be built with steel or titanium.
Similarly, Caldwell told VICE News that the Safe Shields his company gave to the graduating 8th graders also won't protect against an AR-15.
Many have called on Congress to pass stronger gun laws in light of the recent shootings. But although several states have done so in the months since Parkland, the GOP-controlled Congress hasn't moved any gun control legislation, despite nationwide protests demanding that they do so. The closest federal lawmakers came to passing a significant gun control bill was in 2013, shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut, but that bill was defeated by a Republican filibuster.