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Latest in Gun Control: Bullet-Resistant Classroom Whiteboards!

Legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases is still stalled in the Senate. In my optimistic piece on the future of the gun control movement last spring, I had reported that proponents were hoping to bring back the Manchin-Toomey amendment to close the gun-show loophole, in a somewhat revised form, in the weeks prior to the August recess, assuming that immigration reform had passed by then. Well, of course immigration reform still has a ways to go. But that doesn’t mean that all activity has stopped on the gun control front. Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly went on a nationwide tour in July drumming up support for expanded background checks, and I was surprised to see members of the big new grass-roots group Moms Demand Action, founded after the Newtown massacre, at a booth they had set up at Fancy Farm, the recent political festival in far western Kentucky. That’s not exactly the friendliest territory for gun control proponents, but they were getting a good reception.

While we’re waiting for the United States Congress to act, though, it looks as if some people are deciding to take steps on their own. From today’s Baltimore Sun:

Calling "campus violence a reality" to prepare for, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore announced plans Thursday to spend $60,000 on the Clark Kent of teacher supplies: an innocuous-looking white board that can stop bullets. The high-tech tablet — which hangs on a hook, measures 18 by 20 inches and comes in pink, blue and green — can be used as a personal shield for professors under attack, according to the company that makes it, and a portable writing pad in quieter times.

"It needs to be a great whiteboard and a useful tool so that it doesn't get hidden in the closet," said maker George Tunis. His Worcester County company Hardwire LLC starting out making military armor, then adapted it for the classroom after the tragic shootings last year at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were killed." When Sandy Hook happened … a light bulb went off that it's really the teachers and administrators" who need protection, the father of two said. "Those brave souls were trying to close the gap and get to the shooter and stop him, but they didn't have anything that could stop the bullets along the way."…

UMES is the first university to adopt Hardwire's technology, though the company said it has sold its bulletproof whiteboards, which cost $299 apiece, to roughly 100 lower-grade schools in five states, including Maryland. It also makes bulletproof door shields, clipboards and inserts for children's backpacks, all of which it sells online. UMES President Juliette B. Bell said in a telephone interview that she decided to order 200 whiteboards for faculty using funds from the university's foundation account so the school could be "proactive rather than reactive" in a violent situation.

What a country. We’ll let some 40 percent of gun purchases proceed without background checks to make sure the buyer is not a violent felon or mentally unfit (Cho Seung-Hui, the killer at Virginia Tech, should have been flagged as the latter, but the court record never made it into the background check system. And of course, even if it had, he’d have still been able to buy a gun at one of Virginia’s big gun shows.) But, with our legendary entrepreneurial spirit, we’ll then come up with a nifty product to protect you from the people who shouldn’t have a gun to begin with. Never mind that the product is costing this particular financially-strapped historically black college as much as an entire assistant professor slot.

I don’t know, but that seems a bit more reactive than pro-active.

Alec MacGillis is a New Republic senior editor. Follow him @AlecMacGillis.