Gun Control Debate 2013: The Hottest New Trend in Children's Fashion? Anything Bulletproof
In a society where mass shootings are increasingly becoming the norm, and in the face of the apparent inability of Congress to do anything about it, parents and teachers across the country are taking matters into their own hands. Since Newtown, sales of bulletproof school items have been on the rise, leading to increasingly militarized American schools. While bulletproof uniforms per se have not arrived (yet), a line of children’s bulletproof gear is now available in the US from a variety of companies.
In Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and California schools have been purchasing ballistic shields. The shields look like ordinary whiteboards and clipboards, but are designed to withstand fire from handguns and shotguns. According to the website of the manufacturer Hardwire, the whiteboards are realistic enough to have "no psychological impact on the students" making them a great tool for "highly interactive-teaching." Including shipping and handling, a single whiteboard can be had for $299, while clipboards come in at a more affordable $109.
One of the biggest companies capitalizing on the anxieties of parents and educators is Miguel Caballero. Mr. Caballero started the company in 1992 in Bogota, Colombia, during the country's brutal drug war. While studying business in college, he had a classmate who was the daughter of a Colombian politician who refused to wear protective gear because it was heavy, hot, indiscreet, and not stylish. Caballero recognized a need and a large market for stylish protective clothing, and got to work. The first product was a bulletproof leather jacket. Today, the company has distributors in 15 countries, most of which are in Latin America, as well as others such as Hong Kong and Dubai. Now he's known as the Giorgio Armani of body-armor, shooting his employees while designing the latest in battle-ready fashion for Middle Eastern princes, Latin American dictators, and Steven Seagal, who recently purchased a bulletproof kimono.
Caballero's most recent venture? Enter MC Kids. Conceived of in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, MC Kids is a clothing line for children consisting of bullet-proof puffer-vests, backpacks, and t-shirts, among other items. Most of these items offer what is known as "Level II," or medium protection, meaning they can withstand attacks from a variety of weapons such as knives, revolvers, pistols, and even Uzis. According to the site of MC’s U.S. distributor, Elite Sterling Security, MC Kids clothing can cost anywhere from $295 for a backpack to over a thousand for a puffer-vest.
For better or worse, bullet-proof items for children are not yet likely to be widespread in U.S. schools for the simple reason that they are expensive. In an era of slashed budgets, few school districts can afford to fund the cost of items like the Ballistic Safety Vest, which retails for almost $400 dollars per item. Nonetheless, sales are still impressive. According to Elite Sterling, over 300 MC Kids backpacks have been sold in the past two months. Companies such as Massachusetts-based BulletBlocker have also reported a 300% increase in sales of their own backpacks since the shooting. For families seeking to bulletproof their little ones with something a little more stylish, Salt Lake City company Amendment II offers nanotube armor-infused backpacks decorated with Avengers and Disney princesses. Apparently business has been good enough for Miguel Caballero as well, because he now plans to expand MC Kids to Canada and Mexico.
Gun-control advocates see things like MC Kids as part of a disturbing trend. They say that taking these steps normalizes public schools as potential battlefields and accepts the status quo, rather than attacking the source of school violence. But for most parents and educators, it is simply a reflection of the reality of a society awash in guns, where school children increasingly are facing the same threats once only known to soldiers and law enforcement, and a government unable or unwilling to do anything about it.