A discussion about a recent news story led criminal justice students at Missouri Southern State University to consider the practicality of using canned goods as a defense against an active shooter, while gathering more than 200 cans of food to donate to a Joplin food bank.

Illustration/Curtis Almeter

Illustration/Curtis Almeter

After reading about officials at a middle school in Alabama who sent home a letter to parents asking them to send their children to school with canned goods that could be used to attack an intruder, J.J. Spurlin decided to make it a discussion topic for students in his Asset Protection and Intro to Criminal Justice classes.

“It was a comical story … one of a principal gone rogue, and we had a bit of a laugh about it,” said Spurlin. “Most of us thought it was funny. But as we discussed it, we had the strange epiphany that something is better than nothing.”

Like many schools and organizations, Missouri Southern works to train students in the ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate) strategy of defense against an active shooter. Countering typically focuses on creating a distraction for the shooter that allows for escape; in a worst-case scenario, it’s about individuals defending themselves by any available means in order to survive.

Spurlin said that his students were challenged to bring in three cans of food for extra credit, and spent a class period discussing the pros and cons of using them in the event of an armed intruder entering the classroom.

“Obviously, I’m not 100-percent endorsing having kids with cans in the classroom, or that some of us wouldn’t advocate for having guns in the classroom,” he said. “But if it’s done as a distraction and a defense, being pelted by 25 to 30 cans of produce could make a difference.

“Something is, in fact, better than nothing, and canned pineapple will leave a heck of a mark.”

The canned goods brought by the students were donated to Crosslines Churches of the Joplin Area, which operates an emergency food program to support an average of 750 area families per month.