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THOMPSON: Back-to-school in America

August 19, 2019 - 12:09 PM

 


OPINION


Despite the passing years, I still remember the excitement of first grade…and heading back to class in succeeding years after the long summer breaks. I loved the annual back-to-school shopping in August for new clothes and shoes. Every year I had a new three-ring binder…loaded with fresh paper and pencils. Fond memories.

Millions of kids in America are finishing up their back-to-school shopping as you read this. But I’m in no way envious, or excited for them. I’m hopeful, at best. You see, hundreds of thousands — maybe millions — are buying so-called bullet-proof backpacks.

That’s how bad things are today in America. Parents are spending $100 to $500 for a ballistic backpack or a ballistic insert for existing backpacks. There are bullet-proof three-ring binders, as well.

When I first learned about these innovations - what many accept as a solution to the problem of mass shootings in schools - my heart sank. This is what happens when real solutions aren’t sought in a country with more guns than people.

There is, of course, no credible evidence that bullet-proof back-to-school products save lives…or in most cases can stop the bullets a school shooter (that’s really a thing) most often uses.

But fear works…and just like the fear Donald Trump and Republicans have used to incite Americans about the “invasion” of people of colour…sales of so-called bullet-proof backpacks increased nearly 400 percent after the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton (Toledo if you listen to Donald Trump).

Putting a cartoon or movie character on a bullet-proof backpack is somehow even more insidious. Websites claim this or that backpack to be a “consumer favorite” and there’s even a “Junior Pack” for pre-schoolers. Sad, indeed.

There are a couple of disturbing truths about America…school shootings over the past decade have increased…and no place - urban, rural or suburban - is immune. When I was in grade school the biggest danger was a playground scrap with another kid. And while we had fire drills on occasion…there was never a real fire. Today, there are “active shooter drills”…every month…and there are mass shootings…every month.

Some but not all backpacks meet the National Institute of Justice standards and requirements for a Level IIIA rating…the ability to stop bullets from a 9-mm or .44-magnum handgun.

But don’t think that’s the same protection as a bullet-proof vest worn by law enforcement officers…those are strapped and belted in place. Backpacks would have to be held in a frontal attack…and the force of a bullet would likely force a child to drop it. Only a child wearing a backpack…and fleeing a reign of bullets might have limited protection from behind.

Meanwhile, once again Congress is considering stronger background checks, “red flag” laws preventing those threatening harm to themselves or others from buying or possessing firearms, and outright bans on large-capacity magazines or assault-style firearms.

But Republicans - paid heavily by the National Rifle Association - have previously found ways to water-down or simply stop any sensible gun legislation. They offer up thoughts and prayers instead.

I remain unconvinced that the Trump Administration and Republicans care enough still. As Trump says so often on every topic and issue, “We’ll see.”

There will be another shooting in a school somewhere soon in America…no one knows exactly where or when or why. But I do know - based on a long, inglorious history - that the active shooter will have an assault-type weapon…and with bullets that pierce bullet-proof backpacks and three-ring binders.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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