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It could happen at any time, Rushil Khadilkar knows. Even as he closed out his senior year at Wayzata High School, Khadilkar thought about the possibility that someone might enter his school with a gun and start shooting.

"It's always in the back of my mind — oh, man, is this going to happen in the last week of school?" Khadilkar said.

The fear isn't unrealistic, and it's shared by students across the country. After all, in 2023 there were at least 348 school shootings, a record high, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database. Last year's shootings caused 241 casualties on school property, and more than half that many casualties have already been recorded this year.

So Khadilkar and six other students wanted to invent a system to keep people with guns from entering school buildings — without putting restrictions on gun ownership that could upset Second Amendment advocates.

The system they came up with, which they named Vigilance Safety, would make use of radio frequency Identification (RFID) technology, a wireless system that can respond to the proximity of a particular tag. Tags would be distributed at police stations and government buildings, and gun owners would be encouraged (though not required) to have them affixed to their weapons.

If someone approaches a school building carrying a gun that's been tagged, the system would trigger a school lockdown and alert law enforcement, thwarting a potential threat before any bullets are fired.

"Over the past two years, we've turned this into a nonprofit with a solution that we believe can actually work," said Anuj Kakkad, one of the seven co-founders.

Vigilance Safety team members Carlee Freeman, May Zeroni and Alex Freeman at 2023's J.J. Hill Days. 'Our goal is to get this in every school across the nation,' said team member Anuj Kakkad.
Vigilance Safety team members Carlee Freeman, May Zeroni and Alex Freeman at 2023's J.J. Hill Days. 'Our goal is to get this in every school across the nation,' said team member Anuj Kakkad.


The students conceived of the idea for a competition held by Destination Imagination, a worldwide school program in which groups of students tackle community challenges. In 2022, Vigilance Safety won first place at the organization's local, national and global levels.

Ironically and tragically, even as their team was accepting the award, news broke about a mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed and 17 others injured.

The Vigilance Safety students have become "pretty well known throughout the Destination Imagination community," said Pamela Schroeder, affiliate director of Destination Imagination Minnesota. "It's such a wonderful message to all students that you really can do anything you put your mind to."

The team has worked on solutions to challenges, both technical — what might interfere with an accurate signal? — and social — would gun owners agree to tag their weapons?

Each team member focuses on their strengths, whether pitching and presenting, business and financial or technology, Kakkad said.

With pro-bono help from a Minneapolis law firm, Vigilance Safety became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, patent pending. The project was one of 25 winners of Prudential Financial's 2024 Emerging Visionary Awards, which came with a $5,000 prize. The team has raised an additional $7,000 from donors. They estimate they'll need $150,000 for prototype development and manufacturing.

"I'm a donor and I believe in these guys," Schroeder said. "They have a devoted following of adults and representatives of various industries who are keenly observant of what they're doing and where they're going."

The systems hope to have a final design within two years, said another co-founder, Neev Zeroni.

"We put a really heavy emphasis on making sure our solution is bulletproof — in the literal and figurative sense of the word."

Erik Fadden, Plymouth's police chief and director of public safety, is enthusiastic about the project, recalling a 2021 shooting in Plymouth Middle School (a sixth-grader with his father's handgun fired multiple shots into the ceiling as students passed in the hall between classes; nobody was hurt).

Early on, the Vigilance Safety team presented their idea to Fadden and other officers.

"Pessimistic veteran officers said, 'This is really good concept, you guys are onto something,'" Fadden said. "This is one of the first ideas I've heard where there's a group that's motivated to continue to do this hard work and not be discouraged by the fact that it's a hard problem to solve."

Another expert the students consulted was Marc Sullivan, an Illinois gunsmith and gun seller.

"The spirit of their work is very, very cool," Sullivan said. "If there's any way that we can give those that serve and protect another tool to do just that, Sullivan here is a fan."

Empathy with gun owners

If you've seen those sensors installed near the doors of retail stores that beep if someone walks past them with stolen goods, you've seen RFID in action. The technology is widely used, including in credit-card chips, car fobs and electronic toll-collection systems like MnPASS. An RFID system has two components, the tag and the reader — the tag sends out a signal, the reader receives it and can respond with a beep, honk, bank-account check or, presumably, a school lockdown and police alert.

In the Vigilance Safety plan, gun owners would voluntarily have tags permanently adhered to their weapons. Schools would install readers to detect any tagged guns that come within a certain distance of the school building, which would automatically lock down the building and alert law enforcement. The reader's frequency would be set to recognize specific tags, so the guns wouldn't set off the shoplifting alarm in a Target store, for instance, and the ATM card in your wallet wouldn't send squad cars screaming up to the school.

You can probably imagine a host of problems that might prevent such a system from working in real life. Wouldn't gun owners, many of whom object to any gun ownership limitations, resist tagging their guns? Couldn't a bad actor simply pry the tag off? The Vigilance Safety team has imagined those problems, too, and worked on solutions.

The students know that many gun owners resist any restrictions on firearms and might fear the tags would be used to track the weapons. The students are sensitive to that perspective.

"That was our main focus at least in the first two years, just making 100% sure that we could understand and empathize with gun owners and from there build a relationship and make a solution that works," Zeroni said.

Their research showed that most guns used in school shootings were taken from a family member, relative or friend. Parents, they figured, would likely buy into the program, fearing school shootings at least as much as students do. But gun rights activists could also be motivated to participate, reasoning that a drop in school shootings could ease some pressure to regulate firearms more strictly.

"That's where I believe that line is between regulation and responsibility," Sullivan said. "I believe in incentivizing somebody to do it rather than mandating it."

The RFID systems would be incapable of identifying the gun owners or tracing the guns beyond the range of the readers.

"That's the piece that gives me comfort that they could successfully market this and get buy-ins from your gun rights folks," Fadden said. "The technology isn't built in a way they can track it. It has to have an actual read, like MnPASS — you have to be in close proximity to a sensor."

The tags would be affixed to guns with a permanent adhesive that creates a chemical bond so impregnable that to remove it "you're going to need to use such force that you're just going to break the gun," Zeroni said.

What might block the RFID signal? Metal, even aluminum foil, can disable an RFID tag, Zeroni said, so they're currently working on ways to shield them.

Other problems might develop, but "if we wait for something that is 100% foolproof, we'll never get there," Sullivan said.

"This is how technology emerges. It starts with an idea. There are a lot of challenges and hiccups and failures that ultimately lead to a new direction; nothing's a success right out of the box."

Fadden agreed. "I think it is such a good idea that it's worth continuing to try to make it work."

Team members will be scattering to various colleges in the fall, but they already have recruited incoming Wayzata High School seniors to take their places. The co-founders will remain on Vigilance Safety's board of directors. They're determined to keep the project going.

"Our goal is to get this in every school across the nation," Kakkad said. "Our goal, closer in the future, would be getting this in five schools … at no cost to the schools. Once we have our solution working and we can show that it works in these schools, that's enough for people to jump on board and say, 'Hey, this has worked in other places, it could work here.'"