Columns » Max Brantley

Profiting from fear, politics

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QUESTIONS RAISED: The state fire marshal objected when Sen. Jon Woods and Daniel Hogan pushed through a bill allowing sale of a school door locking device in Arkansas schools.
  • QUESTIONS RAISED: The state fire marshal objected when Sen. Jon Woods and Daniel Hogan pushed through a bill allowing sale of a school door locking device in Arkansas schools.

The Associated Press distributed an article with an Ohio dateline over the weekend that deserves more attention in Arkansas.

It talked of the success of a fledgling industry in selling door barricade devices to schools against the possibility of "active shooters" in the building.

School security and fire experts were quoted as criticizing the supposed safety devices. Why? They are complicated to use under stress. They could lock shooters INTO a classroom with children. Simple door locks that work from the inside have never been breached by shooters. Blockading doors with desks is a simpler, easier tactic. The National Association of Fire Marshals said a study following the Sandy Hook massacre weighed against such door-locking devices.

An Ohio building codes board called the devices "unlisted, unlabeled and untested." But action by the Ohio legislature required a change in codes to allow them in Ohio.

Which brings us to Arkansas. An Arkansas company from Conway, Ulockit Security, is among those selling such items. The AP article quoted its leader, former Conway cop Daniel Hogan, as defending the devices — less with response to specific criticism than with an appeal to primal fear. He's quoted as saying a "different evil" requires extra protection, though a security training organization in Ohio told AP that buying a lock device was analogous to buying fire extinguishers that building staff doesn't know how to use.

Fear sells. Nobody knows that better than people in Conway. That's the home of Republican Sen. Jason Rapert, whose multiple armaments and social media threat to use them against even people who ask impolite questions gives some indication of the trepidation with which he faces daily life. There's also the Faulkner County Quorum Court, moving toward allowing county employees to carrying concealed weapons into courthouses and other county buildings.

I don't bring up Rapert by chance. Rapert is an owner of Hogan's company. So is Ted Thomas, now chairman of the Public Service Commission, but also a former Republican lawmaker who worked for a time in the prosecutor's office in Conway. So is Randy Higgins, a Republican member of the Faulkner County Quorum Court.

The political ties are relevant because it took an act of the legislature, lobbied for by Hogan, to allow the sale of Ulockit and similar devices in Arkansas schools. The fire code had to be changed. And since that law passed, schools in Booneville and Osceola have signed on with Ulockit.

State Fire Marshal Lindsey Williams objected to the bill to change the state fire code to allow such devices in Arkansas.

Williams said the devices were not easy to disengage, particularly in a panic, and could be a safety hazard in fires in buildings without sprinklers (most schools) if children were locked in during a fire. The device sold by Rapert's company is mounted on a door frame. The drilling can affect the door's fire rating. It requires two hands to squeeze small release latches and then to push up the lock panel to open a door latch. It would be hard for a small child.

The Rapert-Thomas-Higgins company was said during the legislative debate to sell its lock for $120 per door. There are a lot of doors in Arkansas's hundreds of schools — $10,000 worth at Osceola, for example.

Rapert said it wasn't a special interest bill because it opened the state to sales by many makers of door-blocking devices, not just his. He did abstain from voting.

Fear sells, particularly when paired with children. The vote in the Senate was 33-0. The House vote was 76-4.

Feel safer? If you owned the company, you might at least feel a little richer.

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