As lawmakers have cleared out of Washington for town halls and other events with folks back home during the August congressional recess, restoring security to the nation’s school grounds is certain to be among the top issues discussed and debated, and there’s a security method that merits a closer look by Congress.
The Department of Defense describes it as another “tool in the Warfighter's tool box that will fill a gap between shouting and shooting." The former USCENTCOM Commander General Anthony Zinni, USMC, says, “when properly applied . . . (it) makes the United States more formidable, not less so.”
What is this highly effective and essential part of America’s arsenal… the latest high-tech weapon … the most expensive? No.
It is the Pentagon’s Non-Lethal Weapons Program that includes Oleoresin Capsicum-based weapons, or pepper defense spray as we know it, as an integral part of “protecting resources and facilities, and to maintain stability in detention facilities” at military installations around the world. We are not talking about the personal-sized devices we’re familiar seeing our loved ones carry when they are running or out alone at night--these are powerful, non-lethal weapons and systems that have been proven effective and currently being used by every branch of our military.
Earlier this summer I met with a handful of key decisionmakers and opinion leaders on Capitol Hill to start a discussion and help raise awareness of non-lethal school security options as an immediate and practical alternative to ensure America’s schools are once again a safe and secure learning environment.
Using the Pentagon as a real-world example, I was able to demonstrate to Congress that a fully operational and integrated pepper defense system can provide proven non-lethal and effective protection, as well as a safe, but strong deterrent against intruders to school grounds. In fact, it takes only a matter of 6 seconds before these weapons can immediately stop and disable intruders from 25 feet away, bringing them to their knees and essentially blindfolding the attacker.
An example included sharing remarks with them from military police on guard at Guantanamo Bay, the 525th MP Battalion, who recently said, “The most difficult part of the training would have to be the O.C. exposure. No matter how many times you receive this training in the past, O.C. will still challenge you both physically and mentally.”
Capitol Hill was a skeptical audience and rightfully so, with many asking "Do you really think a can of pepper spray can protect our schools?" and "What about safety, and keeping students from using them on each other?" But these weapons are far more than just a can of pepper spray in a teacher’s desk drawer; they can include anti-tampering measures ranging from technology restricting access to the pepper defense weapons to only authorized users, to a secure housing unit much like a fire extinguisher.
States are now wrestling with the legalities of arming teachers as a potential solution, and this should be a time for a discussion that examines a more practical, but powerful, non-lethal security capability for schools that’s available today, a discussion that goes beyond any specific product or company.
Is this the silver bullet solution? On its own, no. But pepper defense systems are a proven non-lethal security capability of our Armed Forces stationed around the world, and they can be an accessible and practical option for schools right here at home. What’s good enough for the Pentagon, should be good enough for our schools.
John McCann is chief executive officer of MACE Security International, Inc.