Beneath the pencils and notebooks on some back-to-school shopping lists is an item that encapsulates the angst felt across the country following another round of mass shootings: bulletproof backpacks.
The backpacks, advertised as bulletproof or bullet-resistant, have cropped up on the websites of well-known retailers such as Kmart, Home Depot and Bed, Bath & Beyond just in time to catch the attention of parents scouring the internet for back-to-school deals.
Manufacturers say these backpacks exist simply to protect children in the case of an emergency. But critics call out makers and retailers for selling a product that they say fails to solve the underlying issues of school violence.
“A bulletproof backpack is a product that should not exist,” said Megan Coleman, a volunteer with the Pennsylvania Chapter of Moms Demand Action, a nationwide gun violence prevention organization created following a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.
Coleman, a Lancaster resident, said the best way to keep children safe in schools “is with policies that intervene before gun violence can happen.”
Preventing the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun is a better way to combat violence, she said.
But enacting such policies, Kevon Cumberbatch told LNP, takes time — time that kids in an active shooter situation don’t have.
‘Let’s come up with a solution’
Cumberbatch and his wife, Jerrian, are veteran police officers from Middletown, Delaware. They founded Krhino, which sells bulletproof backpacks for about $150 online, in 2017.
They have three children, two of whom are school-aged. Cumberbatch said the company was created for them.
“As a parent, it scares you to death,” he said of the possibility of a school shooting. “As a police officer, it also scares you to death. But the police officer side makes me say, ‘Let’s come up with a solution.’ ”
At first, the couple put their own ballistic vests in their children’s backpacks. Then they took it a step further.
The company’s bulletproof backpacks are tested to withstand bullets from a 9 mm to a .44 magnum. Its website features videos of Cumberbatch shooting the backpack, which the bullet fails to penetrate.
The backpacks, Cumberbatch said, look and feel like regular backpacks.
“We did not want kids walking out of the house looking like they were going for a SWAT hit,” he said.
‘Nothing is bulletproof’
Still, local law enforcement officials warn parents to be wary if shopping for a so-called bulletproof backpack.
“Nothing is bulletproof,” Lt. Bill Hickey of the Lancaster Bureau of Police, told LNP.
Hickey oversees five of the six school resource officers at School District of Lancaster. The sixth works with Manheim Township police.
Schools in Lancaster County, he said, are taking school safety and security seriously. Many have added secure entryways, hired additional law enforcement and upped their preparation in case of emergencies.
Lancaster, for example, has adopted a training model known as ALICE — alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate — as an attempt to curtail an active shooter situation.
Hickey, though, said he understands why parents might be interested in a bulletproof backpack. And, in the end, it just might be enough to save a life.
“It could give you a momentary advantage,” he said. “Sometimes that momentary advantage could be all you need.”