ATLANTA — While politicians argue on Capitol Hill over how to protect school children, some parents are taking matters into their own hands by sending their kids to school with body armor.
Channel 2 crews visited one facility that makes the bulletproof backpacks and tested to see if they could protect children from the type of attack that happened in Newtown, Conn.
Channel 2 ordered the Bullet Blocker Backpack immediately after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but it took weeks to arrive because of a backlog in orders. It was on sale for $200.
The backpack itself isn't bulletproof, but an insert inside is bullet resistant. It's rated NIJ 3 A, similar to what police officers use in their body armor. The brochure claims it can stop a variety of bullets, mainly handgun and shotgun rounds.
Channel 2 asked former Georgia Bureau of Investigation firearms expert Kelly Fite to test out the backpack using the same methods Bullet Blocker used in its own research.
The backpacks were struck at a firing range with multiple guns, using .357, .45, .22, and 9 mm rounds. The backpack was placed on a mannequin about 16 feet from the table where the weapons were fired.
"We have the bullet entry here, and you can feel the impact on this side, but they did not penetrate," said Fite as he examined the insert.
The backpack was even shot point blank with a 9 mm weapon. The blast took the label off the backpack, but the bullet was lodged securely inside the vest.
But the real test was whether it would hold up against an AR-15, a similar assault rifle to the Bushmaster rifle Adam Lanza used in the Sandy Hook shooting and the M&P 15 used in the recent Colorado movie theater massacre.
The .223-caliber round fired from the AR-15 went through the backpack with ease.
The backpacks are made in a production facility just outside of Boston, Mass. Bullet Blocker CEO Elmar Uy said they started making bulletproof backpacks seven years ago. The company makes a variety of bullet resistant backpacks, briefcases and has recently moved on to other articles of bullet resistant clothing, including a hunting jacket lined with a Kevlar vest.
"For those people that want to offer a layer of security, a layer of protection when they go off to work or send their kids off to school, we offer that option," said Uy.
Before Sandy Hook, the company averaged 10 to 15 items a week. Uy said at the peak of the shooting's aftermath, the company was doing almost 100 per day, but sales have tapered off in the last few weeks.
"Every time there is a shooting, I can always predict that by looking at the numbers, because our numbers just rise," said Uy.
He said the backpack can be used like a shield against an attack, but admits it won't protect against all bullets.
"Rifle, armor-piercing rounds, these backpacks aren't going to stop it. There's nothing out there rated NIJ 3A that will stop rifle rounds. It will stop 99.9 percent of handgun rounds," said Uy.
And that would have been effective in the recent shooting at Price Middle School in Atlanta and the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007. In both cases, only handguns were used.
Uy said his company does offer strike plates that can resist rifle rounds. They're made of thick polyethylene and weigh about as much as a heavy textbook.
Even though Fite was impressed with how the backpack held up against Channel 2's tests, he said he doesn't think it's worth the money.
But for parents on edge over the number of mass shootings across the country, $200 may seem like a bargain for some kind of peace of mind.