Parents shopping for school supplies probably haven't thought to include body armor on their lists, but after recent school shootings including April's Virginia Tech massacre, two companies are marketing armored backpacks and uniforms.
"Back in '99 following the Columbine shootings, me and my buddy Joe Curran — both of us are parents of two children — wondered if there was anything out there in the world to protect children in school if there was a shooting," Mike Pelonzi, co-inventor of My Child's Pack, a bulletproof backpack, told ABCNEWS.com.
The knapsacks each contain a 20-ounce bulletproof plate. Pelonzi wouldn't disclose what the plate was made from, but said it was not Kevlar, the material from which most police bulletproof vests are made.
Pelonzi said the bags would have been effective in defending users from the sorts of weapons used in 97 percent of school shootings since 1999. The bags sell for $175.
Pelonzi said he was a firearms safety instructor and Curran is a former member of the military.
It was still too early to know how many bags they had sold, he said, but their Web site received more than 12,000 hits in its first two days.
In a homemade commercial posted on YouTube, a young girl demonstrates how the backpack can be held in front of the body to fend off a shot. The bags are also seen being shot at with various firearms.
Across the Atlantic, the British company Bladerunner responded to a number of stabbing attacks on schoolchildren by lining the blazers of students' uniforms with Kevlar.
"Just in the last week I have heard from parents that problems with school violence are increasing. Some parents have been saying they have to instruct their children to go to school without money, or without their mobile phones. Kids have to take off their school ties so they're not attacked," Barry Samms, the company's founder, told ABCNEWS.com from the United Kingdom.
Bladerunner, he said, initially began lining hooded sweatshirts with Kevlar and started applying the process to school uniforms after it was approached by several parents.
The stab-resistant blazers sell for $230.
But school safety experts aren't convinced that sending kids to school with body armor is the best way to protect them.
"There is a huge difference between feeling safer and actually being safer," said Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services. "Ideas like bulletproof backpacks and arming teachers are not the answer."
Furthermore, because weapons are so often concealed in bags, many schools are curbing the use of backpacks in classrooms and hallways. In many high-risk inner-city schools students are required to carry see-through backpacks.
Real or Imagined Safety?
"Even if kids carried backpacks all day, they wouldn't have them when sitting at lunch or in class. … You could propose having Kevlar helmets and flak jackets. It's still not going to give parents the guarantee that their children will be safe," he said.
The best way to protect students, Trump said, is to train children and teachers to recognize potentially dangerous people and situations.
But according to Pelonzi, the bulletproof backpack inventor, teaching kids about safety and providing them with anti-ballistics gear aren't mutually exclusive.
"We're not playing on people's fears. We teach our children about all sorts of dangers. We have fire drills and teach them not to talk to strangers, and to stop, drop and roll," he said.
"This is just another level of safety. We want our children to be safe and happy."