With the constant stream of mass shootings in the headlines, it’s hard not to feel like you’d be doing your child a potentially fatal disservice by not buying them a bulletproof backpack. These macabre products have been on the market since the Sandy Hook shooting but have seen a recent spike in popularity. Fear is a powerful motivator. One company told CNBC that they have seen 200% growth in sales over the past for years, despite the fact that no backpack on the market has been certified or tested by the federal government — and none of them have the capacity to protect against assault rifles.
That, in and of itself, should discourage you from buying a bulletproof backpack for your child. But let’s also do some simple math to emphasize how bulletproof backpack sales actually could set us back in our effort to make schools safe again. The fear is understandable, and that’s why parents and children are inevitably going to be drawn to the idea of having a bulletproof backpack.
First, consider the ArmorMe bulletproof backpack, designed by Gabi Siboni. Siboni insisted to the New York Times that he was not capitalizing on the fear of violence and that his company, like many other bulletproof backpack companies, was simply “responding to a need.” On Amazon, his product’s description reads like some dark satire. “The ArmorMe backpack offers the peace-of-mind you’ve been waiting for. Sure, it looks and feels like a regular eco-friendly canvas backpack – so your child will fit right in with his or her friends.” I mean, it has the ArmorMe logo visibly plastered across it, but yeah other than that your child won’t be ostracized by your decision to buy them a bulletproof backpack so that you can send them off to school with a smile.
Let’s say you’re just following the example that other parents are setting. Maybe every student will have a bulletproof backpack in your kid’s school. Based on some government figures, the average middle school or high school has over 500 students. In that case, if every student were outfitted with an ArmorMe backpack, it would mean that families have altogether invested at least $100,000 in safety measures that haven’t even been proven to work by federal regulators. What if 10 schools in that same school district also did the same? Imagine the real impact that collective spending like that could have on gun reform efforts for just a single community, perhaps to fund the election of an official who will truly fight for children’s lives.
Or, combine that money at the state and federal level and do even bigger things with it. $1 million for one single school district is seriously a lot of money, relative to the money that the federal government has invested in gun safety. A study released earlier this year found that between 2004 and 2014, the government spent a paltry $20 million to research ways to reduce gun violence. That’s the equivalent of 100,000 bulletproof backpack sales, except that the spending would benefit everybody with proven, long-term gun safety measures. If those numbers seem a little abstract to take in, think about it this way: Only 1 in every 500 school-aged children — just a single child in an average school — would need to buy a backpack to match this amount of federal spending.
There’s also an economic disparity here that is worth mentioning. Assuming a bulletproof bag actually can save lives — and that is the assumption that the bag is indeed bulletproof against the type of bullet that is being used, that the backpack being worn or is within reach at all times, that it doesn’t hinder a child from taking cover or escaping from a gunman — the $200 price tag will likely preclude low-income families from having access to this modicum of safety. That means that children from low-income families will be more likely to be killed than their more affluent classmates, and there’s something really icky about this scenario.
I know that these figures are all hypothetical, but it doesn’t take a mathematician to see that no matter how you look at it, buying a bulletproof backpack doesn’t actually address gun violence and even ends up leaving a lot of other kids behind. Spend your time, money, and energy elsewhere if you really want to keep your kids safe.