At 10:11 a.m. on March 27, a shooter walked up to an entrance at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn., and fired from an assault rifle through a glass door, striking and killing a custodian, Mike Hill. The killer went on to fatally shoot three adults and three children.
In 2023, there were at least 318 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Brian Arwarian, an associate clinical professor at the University of Miami, said he is tired of seeing these tragic shootings turn from anger, thoughts and prayers to “a cycle” that will repeat itself somewhere else in the U.S.
Arwari, who runs the university's Neuro-Cognitive Kinesiology lab, told Yahoo News that his inspiration came "from seeing the situations like the Pulse Nightclub [shooting] ... and even before that, the Bataclan [theater] in France,” referring to the 2016 shooting in Orlando in which 49 people were killed, and an attack in Paris in 2015 in which 90 people died.
With a graduate student, Luis Carlos Diaz, he has invented a device called the Lightguard system, which, when triggered, flashes a bright light that can disorient an assailant.
In the absence of stricter gun control legislation, Lightguard is just one of several new products intended to combat gun violence.
Impairing an attacker’s vision
The Lightguard Security System can temporarily impair an attacker’s vision, rendering someone in its path functionally blind for about 10 to 20 seconds. The partial visual impairment may last up to a few minutes. Arwari has tested the device on himself.
“All you can think about is, ‘I need to get this out of my face.’ So, instinctually, you turn away, and you want to go in the other direction,” he said.
He compares the device to a flash-bang, also known as a stun grenade, often used by police, but said the Lightguard is safer, since flash-bangs can cause permanent hearing loss or severe burns. Lightguard also serves as an emergency trigger to alert police.
Arwari said the goal is to stun a potential shooter, giving first responders more time to get to the scene. Law enforcement or someone authorized at a business or school have the authority to activate and turn off the device. The hope is that it will disorient the assailant and save lives.
Arwari and Diaz have been working on Lightguard for three years.
“The way we've looked at it is: How can we use technology as it's evolving and address this threat?” Ernest Bachrach, a former managing partner with the private equity firm Advent International and a co-founder of Lightguard who has funded the research, told Yahoo News.
The Lightguard gives off 100,000 lumens of light, equivalent to roughly 1,000 home light bulbs.
'A potential false sense of security'
Some experts are skeptical of deploying new products without data to show how many lives they actually save and whether they make sense from a cost-benefit perspective relative to other violence-prevention efforts.
“It's certainly important to think about how we put seconds on the clock for people,” Dr. Jaclyn Schildkraut, executive director of the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, told Yahoo News.
“Everything is a cost-benefit analysis,” Schildkraut said, observing that whatever the cost of the devices, "You have to think about the statistical unlikelihood of a mass shooting happening in a school relative to the amount of money you're planning to invest in something like that — versus more mental health counselors, more social workers.”
“Intuitively, there could be either appeal, or there could be a good rationale for why something like this might stop an intruder or might have an effect on the amount of violence that happens within a school,” Dr. Justin Heinze, a professor at the University of Michigan and co-director of the National Center for School Safety, told Yahoo News. Without that data, he said, he would be concerned that the system might create "a potential false sense of security.”
One can imagine that Lightguard could be useful not only against mass shooters, but also to mass shooters who wanted to disorient their victims.
Arwari said, however, the Lightguard operates on a business-to-business model, selling to businesses and institutions, not the general public, to prevent misuse.
“The units are wired into the electrical grid and bolted onto a wall,” he said in an email. “They cannot be carried around in one's pocket. Additionally, they are registered to a specific location. On the hypothetical that someone were to remove a unit from a wall, it would not work. Finally, we can remotely disable any single unit or part of the system that is lost/stolen/misplaced.”
Two companies have announced plans to release “smart guns,” which use fingerprint technology that allows only verified users to shoot.
In January, LodeStar Works unveiled its 9mm smart handgun for its shareholders and investors. SmartGunz, a Kansas company, says its own product is in beta testing with law enforcement. Both companies hope to have a product commercially available this year, which they say could help lower suicides, make lost or stolen guns useless and protect law enforcement if criminals grab their guns.
While most guns in mass killings are purchased legally, there are instances where a weapon was registered to someone else, such as the shooter's parent or a straw purchaser.
“The more you're able to separate somebody from a weapon, even temporarily, when they are at a heightened risk of crisis or of using it to harm themselves or others, the more likely you are to be able to de-escalate the situation and reduce the likelihood of harm,” Schildkraut said.
The cost of school safety
Security cameras could potentially block shooters from entering a building.
Companies have been developing security cameras using artificial intelligence that can identify suspicious people with weapons, but questions remain over the effectiveness of the products and concerns about privacy and potential discrimination.
In 2015, NBC News profiled Southwestern High School in Shelbyville, Ind., which is equipped with a full security camera system connected live to the sheriff’s department, a panic button for each teacher, bullet-resistant classroom doors and cannons that spit blinding smoke from the ceiling. That came in at a cost of $400,000.
“For many schools, that's a really big investment to make, and we don't even know if they can work,” Heinze said.