In the wake of last weekend’s shootings, and with the back-to-school season looming, a unique item is selling out fast: bulletproof backpacks. Parents across the US are spending millions on the pint-sized ballistic equipment to try to protect their children from future active shooters.
Since 2016, companies like Guard Dog Security, Bullet Blocker, and TuffyPacks have seen a huge spike in sales, especially during the late summer and in the aftermath of mass shootings. These companies sell other bulletproof equipment, but their consistently best-selling product is their redesign of the humble book-bag into a knapsack that doubles as a shield against gunfire.
The product is a response to the widespread fear among parents of school-age children that their kid will be caught in the next mass shooting — and it’s a profitable fear. Sales at Bullet Blocker have increased 200% since last weekend’s mass shootings, founder Joe Curran told CNN.
Curran founded Bullet Blocker 12 years ago after the Virginia Tech shooting with the goal of protecting his two school-aged children. He started by inserting body armor into their backpacks, and when classmates’ parents began asking for the same, a business was born.
Prices for the JanSport or High Sierra backpacks, retrofitted with ballistic bullet-resistant panels, range from $160 to $490. According to the company’s website, they’re a “consumer favorite.” The smallest bag, called the “Junior Pack,” is suggested for preschoolers.
“It’s a real morbid niche,” TuffyPacks founder Steve Naremore told The Huffington Post. “Our demographic [is] parents with kids.” Naremore says about 95% of the company’s customers are parents and grandparents buying the products for their children — and he “always [sees] spikes in sales in the days or weeks after shootings.”
“What we’re finding is, sometimes, events trigger heightened awareness of the product,” Yasir Sheikh, president of Guard Dog Security, told CNN. Guard Dog backpacks can be found in Office Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond for $119.99 to $299.99, and are advertised as offering Level IIA protection — tested to withstand 9-mm, .44 magnum, and shotgun ammunition, but not the rifle or assault weapon gunfire witnessed in most mass shootings.
According to Sheikh, there was a significant rise in demand after the Parkland, Florida school shooting last year. “When I was in school, there was no such thing as active shooter drills,” he said. “But times have changed.” Sheikh admits the existence of a bulletproof backpack forces parents to confront an “uncomfortable reality” — but his company and several others are making a serious profit off that discomfort.
“The primary goal was to make it lightweight for schoolchildren,” Sheikh told the Huffington Post, referring to Guard Dog Security’s newest design, sold at Walmart and Home Depot in teal and hot pink. The $99 backpack weighs 20 ounces, about as much as a water bottle, and has “already sold out a few times this year,” Sheikh noted.
“This is pure marketing to exploit fear,” Rutgers University professor Matthew J. Mayer told the Huffington Post. Mayer’s research focuses on school violence prevention, and he reminds parents that there is “no evidence that these things work… they’re giving kids and their parents a false sense of security.”
Besides the fact that although virtually every bulletproof backpack on the market does not guard against the military-style weapons, no ballistic item (including backpacks) has been certified by the National Institute of Justice, which must test all body armor used by law enforcement officials.
These realities, coupled with the very low chances that a child could ready their pack at exactly the right moment and in precisely the right position to defend themselves against a weapon, make the products unlikely to make a difference in the event of an active shooting.
All of this considered, it seems that TuffyPacks and its competitors are selling something other than just school supplies — they’re marketing comfort. Librarian and mother Raquel Donahue told CNN, “It’s not a guarantee, but it’s some measure we can take to feel just a little bit better about sticking [our son] on that school bus every day.”
Truck driver and father John Drury gave the Huffington Post a similar defense, stating, “These are scary times. But this backpack — well, it brings me a little peace of mind.”