In most mass school shootings that have occurred in the U.S., the gunmen were armed with handguns, shotguns or smaller-caliber rifles and met their first resistance from building staff, not from first responders.

So teachers become reluctant first responders, with typically nothing but their bodies to protect kids from bullets, George Tunis, chairman and CEO of Hardwire LLC, Pocomoke City, Md., told representatives of several Berks County police departments Tuesday.

Tunis, whose company specializes in making armor for military and paramilitary units, sought an answer to this problem and he says he found it in the success of ballistic shields protecting troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tunis demonstrated his company's lightweight, durable, versatile ballistic shields that are designed to blend in with other classroom fixtures. The shields can be hung on walls and used as dry-erase boards on which teachers write their classroom assignments.

The company also makes small shields that double as clipboards that can be particularly useful for coaches and physical education teachers or police during traffic stops.

As demonstrated at the Muhlenberg Township police shooting range Tuesday, they can stop a bullet fired from a .44-Magnum revolver from 7 yards away. A slug fired from a shotgun sent the shield flying, but the round didn't penetrate the compressed fiber.

Hardwire first designed its signature lighter-than-Kevlar, laminated compressed fiber shields for use in ballistic vests for U.S. special operations forces, Tunis said.

As troop casualties mounted from roadside bombs in Iraq, the company was asked to ramp up production. It started making shields for armored vehicles, and, as they were rolled out, casualty rates dropped significantly.

Hardwire gradually shifted to making ballistic shields for drug interdiction units such as Customs and Border Protection and even the Los Angeles Police Department, Tunis said.

Then the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre happened and the father of two school-age children felt utterly helpless.

"I'm literally watching the events of Sandy Hook unfold," Tunis said. "I'm sitting next to my son and saying, 'Geez, we can do something about this.' We put armor in the hands of our soldiers, and the casualty rate just comes right on down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Armor was that equalizing force."

Tunis donated enough shields to his children's school to equip every staff member.

"We're not undoing anything the school taught them before," Tunis said. "A lockdown drill is still a lockdown drill. But now all of a sudden, as a teacher I've got a way to get my kids behind me and even in an evacuation, other teachers and I can work together to get the kids down the hall. Protect the convoy, we call it." 

Cost and mobility were key factors to market the shields for schools, Tunis said.

The bigger shields cost $299, and the clipboard shields cost $109.

The shields come in various colors, so they shouldn't be intimidating to children. Perhaps the biggest benefit is they bring peace of mind and avoid the debate about whether arming teachers or school guards is a good idea, Tunis said.

Muhlenberg School District officials attended the demonstration hosted by Muhlenberg police.

Muhlenberg Elementary Center Principal Steve Baylor said: "We are always trying to be proactive and constantly asking what we can do to keep the school safe. This is just another option."

Muhlenberg Police Chief Erik P. Grunzig said he initially plans to order 15 of the clipboard shields - one for each marked vehicle - and eventually replace the full Kevlar ballistic shields with the lighter weight Hardwire shields.

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