Your back-to-school shopping? A bulletproof princess backpack

Welcome to America in 2019, where Disney-themed bullet-proof armour is being sold 'to put in your child's backpack to stop multiple rounds'. When it comes to gun control, has the US totally lost its mind?

"This insert provides ballistic protection from handgun fire and can stop multiple rounds," reads the label on the princess backpack. It is one from a range of popular back to school supplies available to US parents looking to protect their children from the gun epidemic leeching into what should be the most innocent symbol in our society - schools.

"The problem is that there are just too many guns."

In fact, the companies that make these bulletproof schoolbags say they've seen a spike in sales after the recent mass shootings in Ohio and Texas. But are parents over-reacting, or is this simply a form of life preservation in a sea of decreasing gun control?


Security theatre

Last week, Democratic presidential candidate, Kamala Harris summarised the feelings of many when she stated that; “Your back-to-school shopping list shouldn’t have to include a bulletproof backpack.”

But wouldn't you do just about anything to keep your child safe?

Related: Who is Kamala Harris - the woman running for president 2020?

David M. Perry is a journalist and historian. He describes these measures as "security theatre".

"As my two children embark on a new school year, I wish their need for new backpacks remains the biggest problem they face. I won't be buying either of them bulletproof backpacks.

"Remember where the bathrooms are, paint me a nice picture and when the bad people come in with guns, lie on the floor."


I can't blame parents who are desperate to buy a little security. But even if we gave one to every child in America, it's not going to solve anything. The problem isn't the lack of Kevlar or an insufficient number of armed guards in schools, the problem is that there are just too many guns".

Perry believes that active shooter drills and schoolbag armour are trying to make people feel safer rather than being part of a solution. "So much of what we do in schools stems from this 'theatre,' that we must do something to try to calm our worst fears, even if backpacks and active shooter drills don't actually address the root of the problem. Security theatre can distract us from real solutions. Even worse, it can sometimes make us more afraid".

Under attack

What kind of message are US parents sending their children? On the one hand, you are reassuring them that they are safe, while at the same time, they are taking part in active shooter drills where children have to hide and be silent.

How traumatic for a child and how do you explain all of this to a four-year-old? "Remember where the bathrooms are, paint me a nice picture and when the bad people come in with guns, lie on the floor." No wonder anxiety is surging among children raised on this diet of fear and loss of innocence.

Not only is the research inconclusive about how useful these drills are, but there is increasing evidence that they can cause psychological harm. Perry says he can see the impact on his daughter. " My own daughter, a child with a thriving imagination, has been doing these drills since she was in kindergarten and comes home stressed and afraid afterwards. It becomes difficult to get her to talk about her day."



Heidi Pottinger is from Arizona. Her son has been doing lockdown drills since he was just three. Recently, she described to NBC news how her now five-year-old son has been affected. "We were at a football game with his dad and after a touchdown, celebratory fireworks were let off. Panicked by the sounds, the little boy started crying and saying 'active shooter' over and over to his dad".

"This is his childhood and it should be carefree, and it’s not."

"In school, they crouch with classmate and children behind furniture, rehearsing what to do if a real shooter burst in. At home, he bit his nails and did pretend lockdowns while he was playing. Eventually, he refused to go anywhere alone, even to his room or a bathroom at home. He would say, ‘The lockdown is going to get me.’ It just really caught me off guard. This is his childhood and it should be carefree, and it’s not.”

Increasing your child's chances of surviving an attack on their school isn't nonsensical by any means, but how heartbreaking that in America in 2019, this is one of the main fears you face when you kiss your child goodbye in the morning.

A loss of innocence

Here in Ireland, we are lucky that we don't have to consider buying military-grade armour for our babies as part of our September school shopping staples.  While we don't live in a danger-free society, we have chosen not to surround ourselves with lethal weapons. Given the choice, I know which society I'd rather raise my children.

Rather than backpacks with Disney prints or drills or metal detectors at the school door, what will actually protect America's children, and all of us, is a society with fewer guns.


But with little hope for meaningful gun control from politicians, who can blame parents for doing something, anything, to try to keep their precious children safe.

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Read more: Julianne More on why she's taking a stance against guns

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