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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The latest back-to-school accessory: Bulletproof backpack sales up after recent mass shootings

This Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019 photo shows bulletproof backpacks that for sale at an Office Depot store in Evanston, Ill.. With the rise of mass shooting, companies like Guard Dog Security, TuffyPacks and Bulletblocker are creating bullet-resistant backpacks for children for the back-to-school shopping season. Many say they’re seeing an increase in sales in their products leading up to the fall, and typically see a spike in sales after a mass shooting. (Teresa Crawford / Associated Press)

Goodbye, Kitty. Hello, Kevlar.

This isn’t your mother’s backpack, or even your older sister’s.

The latest back-to-school accessory is the bulletproof backpack, which may offer more peace of mind than protection.

However, sales have been strong in Spokane and the rest of the nation – especially since the deadly shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

“They have been moving pretty well,” said a clerk at the Office Depot on East Third Avenue in Spokane, which sells two models of the Pro Shield backpack manufactured by Guard Dog Security.

Cost ranges from $180 to $205.

The backpacks also are available at OfficeMax in Spokane and online from Amazon, Home Depot, sports outlets and survivalist stores.

Stores in Spokane have just a handful of the backpacks remaining, according to clerks at Office Depot and OfficeMax.

Sales appear to be even stronger nationally., a Texas company that sells survival gear, said orders surged after the killings in El Paso and Dayton.

“Our baseline is 100 units a month,” company official Roman Zrazhevskiy told the Houston Chronicle. “We sold 300 units just over the last few days.”

The buyers are regular folks, Zrazhevskiy said.

“They’re not survivalists at all,” said Zrazhevskiy, who added that most of his orders come from California, Florida and New York. “They are normal upper-middle-class and upper-class professionals.”

The industry has seemingly grown with each shooting.

In 2007, Joe Curran of Massachusetts, a former sheriff’s deputy, responded to the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech by inserting body armor into his school-age children’s backpacks.

Classmates’ parents wanted them too, and the Bullet Blocker brand grew into a business.

The company’s website calls the bulletproof backpack a “consumer favorite.” Prices range from $160 to $490. Most are JanSport or High Sierra backpacks retrofitted with ballistic panels sewn into the back.

For preschoolers, the company also offers the “Junior Pack.”

At Guard Dog Security, President Yasir Sheikh said the company launched a line of bulletproof backpacks in 2013. And since 2018, they’ve been sold to major retailers like Office Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond.

They’re marketed as “bulletproof” or “bullet-resistant,” depending on the store, but the two are synonymous, Sheikh told CNN this week.

Some are fashioned from Kevlar, which is a strong thread that is densely woven to make a lightweight body armor, said Aaron Westrick, an armor expert with the Ballistic Armor Research Group.

However, safety isn’t absolute. Depending on the size of the child and the backpack, it may protect only about one-quarter of the body – and that’s only if the pack is nearby when the unthinkable happens.

Often, schoolchildren place their backpacks on a wall or in a closet during classtime.

They do offer some protection. For example, the Guard Dog backpacks offer Level IIIA protection, a National Institute of Justice standard that means they were tested to stop 9-mm, .44-magnum and shotgun ammunition.

However, they’re not built to protect against the ammunition of rifles or assault weapons.

“We don’t really test products like that,” a Spokane County Sheriff’s official said Wednesday afternoon.

Also, a Justice Department official told the Houston Chronicle that bulletproof backpacks might not have gone through the same testing as equipment and armor for law enforcement and military.

“The National Institute of Justice – the research, development and evaluation agency of the Department of Justice – has never tested nor certified ballistic items, such as backpacks, blankets or briefcases, other than body armor for law enforcement,” said Kelly Laco, a Justice Department spokesperson.