Special Report: Bulletproof Backpacks, Do They Work?

By Greg Argos - bio | email

MYRTLE BEACH,  SC (WMBF) - A company that makes a variety of backpacks it says can stop 90 percent of bullets that have killed or injured students in school shootings over the years. Do they work, and should parents buy these ballistic bags?

After the recent incident at Carolina Forest High School, some parents are considering purchasing the back-to-school-bulletproof-bags for their own children.

Candy Vinovich says the shooting and stabbing at CFHS, though an isolated incident between an Horry County Police officer and a student, still raises questions about her daughter's safety.

"Had that young man been able to get a hold of the gun, what could have happened?" she asked, referring to 16-year-old Trevor Varinecz, who was shot and killed by a Officer Marcus Rhodes on Oct. 16.

Horry County Police says Varinecz stabbed the student resource officer after asking to speak with him.

"I think that anything that we may be able to purchase that could protect our kids in a situation like that is definitely good to have," Vinovich said.

That incident is not the only one involving firearms. According to the South Carolina Department of Education, from 2004 through the 2009 school year, 74 students were either suspected or expelled for firearm-related offenses from the Horry, Florence, Georgetown, Marion, Dillon, Darlington and Marlboro School Districts. In North Carolina's Robeson and Scotland County school districts, nine students were involved in firearm-related incidents from 2004 through 2008.

"Things like this are happening in our world today," said Vinovich. "I would rather them have something that could possibly save their life. Or even if nothing happened, just that sense of security. That they knew if something were to happen, they do have some protection."

However, does that protection, in the form of a backpack, actually work?

Certified pistol, rifle and shotgun instructor Will Abbott strapped the bag to a target and we shot it with a .44-caliber bullet, the largest bullet the manufacturer says it can stop.

"We had some blunt trauma but no penetration," Abbott explained after examining the target.

Abbott says the blunt trauma could have broken a rib or caused massive bruising, but would not have killed the person wearing the bag.

However, those responsible for many school shootings, including the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings shot some of their victims multiple times, with different types of rounds.

After shooting the bag more than 30 times, we examined it to determine whether it could withstand multiple shots.

"The bullets did not penetrate the dummy," said Abbott after looking at the target.

Even though the bag appears to work, it costs nearly $250, at least five times what most backpacks cost. So we wanted to know if we could get the same bullet-blocking results from a regular bag and save some serious cash.

We filled a $20 backpack with books and other school supplies that a student might carry and shot it multiple times.

"[The backpack is] pretty much destroyed, and did nothing to stop the bullet except maybe slow it down a little," Abbott commented. "I think as much as you have invested in your children and as much as you love them, it's a pretty good investment for parents. If you're going to carry a book bag anyhow, why not carry one that stops bullets in addition to just carrying books?"

Abbott says he's going to try to carry these bags at his shooting range in Murrells Inlet after being impressed by their stopping power.

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