In the wake of failed gun control legislation, bulletproof backpacks marketed for children, have emerged as an alternative talking point in the gun debate and most importantly, as a wildly in-demand product. Companies like Elite Sterling Security, LLC, Amendment II, BulletBlocker, and BulletProofMe have scored considerable profits this year, with customers ranging from parents to schools and daycare facilities. Boston based BulletBlocker reported increased sales of up to 500% following the Sandy Hook tragedy and just last month, Elite Sterling recorded 2000 families on the waiting list for MC Kids Ballistic backpacks. This and news that Elite Sterling is aiming to export more backpacks from its Colombian distributor, the eponymously named Miguel Caballero, is a distressing sign of times where fear is boundless and bankable.
Miguel Caballero, based in Bogotá, prides itself on being both fashion-forward and bulletproof with its patrons coming from high society and those of us wanting to at least look suave when we're shot at. Around 300 backpacks have been sold in metropolitan Denver through Elite Sterling and according to the Washington Post, "Elite Sterling is now trying to interest school districts in that area — where memories of the Columbine school shooting and the massacre at the Aurora movie theater are fresh — to buy Caballero's bright-red safety vests. Those would be bought in bulk and stored in classrooms until 'a ballistics emergency,' as Caballero puts it." Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence in Washington, astutely notes that it's a "a complete indictment for our gun policy that we'd put bulletproof clothing on our children instead of stopping the bullets in the first place. Another troubling aspect of bulletproof products is that the technology is marketed as a panacea to all school shooting scenarios. The reality is, that while these companies claim to sell "peace of mind," they fail to mention the limitations of the material used, notably that it cannot stop high velocity rounds (such as those used in Sandy Hook Elementary) or shootings at close range.
Beyond the debate about the quality of the product, the most egregious thing these companies are doing is stoking terror about the probabilities of mass shootings. By clouding the public's emotional landscape with violent, charged buzzwords, these groups succeed in preventing people from viewing events in perspective. Data from the 2004 joint U.S. Department of Education/Secret Service report shows how few children are likely to be shot at school. "To put the problem of targeted school-based attacks in context, from 1993 to 1997, the odds that a child in grades 9-12 would be threatened or injured with a weapon in school were 7 to 8%, or 1 in 13 or 14; the odds of getting into a physical fight at school were 15%, or 1 in 7. In contrast, the odds that a child would die in school–by homicide or suicide–are, fortunately, no greater than 1 in 1 million."
We must say no to this unadulterated fearmongering. The world is dangerous, but also endlessly beautiful; it's in no need of nerfing and bulletproofing of every corner. Like the gun culture, this "bulletproof" fear culture aims to rake in big profits. Without fear, these manufacturers wouldn't be enjoying this success. When children are free of the fear we transport to them, whether through idiotic products or our words, then and only then are they truly bulletproof.