JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - What lengths would you go to keep your child safe at school?
The Parkland school shooting sparked much debate after the deaths of 17 students. Manufacturers of bulletproof backpacks saw orders surge, some even overwhelmed. Three days after the Florida shooting, Massachusetts-based Bullet Blocker sold 500 backpacks in one day. The company's owner, Joe Curran, said the majority of them were headed to Florida.
But do they work?
"This is the very first one I've seen," Captain Justin Rolland of the Craighead County Sheriff's Department said. "I have heard about them."
KAIT purchased a Bullet Blocker backpack that promises NIJ Level III-A protection.
It's basically protection like what police officers have wearing a vest. We bought this backpack not long after the Parkland shooting.
It cost $230 plus shipping. The manufacturer says it has been tested to stop a .357 magnum, .44 Magnum, a 9 millimeter, and a 45 caliber hollow point ammunition.
"I'm guessing it will provide that much protection as well as it would with a uniformed officer's vest," Captain Rolland said.
Captain Rolland and I put it to the test. I filled a cardboard box with 45 pounds of water--the size of a first grader. We put a book inside the backpack and strapped it to the box.
"We're going to be using a 40 caliber bullet--which is a hollow point," Captain Rolland explained.
"Remember to put this thumb up on the slide," he said as he explained how to hold the handgun. After a little instruction on firing the gun.
"You see this front sight?' Captain Rolland asked.
"Yes and I'm shaking," I said.
"Go ahead whenever you're ready," he answered.
The gun fires.
"Alright let's go look at it," Captain Rolland said.
"I was aiming for this," I said. "And I got right here."
"Ok, it penetrated the first layer which is just fabric," Captain Rolland said. "It penetrated the book. It penetrated the outer lining. It hit the ballistic panel. The panel stopped the bullet."
Now it's back to testing the backpack with another bullet.
"Put your finger inside the trigger guard and remember, slack out, slack out squeeze," Captain Rolland said.
Next up, it's time for the .40 caliber full metal jacket.
"What'd ya hit?" Captain Rolland said.
This time, the backpack does not fall over.
"Penetrated the book, the outer layer, that panel, it captured the full metal jacket round, too," Captain Rolland said analyzing the trajectory of the bullet.
So the backpack stood up to the standards the manufacturer claimed.
But we a handgun has not been the weapon of choice for many school shooters.
"If a suspect is armed with a rifle, then those are rifle rounds that are being fired," Captain Rolland said. "This backpack might not provide the protection necessary."
Now remember this backpack is pretty lightweight, even with a ballistic panel. When officers are called to a scene where rifles are used, they can't rely on just one layer of protection.
"You'll notice that their vests are bulkier, and they've donned on an extra layer of protection with ballistic plates and ballistic carriers," Captain Rolland said. "So they are protected more than just the typical handgun round."
Captain Rolland loaded a magazine of ammunition into an AR-15 platform.
I line up a red dot in the scope and fire.
To put this backpack to the test, I let him take aim first with a hollow point bullet.
Again, he clicks the rifle. It's loaded and ready to go.
The backpack no match for the hollow point.
The bullet travels through the backpack and the water bottles.
"That round expands," Captain Rolland said. "But, it did penetrate the backpack."
The water drained from the box, a reminder of the velocity and damage the firepower can inflict.
"It's huge," I said as I point to a hole blown into the cardboard box.
"So it was no match for that," I said. Captain Rolland agreed.
Now it's time for the full metal jacket round. Captain Rolland fires one shot.
The sheer force not only goes clean through. It explodes several water bottles.
"And it penetrated just like this one did," Captain Rolland said.
"We used water bottles for our simulation today," I explain. "You can only imagine what would happen if this were a child."
"The backpack was never intended to be used that way," Curran explained after our ballistic test with the rifle.
In all fairness, the manufacturer clearly stated which handgun ammunition the ballistic plate in the backpack could absorb.
"As clearly stated on our website and in the literature sent with every product, the backpack is not intended to stop rifle rounds. Expecting it to stop rifle rounds and shooting it with a rifle is rather fatuous knowing the results beforehand," Curran said. "I understand it makes for better news, but the backpack was never intended to be used that way."
Curran also pointed out that studies and statistics regarding Arkansas and violent crime defend his product. A 2016 article from the website "24/7 Wall Street" ranked Arkansas in the top 10 worst states for gun violence. He says with many violent crimes involving handguns; the bulletproof backpack has benefits.
Captain Rolland pointed out that any student carrying the backpack needs to be trained in how to use it. Parent need to show them how to position the ballistic panel over their vital organs.
Unfortunately, there's no way to anticipate where their backpack will be in the event of a shooting. Sometimes students put their backpacks in a locker or leave them in a classroom during lunch.
So, there are a lot of "what if's."
Some families might not be able to afford the $230 price tag. But, Bullet Blocker offers products under $100.
"Bulletproof backpacks may not be the solution, but they are a viable option, as proven by your testing," Curran said.