Keeping Your Kids Safe: Putting bulletproof backpacks to the test

MADISON, Ala. - As school safety remains top of mind, WHNT News 19 is putting ballistic products marketed for children to the test.

We bought two products: the BulletBlocker Clear backpack which has a ballistic insert included, and the Leatherback Gear Armored Panel, which is designed to fit into any backpack or act as reinforcement for other armored bags.

Last month, a second-grader brought a loaded handgun to a Huntsville elementary school and it sparked community-wide conversations about safety. Many parents have suggested that the district create a clear backpack policy.

Meanwhile, concern after school shootings around the nation is being credited with bulletproof backpacks' skyrocketing popularity. They are marketed as protection children can wear.

We brought the products we bought to Cameron Bucy, Director of Security Defense Solutions and certified personal protection specialist.  We met at Last Resort Guns, Madison's only indoor firing range, for range time.

Bucy is an expert in personal protection, having worked with guns for nearly 35 years.

“We do executive protection work, we design protocols and response for active shooter, for businesses and churches," Bucy said of his business. "We provide close personal protection for CEO's, managers, stalking cases, divorce cases. We offer a variety of training classes for firearms, self-defense, be it rifle, shotgun or otherwise. That’s our core part of our business.”

He helped us test these products against multiple calibers of ammunition in a safe, and controlled, environment. Bucy set up a mannequin to hold the backpack up in a position like it would be worn. We placed books and a small laptop inside. Bucy also put a bag of cooked rice between the mannequin and the backpack to see if a bullet could penetrate it behind the bag.

The BulletBlocker backpack

We began with the clear backpack, which retailed for $175.00.  It is advertised to stop "a 357 Magnum, 44 Magnum, 9mm, .45 caliber hollow point ammunition and more."

Bucy started with a handgun and some 9 mm rounds. As expected, the bullet did not penetrate the back panel of the backpack.

But Bucy already noticed some damage behind the backpack.

He said it simulates something many people don't think about: "that body still took a shot, still took the impact of the hit of the bullet. That can collapse a lung, it can crack a rib, it can even stop the heart."

The BulletBlocker did its job, though, so he moves on to a .45. The BulletBlocker still held the bullet, but the rice showed a deeper cavity wound where the impact was felt.

"It's doing its job of stopping the bullet," Bucy observed.

He tries a .40 hollow point round next, aiming lower to see what happens when the bullet comes in contact with the items we placed inside the pack.

"It did not exit the computer," he noted, digging some other rounds out of the inside of some books that were also in the bag. "This was not even a hard-cover book, and usually kids will have 2 or three of them."

Bucy said books, by his observation, can be considered protection that is equal to the BulletBlocker itself.

"The books are given. For the money- it's ok. The backpack is doing its job, but understand it's also covering a small portion of the body. The head is still exposed, the shoulders, the arms, the legs."

We moved on to the shotgun, a very powerful firearm that is popular for many hunters.

As we watched, Bucy fired not just a slug, but also buckshot. We watched as the mannequin tumbled to the ground as it took the shot.

"This is what a shotgun can do. You see it completely knocked it off the stand. The pack is completely compromised," Bucy explained. He pulled the bullet from the pack, where it penetrated deeply into the mannequin.  He said the impression it left proves the BulletBlocker took the shot, but may not be able to save the wearer from real harm.

"Is it a false sense of security? Maybe, maybe not. But it definitely took a hit," Bucy said.

The Leatherback Gear Armored Panel

But how will our second product, the armored panel, do? The Leatherback Gear version is $109.99 online.

The Leatherback Gear website said the panel will "protect the wearer against nearly all handgun rounds up to .44 magnum, including 9mm submachine gun rounds."

The panel slides into an old backpack we brought to use with it. Instead of rice, this time we use a cantaloupe to simulate impact.

After the 9 millimeter and the .45 caliber rounds, Bucy notes, "Cantaloupe is intact." He adds of the product, "This one is faring better than the other one I think, on impact.

"Is this a scientific test? No, not necessarily.  We are just getting an idea of what the impact is doing. It's not fracturing the cantaloupe. We can often use watermelons too," Bucy explained.

Overall with our testing, Bucy seemed more impressed with the way this armored panel held up during our demonstration, noting it felt more robust when you held it compared to the BulletBlocker's removable panel.

Where is the limit?

We tried these products with mostly handguns, but we wanted to see if there was a limit to the bullet-stopping ability they advertised.

To be thorough, Bucy brought out his AR-15 with .223. In both products, the rifle round went completely through the panel and out the other side.

"There's a pass-through right there," Bucy noted on one of the panels.

But this is not a surprise to him.

"You've got 5 shots that went all the way through the pack. Which is expected. This thing was not designed to stop a rifle round," he said.

The Assessment

After our time out on the range, we talked with Bucy about his takeaways from the demonstration with each item.

His assessment is that the panels are effective for what the companies say they will do, but they might not be worth the cost.

"We are basically covering up less than 25 % of the body. So that’s good, it protects the one small part of the body," he said.  "But there again, are you going to have it on your back or on your front, it’s relative based on the situation. So it’s better than nothing, but it by no means is it a cure-all for everything?"

He said at the end of the day, the panel and the pack each performed up to par.

"It’s not a bad product. They both performed well for what they were intended for. They both did what they advertised. For what they stopped, they did very well. None of them ever advertised that they would stop a rifle round, and that’s to be expected. There's very few panels out there that you can buy that’s going to do that," he stated.

Bucy said he wanted to work on the story with us to clear up some misconceptions about what happens when a person is shot.

“There’s a lot of bad information out there, and some has been brought on by movies and Hollywood, that if you’ve got this bullet resistant or bulletproof material on you’re going to be just fine," he stated. "That you can get hit, move on, like nothing ever happened. And that’s just not the case."

Bucy said our test shows that there is still an impact that the wearer can feel, even if a product can stop a bullet.

“Yes, the vest or material stopped the bullet. But there was definitely trauma or impact to the body," Bucy noted. "That impact could have killed you, it could have caused severe harm, or disabled you to the point you couldn’t move. So, I guess the biggest thing is, don’t walk away if you buy these that if you get shot, 100% you’re going to survive or have no injury. That’s not the case. You’re going to most likely have injury, but to what level or degree that’s to be determined."

He said some common products at home could provide you or your child with equal or better protection inside a backpack.

"I also think we found that the books fared as well as the actual panels did," he shared.

Bucy also questions the message you are sending to a child who knows their backpack can shield them from gunfire.

"I guess you need to look at the impact mainly to your child," he said. “I know personally, my son would feel like, 'Well, now something’s going to happen because you are sending me to school with this.' We send out officers every day with bulletproof vests because of the work they are involved in. Well, if we are sending our kids to school with bulletproof or bullet-resistant backpacks, what are we telling them? 'Count on being shot at at some point?' That’s not a good message I want to send to my child."

The Importance of Education

Bucy's biggest point is that education in safety measures can save lives and is worth teaching your child.

Schools are doing a very good job in this," he said, noting various school systems' hotlines and resource officers who roam the grounds. “Don’t be afraid to call. As they say, 'See something, say something.' Don’t be scared to be the snitch. I don’t believe in snitches, I believe in information. And that can save somebody’s life," he said.

Bucy believes that the money a parent spends on the backpack or panel could be spent on a class.

"Not a firearms class, but an education class," he said. "We offer education, we offer seminars. Other companies do as well."