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Parents Turn To Bulletproof Backpack Panels For Peace Of Mind

As more parents are looking for ways to protect their children while they’re at school, some are resorting to putting bulletproof panels into their children’s backpacks. A North Carolina-based company is one of many manufacturers of these panels and it has seen an uptick in sales following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people in February.

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Credit Jessa O'Connor/ WFAE
Frank Stewart, CEO of Premiere Body Armor, removes a bulletproof panel from his personal backpack.

Frank Stewart is the CEO of Premiere Body Armor in Kings Mountain, North Carolina – a company that manufactures bulletproof protective gear for law enforcement. He has started selling bulletproof backpack panels to civilians.

“We didn’t get in business to sell backpack panels to kids, to students,” Stewart said. “This happened to be something that took a life of its own.”

Stewart started manufacturing the panels a year ago for policemen to carry off duty. Shortly after, they started buying them for their kids’ backpacks.

When the mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people on Valentine’s Day, demand for the panel increased. Stewart said he sold at least 300 panels in the month of February alone and he said parents are putting the panel in their kids’ backpacks to protect them from active shooters.

“If you have this panel in your backpack and you get shot, the chances of you surviving increase exponentially,” Stewart said. 

The panels: The level of protection and what they're made of

The panels are less than a quarter inch thick and are made out of Kevlar – the same material in bulletproof vests for law enforcement. According to Stewart, the panel is graded a level IIIA – meaning it protects the wearer against bullets from handguns up to a .44 magnum. ­­­They come in a variety of shapes and sizes – and range in price from about $150 to $174.

The panel is not certified by the National Institute of Justice – which is a division of the Department of Justice that tests protection gear for law enforcement. The NIJ said in a statement last month that it has never tested nor certified bulletproof backpacks or panels – it has only approved body armor for law enforcement.

The panel also doesn’t protect against high powered rifles, like an AR-15 – the weapon used in the last three deadly mass shootings. Stewart also manufactures a steel-plated panel that he said would protect from high capacity weapons, but he doesn’t market them as backpack panels.

“It’s seven pounds,” Stewart said. “It’s heavy.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqNv6qpmTzY#action=share

Stewart demonstrated the effectiveness of the Kevlar backpack panel in person at his personal shooting range. He had a friend shoot the panel with­­­ a 9 millimeter handgun from 15 feet away. The bullets perforated the front of the panel, but there was no damage on the back of the panel. When Stewart cut the panel open, he revealed 12 layers of Kevlar inside. The bullets only penetrated the first five layers – leaving the last seven completely untouched. 

Other companies are also seeing an increase in sales

Premiere Body Armor isn’t the only company that has seen an uptick in sales. ShotStop Ballistics, based in Ohio, sells an array of personal protective gear – including bulletproof backpack panels.  

Matt White, the marketing director for Shotstop Ballistics, said he has been “bombarded” by customers interested in buying his product since the Parkland shooting.

“I would say it was probably a 150 to 200 percent increase to what we had sold prior to that, within the last 30 days or so,” White said.

White said customers are constantly asking for gear to protect their children from high capacity weapons, and ShotStop Ballistics is trying to meet that demand with a new type of panel.

“[The new panel will] weigh just over two pounds and will be of rifle protection,” White said. “It will protect from the AR-15s, the AK-47s, and some others.”

He said the panel will be made out of Duritium – ShotStop Ballistics’ patented material that’s similar to Kevlar. The company is working to roll out the new product in the next few months.

Rock Hill store owner pushes panels to worried parents

Tina Nichols is the owner of Nichols Store in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Her store distributes Premiere Body Armor products. The store mainly sells body armor to local law enforcement, but Nichols herself began pushing the Kevlar backpack panels to civilians at the be­­­­ginning of this year.

She, too, said she’s seen a dramatic uptick in sales since the Parkland shooting. She said she has had anxious parents come from all over to get a panel.

“We’ve had someone drive 130 miles and bring his wife – who is a teacher – and his children, with their backpacks to properly fit them,” Nichols said.

She said she pushes the panels to parents who come into the store. Nichols is a mother herself and, with tears in her voice, said she understands the fear parents now go through when they send their children to school.

Excuse me if I get upset, but you never want your child to get involved in anything like that,” Nichols said. “It’s not 100 percent proof, but it could get them to the hospital to have a chance to live.”

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Credit Tina Nichols
Tina Nichols' daughter, Taylor, wearing a backpack with a bulletproof panel inside.

She put a panel in her youngest daughter Taylor’s backpack. Taylor is in the sixth grade and has been trained on how to use the panel to defend herself.

“[Taylor] is trained in active shooting situations to run, hide, fight,” Nichols said. “So if she’s running, this goes on her back. If she’s having to face it or fight it, it goes on her front to protect her major organs there.”

What's driving parents to put the panels in their kids' backpacks?

George Ake is a psychologist and associate professor at Duke University who specializes in child trauma. Ake said he doesn’t know exactly what’s driving parents to buy these backpacks.

“My best guess is it is an attempt to really think about what do they have control of and how can they increase the likelihood that children will be safe when they go to school,” Ake said.

Tami Lawson, a mother from Cherryville, North Carolina, said that feeling of control is her reason. Lawson’s son is in sixth grade and she put a panel in his backpack.

“It makes me feel just a little bit better to know that he has at least some type of protection,” Lawson said.

Lawson said she knows the panel doesn’t protect from an AR-15. When asked if that in any way deterred her from purchasing the panel, she said no.

“Honestly, I feel like I’m okay if it helps with anything at all,” Lawson said. “I can only shield him with God and the few things I send him to school with.”

Lawson said to her, protection is protection.