According to TMZ, sales of bulletproof backpacks have been skyrocketing in the wake of the massacre in Uvalde, Texas, with some manufacturers reporting up to an 800% increase in sales over the previous month.
But … why?
I can certainly understand that some people (parents in particular) may have some legitimate fears about school shootings. And certainly, a bulletproof backpack is no less meaningless of a salve than, say, requiring students to wear clear backpacks, as some Texas school districts have recently done (because why address the root problem when you can just make high school more miserable and embarrassing?). If you really want to buy a bulletproof backpack under the auspices of protecting your child, then by all means, go for it. I do sincerely hope it brings you comfort. And also that you stop reading here.
A few years back, I used the consumer product research skills honed in my day job to compile some information on leading bulletproof backpack brands. I researched dozens of models, in order to compare their features, as well as any information I could fine on the founders of the company and where they're manufactured. My goal here was to determine what the actual "best" bulletproof backpack would be, if one were to buy a bulletproof backpack. My assumption was that these things were a cash-grab, cynically profiteering off of fear without actually providing any protection — but I also wanted to know if there was one that was possibly worth buying, if a parent so decided it would bring them comfort.
As it turns out, a lot of the top-selling bulletproof backpack brands are just generic Jansport-esque backpacks, bought in wholesale, with ballistic-resistant panels or padding such as Kevlar sown into them. Leading manufacturers often boast that their backpacks achieve certain standards as set forth by the National of Institute of Justice, which has a performance level ranking system for armors used by law enforcement organizations across the country. While the NIJ does offer some formal certifications, it's often easier for manufacturers to independently verify their own claims. They do some target tests, fill out a formal-looking form (because formal-looking forms, like police grammar, make your gun love feel more official and important), and if their target tests match the NIJ standards, they say cool, that's good enough.
But here's the thing: of all the models I researched, the "best" ones only boasted Level IIIA capabilities. This means they're resistant (not –proof) to bullets up to a .44 magnum, a 9mm, or a .357 SIG — all of which are handgun bullets. While the majority of mass shootings — and gun homicides overall — are committed with a handgun, assault rifles remain the weapon of choice in the kinds of public shootings that tend to occur at schools.
In order for a bulletproof backpack to protect against an assault rifle, it would need to achieve at least Level III NIJ standards. After 40 hours of research, I found two bulletproof backpacks that offered anything above IIIA (and plenty that offered even lower protection than that).
The Diamondback Armor Premier Bulletproof Backpack boasts a "III+" bullet resistance level. Though not an official NIJ standard, this supposedly offers some resistance to rifle-size bullets as well as shotgun blasts. Of course, you'll just have to take the manufacturer's word for that — though they claim to be NIJ certified, they don't display the Institute's official seal, and may have just done their own independent target tests. The company itself was founded by a former hand-to-hand combat instructor for the Marine Corps, and is currently run by a former criminal defense attorney, and claims to be "the trusted choice for America's elite law enforcement, government agencies and military operators since 9/11."
Leatherback Gear, which was founded by a former secret service agent, also lets you pay a premium to upgrade their Level IIIA-base model backpacks to Level III or even Level IV protection — though each additional armor level will cost an extra $100. Their backpacks also come with "detachable tourniquets," in case you're feeling really hardcore about this hero shiz. In this case, even the cheapest option will cost you around $400, and definitely look more like actual military tactical gear than the kind of thing that any kid would want to bring to school. That being said, they do fold out so you can have front and back protection, which I guess is nice.
Obviously, there's a use and function for Kevlar armor. On a day-to-day basis, Level IIIA protection is probably more than fine for most security and law enforcement professionals, who are much, much more likely to encounter a handgun (if at all — remember, fewer than 1 out of every two-thousand police officers ever encounters a gun on the job, ever). But the bulletproof backpack industry is, objectively, a scam.
If it brings you some modicum of comfort, though, then hey, it's your money.
Bulletproof backpacks wouldn't have saved anyone in recent shootings [Ben Popken / NBC News]
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