As children make their way back to the classroom, one item on the back-to-school checklist for some concerned parents are bulletproof backpack inserts for kids. The inserts are meant to shield a student in case a person opens fire on school grounds.

The United States has faced an alarming number of mass shootings this year—nearly 500 to date—and there have been 113 gunfire incidents in schools in 2022, leading to 41 deaths and 82 injuries. In late May, Uvalde, Texas made national headlines when a gunman opened fire in an elementary school, taking the lives of 19 children and two teachers.

Parents want to make sure their kids are safe. Buying a bulletproof backpack is one way parents are taking matters into their own hands. But are they effective? Here’s what you should know if you’re considering buying one for your child this upcoming school year.

What is a bulletproof backpack?

Bulletproof backpack inserts consist of flexible ballistic fiber material that are marketed as similar in protection to someone wearing body armor or a bulletproof vest. Most brands of bulletproof backpacks are categorized as the National Institute of Justice’s Type IIIA, meaning they hold up to bullets from a handgun, including a .44 Magnum. 

Glen Bhimani, CEO and founder of BPS Security, says that a bulletproof backpack insert won’t fully absorb the impact, and it’s likely the child may experience a bruise where the bullet would have hit them. Despite that, they are meant to stop bullets from breaking skin or penetrating a child’s body, saving their life in the process. “They are intended as [a] protection for vital organs, and will either deflect or stop a bullet in its tracks,” he explains. “All in all, I believe they are a solid investment for parents and schools.”

Related: How to talk to kids about active shooter drills at school

How do bulletproof backpack inserts work?

A bulletproof backpack typically comes in two parts: the bookbag and the insert. The insert is placed into the back of the backpack where it stays in place with a zipper, Velcro, or another sealing method. The insert should fit tightly with the bag with little wiggle room. The insert can be easily removed if needed. 

You can also buy the insert separately if you already have a bookbag. However, don’t forget to check that the dimensions of the insert will fit into your child’s backpack. 

Bhimani explains that one appealing feature for parents is that it’s small and a minimally invasive tool for kids to carry around in school. 

Related: Teacher's hockey puck plan for deterring an active shooter goes viral

The insert is intended as a defense, not a weapon. Mother Cassie Walton went viral on TikTok after posting a video of her 5-year-old son showing how to use the bulletproof backpack insert in a shooting drill at home. 

As seen in the video, you would hold the backpack against your chest with arms through the backpack straps. For maximum safety, children should keep their head tucked in the space between their body and the backpack. 

It’s important to note that bulletproof backpacks only work as a defense when a child is wearing one—and ideally on the front of their body. Because backpacks are often corralled in cubbies, you might want to explain to your child that they would need to try to grab their backpack—but only if it’s safe to do so.

Where would someone buy a bulletproof backpack?

You can buy bulletproof backpacks online through Amazon, a bulletproof backpack brand’s site, or shop in-person at these big-box retailers:

  • Walmart
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods
  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Staples
  • Home Depot
  • Office Depot

While there is no price tag for a child’s life, be prepared to pay quite a bit. An insert by itself can cost around $100, and bulletproof backpacks with inserts included may run up to nearly $500. Some popular brands are on the pricier side but are highly rated for their effectiveness at absorbing the impact of a bullet.

“They do work as long as you don't skimp and buy the cheapest product on the market,” says Bhimani. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of poorer quality products out there that won't do as much good as the higher-quality inserts/backpacks. So if you do plan to get this for your child, make sure you're purchasing from a reputable company.” 

Here's a list of recommended brands for a bulletproof backpack insert

Related: 20 best backpacks for kids—from preschool and beyond

Final thoughts: Is it worth buying a bulletproof backpack insert?

Boaz Munnerlyn, the CEO of Simpler Life Emergency Provisions, says that “bulletproof backpack inserts absolutely do work,” which is why they’re so high in demand this upcoming school season.

Despite how prevalent they seem, the chances of a school shooting happening are lower than falling ill to a disease at school or experiencing a life-threatening sports injury. What’s more, according to NBC News, most recent school shootings have used military-style rifles instead of handguns, making backpack inserts less effective.

Still, no parent ever wants their kid to be killed by gun violence. Buying even just a backpack insert by itself may be enough to quell your fears and anxiety of your child getting caught in the crossfire. 

Related: 10 ways you can channel your grief and rage into action—right now

“Everyone thinks a disaster such as an active shooter can't happen to them, until it does. It's sad that we have to even worry about such an event, but it's today's grim reality,” says Munnerlyn. “And, while parents can't possibly prevent tragedies and disasters from happening, they can at least prepare their children for the worst, just in case.”

Beyond a school shooting, both experts say the bulletproof backpack inserts can also work to protect against other forms of violence. The backpack insert can protect a child if someone brings a knife to school or tries to fight them.

The final verdict: It doesn’t hurt to be prepared even for a rare event like a school shooting, though, of course, the child has to be wearing the backpack for it to be effective. According to Munnerlyn, “prepared people suffer less when bad things happen.”