NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Louisiana students may begin wearing bulletproof backpacks to school soon.
The state Legislature recently approved the idea, and several companies are already selling armored book bags for kids. It the result of a sad reality parents are faced with when they send their kids off to school. They fear a school shooting like the one that played out in Texas last week and the Florida school massacre in February.
"There is nothing to protect them, nothing that a parent can do that says you're protected," says Monroe Sen. Mike Walsworth.
But what if you could shield your child with something as elementary as a backpack? Walsworth brought that idea to the Legislature this spring.
"I'll be honest with you. It's not one I ever thought in my wildest dreams or nightmares to have to talk about this," says Walsworth. "But state law at this moment doesn't allow a child to have a bulletproof backpack for his protection."
His proposal would allow the wearing or possessing of body armor in schools, specifically backpacks.
New Orleans Sen. J.P. Morrell is one of two senators to vote against it., telling fellow lawmakers, "A Kevlar backpack is not Captain America's shield. You're not going to run out there with a line of kids blocking bullets, with a good outcome."
Still, the idea has been catching on around the U.S. Sales are steadily rising for bulletproof backpacks or armored inserts that can be placed in existing backpacks. FOX 8 purchased both to see how effective they really are and whether they could save your child's life.
The manufacturers say they've been tested and conform to level 3A of the National Institute of Justice standard, which means the armor should protect against most handguns.
To put them to the test, we turned to GunSmart NOLA firearms instructor Mark Shreve and Richard Moss, the manager at the Jefferson Indoor Gun Range.
We wanted to see if armor aimed at protecting students will really save a child's life.
The first item we tested was the Proshield Bulletproof Backpack sold by Guard Dog Security, which costs close to $200 once you add shipping. From 15 feet away, with a .357 revolver, we shot it and as expected, it was able to stop the handgun's bullets.
Shreve pointed out, "It basically went through almost every layer but then did stop."
A bullet from a .40-caliber handgun penetrated through the front of the backpack, but was also stopped by the armor.
However, in the mass shootings at schools in Newtown, Connecticut and Parkland, Florida, it wasn't a hand gun that was used. It was an AR-15 rifle.
For this test, we used a Smith and Wesson M&P15, added a couple of textbooks, placed the backpack 45 feet away and then fired,
The Guard Dog Security backpack could not withstand that type of force. The ammunition sliced through the thick book and the book bag.
Next we tested the soft Kevlar shield sold by Tuffy Packs, which we paid $129 for, but were able to insert into a regular backpack. We went through the same drill with the same two handguns and got similar results. The armor insert was able to stop bullets from the low-caliber weapons, but when we shot at it with the AR-15, we got mixed results.
The AR-15's bullets tore through the two books in the bag, and while one went through the armor, another did not, as we found out later when we cut into the shield.
"Looks like one went through, and another one stopped. But for it to pancake like that, you almost consider yourself hit," says Shreve.
We should point out that neither of these products claimed it would be able to stop bullets from a high-velocity weapon, which is one reason why Senator Morrell calls the legislation - which passed with flying colors - well-intentioned but misleading.
"The concern I have is that when you have a bill like this, you really push a false sense of security on parents that by purchasing this, their kids are safe if a shooter enters the school," Morrell says.
Kathleen Whalen is the project director for the Safe Schools NOLA Initiative.
"It's a ridiculous false sense of security," she says.
Whalen argues the backpacks would do more to soothe parents' fears than to protect their children.
"In reality, what you're doing is literally putting school safety on the backs of children, and that makes no sense," says Whalen.
Parents have mixed feelings about the idea.
"I think it's kinda ridiculous because kids have so many other things to worry about than if they're gonna get shot up in school," says Lisa Burgess, whose son attends a Metairie high school.
Other parents are shocked the discussion has even come to this. Brian Hirsch also has a son in high school.
"If that became the norm, then I guess, yes, I would have to invest in it, but i just don't see where it's the answer. The world as a whole has gone crazy with this," Hirsch says.
Shalani Mallik says she would invest in a bulletproof backpack.
"Yes for my child's safety, I think it's better than nothing," Mallik says.
The products do come with instructions for parents to teach their child how to shield themselves in an active shooter situation if they have their backpack nearby. But that's still not guaranteed protection.
"If you're holding that book bag in front of you and the shooter is close enough, they'll just aim for the head," Sreve says.
Whalen says the how-to lesson for the backpacks is almost certain to cause stress and emotional trauma to young students.
"It's not what children should be doing. They should not be personally responsible for making sure they are safe," says Whalen. "There are other things that could be done that are more systemic, that would put the onus back on the adults in the building."
People have suggested things like armed security at schools, more surveillance, bulletproof glass and automated locks.
"The safest way to protect our kids is to make sure the wrong people don't get firearms," says Morrell.
In the meantime, as there are more school shootings, sales of bulletproof backpacks and shields continue to surge. It's proof that parents will try anything and everything to safeguard their kids.
Sen. Walsworth says if it saves one child, that's all he cares about. He says he's hoping the bulletproof backpacks never have to be used.
Gov John Bel Edwards must still sign the bill, which would take effect in time for the new school year.