Bulletproof backpacks should not be on anyone’s back to school list. Because we highly value education, it is a family tradition for my husband Dan and me to give back-to-school supplies to each of our 11 beautiful and bright grandchildren who range in grades from preschool to college. Typical gifts include pens, pencils and candy (we are grandparents, after all). But I absolutely cannot imagine purchasing a bulletproof backpack for these children and young adults. If I did purchase one I probably would do so through tears.

I should recognize the necessity of such a backpack. During the last years of my teaching career I welcomed my homeroom to the beginning of school by telling them we would have a great year; and then informing them we would soon practice a fire drill, an evacuation drill, and a lockdown drill that might be necessary for multiple reasons, including an active shooting. Some students received this news passively because they’d heard it many times before while others looked up at me like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. What kind of place is this?” Neither response was good.

Bulletproof backpacks should not be the “new normal.” Not in the Kearney, Nebraska, area (where these backpacks are for sale). Not in any city, town or village in the United States. As parents, grandparents, and citizens we should not be naive about the need for such a back-to-school supply; rather, we should stand as moral leaders speaking out against assault weapons and the incendiary rhetoric that inflames those prone to violence.

We would not tolerate hateful verbal tirades from our children and grandchildren and we should not tolerate them from our country’s leaders. And as pointed out last week, “We are not helpless here.” There are things that can be done, such as changing gun laws.

Children learn best in a safe environment. Children learn from our example. Let us begin the new school year, not with a bulletproof backpack, but by doing what is right and provide for the safety of our nation’s children.

Sandy Mahalek, Kearney