Solutions Swirl for Mass Shooting Prevention
SAN ANTONIO — As the scourge of mass shootings continues to grip the country, calls for something to be done about the issue have arisen time and time again.
Democrats in Congress are looking at gun control measures like the Protecting Our Kids Act, which would increase the age limit to purchase certain firearms, add restrictions on large-capacity ammunition magazines and require that all firearms bought and sold in the country be traceable. However, the bill and similar proposals face an uncertain pathway to enactment in a narrowly divided Senate as bipartisan negotiations progress.
Consequently, some have already taken action to prevent some of the worst effects of gun violence in the country.
R2P Innovations began its life as a company that manufactured vehicle armor for the military, but increased demand for tighter school security led the company towards a new mission: creating bullet proof doors for schools. Kirk Ferguson, chief of staff for R2P and an Army special forces combat veteran, told The Well News that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 led the company’s CEO, Tony Deering, to apply his expertise in ballistics and armor to prevent massacres from taking place.
“The solution manifested itself in his research, because what he found was everything on the market that could stop assault level rifles was 600 plus pound big steel doors that looked like [they] belonged in a prison,” Ferguson said. “The problem to solve was weight and aesthetics. It has to look right, and it has to weigh a comparable weight that an elementary school child could operate on a daily basis.”
The doors R2P manufactures resemble ordinary classroom doors, but are sturdy enough to withstand high-caliber gunfire. The company undertook a pilot program in 2018 to install their ballistic and breach-resistant doors in schools around Charleston, South Carolina, where the company is based. R2P makes no specific policy recommendations with regard to mass shooting prevention in favor of an “apolitical” approach, Ferguson said.
While the product was well received by school personnel, they aren’t widely used in school or public settings yet. Ferguson said R2P’s bullet-resistant doors are mainly designed to give law enforcement enough time to effectively respond to a crisis as it unfolds so that children, staff and faculty can have ease of mind “in the interim.”
“I think all the other efforts are very good, we support all the other means out there,” he said. “As far as mental health support and all the other mechanisms that are out there, they’re very valid. … But there’s nothing that addresses the moment [when] a shooter is actually walking down the hallway and trying to take lives. And we feel that’s exclusively where we work — we work right there … trying to save those lives.”
However, not all initiatives like R2P’s have been well received as political inaction comes under the lens of public discourse. In June, Taser developer company Axon announced plans to build drones armed with stun guns that could be deployed in schools in order to “prevent the next Uvalde, Sandy Hook or Columbine,” it said in a release.
But those plans were put on hold after nine members of the company’s ethics board resigned in protest, Axon announced this week. Despite the board’s objections and concerns over the product’s planned deployment, Axon at first decided to proceed with the project to the chagrin of many who questioned the drones’ practicality and ethical ramifications.
“I want to be explicit: I announced a potential delivery date a few years out as an expression of what could be possible; it is not an actual launch timeline, especially as we are pausing that program,” Axon CEO Rick Smith said in a written statement. “A remotely operated non-lethal TASER-enabled drone in schools is an idea, not a product, and it’s a long way off. We have a lot of work and exploring to see if this technology is even viable and to understand if the public concerns can be adequately addressed before moving forward.”
Smith participated in a live Q&A on Reddit to field questions and concerns about the taser drone concept and explained the role of the board was to advise the company. Although the decision to go public with the idea was his, Smith said the board’s input does play a role in the company’s decision making. The full discussion is publicly viewable, and Smith fleshes out the rationale behind the concept in his own words there.
While details of legislative fixes are still being ironed out between lawmakers, gun control advocates’ ideas for mass shooting prevention are still the same. For instance, Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine physician at the University of California’s Davis Medical Center, published an opinion piece in The New England Journal of Medicine that examined some of the shortcomings of firearm laws that contribute to the problem.
In that piece, Wintemute points out that firearm transactions between private parties are exempt from background-check requirements in many states and that comprehensive background-check policies would better ensure the weapons don’t reach unsafe hands.
Further, Wintemute said information that would prohibit high-risk people from purchasing firearms frequently goes unreported and gun-violence restraining orders and waiting periods for purchases are other specific actions that can be taken to reduce the rate of gun violence in the United States.
Similarly, mental health experts from the American Psychological Association have made their own set of recommendations for prevention efforts. APA researchers advocate for early childhood programs to identify and intervene with troubled individuals in addition to firearm prohibitions for high-risk groups such as domestic violence offenders, those convicted of violent crimes, and individuals with mental illness who have been deemed a threat to themselves or to others.
“Reducing the incidence of gun violence will require interventions through multiple systems, including legal, public health, public safety, community, and health,” APA wrote in its gun violence report. “Increasing the availability of data and funding will help inform and evaluate policies designed to reduce gun violence.”
Reece can be reached at [email protected] and @ReeceNations
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