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Sales of Bullet-Resistant Backpacks Stir Safety Concerns

Sales of Bullet-Resistant Backpacks Stir Safety Concerns

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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest

Once upon a time long, long ago, youngsters went back to school toting new backpacks with their favorite cartoon characters -- Mickey Mouse, Superman, Wonder Woman, Scooby-Doo, even Alvin and the Chipmunks.

How times have changed.

Just in time for this new school year, some retailers are expecting brisk sales of bullet-resistant backpacks. And there are plenty of them to choose from.

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Companies like Guard Dog Security, TuffyPacks and Bullet Blocker are vying for the dollars of concerned – and worried – parents, writes Associated Press retail writer Anne D’Innocenzio. But, she adds, “critics argue they are using tragedy as a marketing opportunity and exploiting parents' worst fears.”

Parkland, Florida, Shootings Last Year Created Demand for Bullet-Resistant Backpacks

Demand for bullet-resistant backpacks rose after last year's shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, CBS News said. “Stores reportedly sold out of the backpacks, which can run from $100 to $500.”

The mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in early August may have heightened interest in the bags. At least 31 people were slain in those separate attacks.

Some Retailers Refusing to Sell Bullet-Resistant Backpacks

While some teachers, parents and law enforcement officials think bullet-resistant backpacks would save lives, not all retailers are onboard with the idea.

The major retail chains that are selling the reinforced backpacks this year include Office Depot and OfficeMax. But the giant online retailer Amazon is not selling them. A company spokeswoman told D’Innocenzio that Amazon’s policy bans selling body armor and any product that includes bulletproof or ballistic helmets and clothing.

Target told D’Innocenzio that its stores do not sell the backpacks and declined further comment.

"Anyone who sells anything like this will tell you they see a spike after a mass shooting," said TuffyPacks founder and CEO Steve Naremore. TuffyPacks makes ballistic shield inserts for backpacks and other bags, told USA TODAY.

"It's a level of protection, like a fire extinguisher for your home," he said. Naremore estimated that parents account for about 98% of its backpack sales.

Former FBI Special Agent: Bullet-Resistant Backpacks May Not Be Effective

Former FBI special agent Greg Shaffer, an expert in domestic terrorism, pointed out to D’Innocenzio that the majority of active shooters use handguns. In that case, bullet-resistant backpacks could probably stop a bullet.

“Nonetheless, bullet-resistant backpacks may not be effective because children often have to leave their backpacks in cubbies in homeroom,” he added. “So they wouldn't have them with them if there were an active shooter” inside the school. Not many children are shot and killed going and coming to school, he added.

Teachers Union Calls on Walmart to Remove Guns or Face a Boycott

The nation’s largest teachers union criticized Walmart for selling bullet-resistant backpacks along with guns even as the company acknowledged the danger guns pose.

In an August 7 letter to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) wrote: “As our nation continues to grapple with the twin tragedies in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, educators, their students and families are preparing to go back to school. I can’t begin to describe the anxiety they feel — frankly, anxiety you understand all too well, as Walmart is including bulletproof backpacks in its back-to-school merchandise.”

In her letter, Weingarten calls on the company to do its part "to help build a future with fewer guns and safer communities." If Walmart does not act, she said, the union would consider a nationwide boycott of the world’s largest retail chain.

Last week, Walmart pulled displays of violent video games in its stores. But that policy change did not apply to the sale of controversial video games nor to the sale and display of firearms, CNN reported.

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David Hubler David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor at APUS. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies. David has taught high school English in Connecticut and at Northern Virginia Community College. He has a master’s degree for Teachers of English from the University of New Hampshire and a B.A. in English from New York University. In March 2017, Rowman & Littlefield published the paperback edition of David’s latest book, "The Nats and the Grays, How Baseball in the Nation's Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever."