Bulletproof backpack sales rise as school year start
Back-to-school shopping usually means new clothes, shoes and notebooks, but this year, some students will be sporting another new accessory on the first day—bulletproof backpacks.
Over the last six years, 64 people have been killed and 103 injured in 41 school shootings in the United States. Described as bulletproof—or more accurately, bullet-resistant—these backpacks are being sold around the country to parents hoping that the extra measure of protection will save their children in the event of a shooting.
Demand for the backpacks first surged after last year’s tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, but some reports claim sales of the protective backpacks have now risen as much as 300% since the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Although the demand is being driven by worried parents, schools and districts do not require these products.
Jeffrey W. Granatino, superintendent of Marshfield Public Schools in Massachusetts, said he was saddened that students and their families would even think about purchasing bulletproof backpacks.
“Unfortunately, this is a new reality for students and schools across the country,” Granatino told the Boston Herald. “If these backpacks provide an added sense of security for the student, then it’s a good thing.”
Most experts, however, claim that the backpacks, inserts and other items can be ineffective during a real shooting event unless they are used properly.
The leading brands carry a Level IIIA rating, which means they can resist bullets from handguns—the most common weapon used in mass shootings—but they are useless against more powerful weapons, including the AR-15 carbines that were used in the Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and Parkland school tragedies, as well as the El Paso Walmart tragedy that left 22 dead and many more injured.
Protective backpacks—as well as metal detectors and surveillance cameras—are largely ineffective when it comes to preventing violence, says Jagdish Khubchandani, a health science professor at Ball State University in Indiana and co-author of a report called “School Firearm Violence Prevention Practices and Policies: Functional or Folly?”
“To the extent that schools adopt ineffective firearm violence-prevention measures, they are creating a false sense of security,” Khubchandani says.
Khubchandani and other experts argue that backpacks and similar products treat the symptom, but not the underlying disease.
“There are some common-sense things that we talk about, such as making sure that people who are known to be dangerous and unstable do not have access to guns,” says Matthew Mayer, a professor at Rutgers University Graduate School of Education in New Jersey who specializes in studying school violence. “That’s a no-brainer.”
Tim Goral is senior editor.