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What’s the Best Method For Preventing School Attacks?

A new type of glass designed to keep gunmen out of school raises the question of whether defense is being prioritized over prevention

A shrine set up for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012. (Photo: Tim Clayton/TIM CLAYTON/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Some schools could soon be outfitted with School Guard Glass, a new type of glass that has strength comparable to that of bullet proof glass, but that is thinner, lighter and cheaper by a factor of 40, the New York Times reports.

In trials involving bullets, bats and sledgehammers, the glass held its own for four to six minutes. Given that the police took about three minutes to arrive at Sandy Hook Elementary School during the 2012 shooting—and the fact that the killer responsible for that tragedy broke in via a window—those added minutes could very well save lives, the Times points out. So far, the new company has sold around $750,000 worth of the glass, and it has orders for another $1.25 million-worth of panels slotted for delivery in 2015. 

The special glass isn't the only technological upgrade many schools have made in in light of recent attacks, the Times points out. Schools around the country have invested heavily in security cameras, bullet-proof white boards, alarm systems and apps that allow teachers to lock down the building using their smartphone. As the Times writes, the market for school security system closes this year at $4.9 billion—more than $2 billion more than its 2012 valuation. 

But is this necessarily the best way for thwarting school shootings? Bloomberg reports that while school shootings get a lot of press and are certainly a serious problem, they only account for just over one percent of children's deaths per year. "Even in the deadliest school year, 1997-1998,  just 34 students were killed." As Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the Washington-based National Education Association, told Bloomberg, "The truth is that schools are the safest place a child can be.” 

Additionally, some experts say that there are better ways to thwart attacks than investing millions into creating heavily fortified, military-like school buildings, the Times reported earlier this month. After all, many of the shooters are in fact students themselves, meaning bullet proof glass and building lock-downs likely will not stop them from carrying out an attack on their classroom.

Investing in services that prevent would-be shooters from reaching that point of desperation and derangement, however, could make a difference in saving their peers' lives. "Limited resources may be better spent on mental health services, training for teachers and students on what to do if their peers talk about bringing a gun to school, or on officers trained to keep schools safe," the Times writes.

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