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Former police officer Todd Drummond wants to make US schools safer. For this he built a table in which children can hide in the event of an attack. Why does nobody support his invention?
Why a retired police officer invented a bulletproof desk – and no one supports him
It started in February 2018, former police officer Todd Drummond had already retired. He was vacationing in Alaska, sitting in his hotel room with his wife Nancy, drinking coffee, the TV on. On the news, Drummond saw reports of a rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the worst incident at a high school in the nation's history. 14 students and 3 adults had died and 17 people were injured. It was the 42nd multiple fatality shooting at an educational institution since the turn of the millennium, Donald Trump called for arming teachers, youth protested across the country.
Drummond, 67, used to provide security at schools as a police officer; now he sat in a hotel and watched the images. During his tenure, there had been no rampage at any of his schools; only once had he had to confiscate a gun. Drummond says he realized he had been lucky. Then, he says, he reached for the notepad meant for ordering breakfast. While the snow fell outside, Drummond drew lines on the paper, he says. That's how he came up with the first sketch of a desk where children could hide in case of an attack. Drummond is a believer. Today, he calls his idea an inspiration from God.
As he talks about it, he sits in front of his laptop in the U.S. state of Mississippi and looks a little upset. He wears a three-day beard and a polo shirt with the inscription "Defend Our Children“.
Back home, he went straight to the garage, Drummond says, taking sheets of plywood, gluing them, cutting up scraps of steel and welding them together. From this, he built the first model: a box with a plate on top, inside the box a door through which you can get inside. Then he rehearsed the emergency procedure with his wife, Drummond says, folding his hands into a gun, entering the garage, Nancy shouting "gun" and quickly disappearing into the desk. It took her a little more than a second, Drummond says, he timed.
A few months later, Drummond and his son Donald applied for a patent. March 17, 2020, the certificate reads, "Desk with ballistic material attached thereto," U.S. Patent Number 10,591,258.
Ballistic material is often made of aramid, a synthetic fiber that is also used to make bulletproof vests. It's more tear-resistant than steel, so when a bullet hits it, the fibers catch it and lessen the impact force. Drummond knows his stuff; before becoming a police officer, he developed components for military helicopters and soldiers' helmets. The table's material has a safety rating of three out of eight, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Drummond says. A .44-caliber revolver could not puncture it.
Drummond hired a Chicago firm to build a prototype from his sketches. Powder-coated steel with a core of aramid fiber, the tabletop measures 84 by 61 centimeters, weight: 59 kilograms. The table fits through the door of a classroom and can be moved when cleaning. It comes in six pieces, requiring only a rivet gun, a wrench and ten minutes of time to assemble.
A single desk costs $1800, Drummond says, which is about four times as much as a traditional desk, but he can imagine a volume discount.
The first "Defender Safe Space Desk" has been sitting in Drummond's garage for a few weeks, next to his sky-blue Chevrolet. Now Drummond's story falters, and the inventor seems baffled. He hunches his shoulders. How will he get the desk to the schools? Drummond says he doesn't want wealthy schools to buy the table and poor schools to go away empty-handed.
He's trying a foundation, named like the slogan on his T-shirt, "Defend Our Children." Drummond wants donations to fund the construction of the tables so he can then give them to schools for free. He has set up an account on the website GoFundMe, and production of the tables is expected to start at 151,000 dollars raised. So far, $60 has been received.
He doesn't understand, Drummond says, why he receives little support. Why his country can't get a handle on the problem. In the recent past, there have been an average of 15 shootings per year in U.S. schools with at least one person injured. The perpetrators are often former or active students, usually white and almost always male. The already strict gun laws in the U.S. are not the solution, Drummond says; those who want a gun get one, despite all the rules.
His desk is the solution, he says. And better supervision of students, because what turns a child into a spree killer is bullying, mental illness or desperation, not access to weapons. That's what happened in the rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The 19-year-old perpetrator had used an AR-15 assault rifle in the attack at his former school; he had previously purchased it legally at a gun store.
His desk would not yet hold up to an assault rifle, Drummond says. But an upgraded version is already planned, he says. As soon as enough donations come in, he can have it produced.