Back-to-school season is here and unfortunately, so are the fears of school shootings. The demand for personal security products for kids has significantly increased due to parents and kids fearing violence.
An average back-to-school supply list contains items such as pencils, erasers and notebooks, but parents are now contemplating adding another item: a bulletproof backpack. “We’ve probably seen around a 200 percent to 300 percent increase since the Parkland shooting this year,” said Joe Curran, founder of BulletBlocker, a company that manufactures items designed to protect students.
“I am considering buying a bulletproof backpack,” says Nancy Landis, the mother of a 15-year-old student in Los Angeles. “It’s scary dropping my daughter off at school now with all the stuff happening. They’re having lockdowns, police officers looking for things. It’s happening so much.”
School shootings have increased in recent years, leaving families terrified of the unknown when children leave for school. In response, major retailers have begun selling bulletproof backpacks or bullet-resistant plates that can be inserted into backpacks. The products are on the shelves of Walmart, Office Depot and Home Depot.
“Bulletproof backpacks have been… most in demand and most inquired about.” says Yasir Sheikh, President of Guard Dog Security. Knowing there is the possibility students might remove bullet-resistant inserts from backpacks, Guard Dog Security only sells bulletproof backpacks with protective material not able to be easily removed.
“Parents are grasping for any type of physical, tangible evidence of increased safety for their children,” says National School Safety and Security Services President Ken Trump. “Shootings are a high-impact but low-probability type of scenario.”
Although the bulletproof backpacks are a great start to further protect children during a school shooting, the products are marketed as “Level 3A” armor protection, a category certified to stop up to a .44 Magnum round but not one from an AR-15, the weapon used in Parkland.
“We hear from concerned parents,” said Curran. “They are looking for some reassurance that they are doing the right thing buying a bulletproof backpack. They know it’s kind of a scary thing to think about.”
More than half of United States students are worried about the possibility of another school shooting. According to a Pew Research Center Survey, 25 percent of teens were “very worried” and 32 percent were “somewhat worried.”
Curran is an Army veteran who worked in law enforcement for 15 years before he established BulletBlocker in 2007. “I got into it because I had two kids in middle school and [the shooting at] Virginia Tech just happened so I was a little freaked out,” he remembers. “I had some old bulletproof vests kicking around and cut them apart and put them in backpacks and told the kids, ‘If a gunman comes in, hold the bag up between you and him and get out of there if you can.'”
Another company, Leatherback Gear, took the bulletproof backpack concept up a notch by selling ones that convert into a bulletproof vest with two built-in armored panels that protect the torso in the front and back. “We want you to run away with front and back protection on and to hide with front and back protection on,” co-founder Brad de Geus said. “You need to survive that average window of five minutes until [law enforcement] get there.”
Pricing for bulletproof backpacks begins at around $130 and goes as high as $400 but some parents think it’s worth the extra money. “It’s not 100 percent, it’s just something to help,” said Landis. “I also know my daughter doesn’t always wear her backpack at school. That said, I still might invest in it just knowing it could make a difference.”