NEW YORK: A doctor from Oklahoma, inspired by one of America’s deadliest school shootings, has invented an unusual defense against crazed gunmen who open fire in classrooms: a bullet-proof blanket.
Steve Walker, a 43-year-old father of two, said he developed the orange-colored shield — compared by US broadcaster NPR to a yoga mat — to give children greater protection from shootings and tornadoes.
Walker says he was left frustrated by the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 and by a deadly tornado that hit schools in Oklahoma in May 2013.
A gunman and a student were killed at an Oregon high school on Tuesday in the latest attack.
Everytown for Gun Safety, the group set up by billionaire former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg to end gun violence, says there have been 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook.
The massacre triggered intense debate about relatively lax US gun control laws, but measures supported by President Barack Obama failed in the Senate due to fierce opposition from gun rights supporters led by the National Rifle Association.
Walker said he and his co-inventors wanted to get above the political deadlock and “develop something that hopefully both sides can agree upon.”
“We really don’t take one side or another, because doing that just gets you where we currently are, and that is no protection for our children,” he said by telephone from Oklahoma.
Developers say the $1,000 blanket uses the same bullet resistant materials as the US military and will protect against 90 percent of all weapons that have been used in US school shootings.
Trademarked under the name “Bodyguard Blanket,” its promotional video shows children crouching under the shield strapped to their backs, albeit with the sides of their bodies exposed.
“By no means are we saying it will prevent all children from being injured. We’re just reducing the chance,” Walker told AFP.
But the product has divided opinion.
On the product’s Facebook page, some criticize the bright orange color as likely to draw a shooter’s attention.
US media outlets have warned that at $1,000 each, the blanket is likely to be beyond the budget of many school districts, even if substantial discounts are offered.
Walker acknowledged bullet-resistant material is expensive, but he claimed the blankets work out up to five times cheaper than tornado shelters that can cost up to $5 million to build.
He the not first to offer protective gear to US school children. A handful of other companies already market items such as bullet-proof backpacks and inserts.
Inventor Stan Schone, who worked with Walker, said they have had individual customers and a number of school districts show interest since the product launched in late May.
One customer bought 31 for his teacher mother and her entire class of students, he told AFP.
“We’ve even had people asking if we can make them for dogs and cats,” Schone added. “It’s wild.”