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Bullet Resistant Backpacks Won’t Save Kids. An Assault Weapons Ban Could.

After the El Paso and Dayton shootings, some bullet resistant backpack companies saw sales spikes of 300 percent.

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In the week following the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, where more than 30 people died, the sale of bullet-resistant backpacks and backpack inserts has skyrocketed. Last week alone saw a 300 percent surge in sales. These backpacks and panels are sold in a variety of sizes and claim to stop bullets from handguns. Bullet Blocker, one brand of bullet-resistant backpacks, even sells a “junior size” backpack that is outfitted to fit preschoolers. 

The spike in sales is not unusual. After the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people died in six minutes, Guard Dog Security, a brand that was founded after the 2013 Sandy Hook shooting, also saw a similar uptick in sales. Bullet Blocker has seen a 200 percent surge in overall sales over the past several years, suggesting a long-term, not just reactionary, interest in protecting school-aged children. 

In an interview with CNN, bulletproof backpack brand Tuffy Packs, acknowledged the spike in sales after mass shooting events. That same company received criticism after they had to pull backpacks that were covered in Disney princesses — like Cinderella and Belle — without Disney’s authorization. 

There are more than a dozen bullet-resistant backpack companies, some which market their backpacks as altogether bulletproof: ArmorMe, Tuffy Packs, Guard Dog Security, and Bullet Blocker are just a few that have cropped up in the past decade and change in the wake of mass school shootings.

The problem, however, is that the backpacks themselves may not actually do much to keep kids safe. In fact, most “bullet-resistant” — key word being resistant — backpacks or backpack panels, which can cost upwards of $500, are only resistant to bullets from handguns, not those that come from assault rifles, which are commonly used in mass shootings. 

The most recent shootings would not have been even remotely thwarted by backpack panels. The El Paso shooter used an AK-47 style rifle and the Dayton, Ohio shooter used an AR-15 style pistol that was retrofitted and converted into a rifle. The same goes for school shootings. The Parkland shooter used an AR-15; the Sandy Hook shooter used a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle and a Glock handgun. 

Even Guard Dog, which ensures customers its backpacks have Level IIIA standard protection as established by the National Institute of Justice, is being somewhat misleading to its customers. While that classification is strong enough to “repel most handgun bullets,” the backpacks have never been tested by the NIJ. The NIJ only tests standards for body armor for law enforcement, but Guard Dog claims the backpacks meet this security standard.

Indeed, while most mass shootings are perpetrated by those with assault weapons, it’s clear that backpacks with bullet proof or resistant lining are nothing more than a high-priced placebo that offers peace of mind. 

The availability of these backpacks says a lot about the state of affairs in our country. However, there could be something that would help kids more than a $500 bulletproof school supply: reinstating the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The 10-year-ban expired on September 13, 2004. For the 10-years it was enacted, the bill prohibited the manufacture of semi-automatic weapons that were defined as assault weapons and ammunition magazines that were defined as “large capacity” for civilian use.

During the ten year period the law was in place, mass-shooting fatalities were 70 percent less likely during that period. A 2015 study showed that after the ban expired in 2004, mass shootings and fatalities from them were on the increase again. An assault weapons ban was in place in the past, and it can be again.

A backpack isn’t going to do anything. Reinstating the assault weapons ban? Passing the universal background check bill that has been sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk since February of 2019? These will help.  

Instead of giving kids bullet resistant rain coats, backpacks, binders, and folders (all of which are products that exist), instead of giving teachers bullet resistant classroom doors, we need to make guns harder to obtain. Until that happens, nothing will truly stop the bullets.