Bulletproof Backpacks for Kids: Cautious Protection or Feeding Anxiety?

A Colombian firm said kids' body armor sales to the U.S. are booming.

ByABC News
March 27, 2013, 5:28 PM

March 27, 2013 — -- It was an ordinary school day for Demitric Boykin and his 4-year-old daughter, Jaliyah.

Ordinary, except for her brand-new backpack.

Despite the girly pink fabric and pretty fairies that adorned it, Jaliyah's backpack offered military-grade protection. It could literally stop bullets.

"It protects me," she said.

On the morning before Jaliyah took her bulletproof backpack to school for the first time, her father, over a bowl of Fruit Loops, had some grown-up explaining to do.

"So if any bad guy was to come in to your classroom, remember we don't use guns, right, but bad guys do, right? So if they were to come in to your classroom with any guns, you put this on and this would stop the bullets," Boykin told his daughter.

While outfitting a kindergartener with body armor may seem way over the top, Boykin said it just reflects "the world we live in."

"[It's] sad in a lot of ways," he said. "We shouldn't have to do these things. But in today's society, if we don't, who knows what tomorrow will look like."

Boykin is among a wave of parents willing to try the extreme and controversial measure of making his children wear bulletproof materials to protect them at school in the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., and other school shootings.

However, gun control advocates see this as a disturbing sign of how willing we have become to accept gun violence as the norm.

"We can accept that when our children go to school, they should be under the same type of threat of active combat as law enforcement and soldiers, or we can make sure that the shooting never starts in the first place by making sure that our gun laws are so strong that people who are homicidal maniacs cannot gain easy access to firearms," said Ladd Everitt, the director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

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Boykin said it is the reality his family is facing firsthand. They live in Aurora, Colo., the site of the movie theater shooting last July that left 12 people dead and 58 injured. He said he used to bring his daughter to that theater regularly and knew people who were inside on the night of the shooting.

"It was the worst day of my life," he said. "I didn't know who was alive and who was dead. I haven't let Jaliyah out of my sight since."

It is that anxiety that has led to an emerging market for something most Americans would have never thought necessary: bulletproof clothing -- from jackets to shirts to backpacks -- made for children.

"I think that there are other ways to protect your child. I just felt like this was the best thing for mine," Boykin said. "It felt like this was the easiest thing that I could do to keep my arm around her when I couldn't keep my arm around her."

Tapping into that urge -- and some critics would say exploiting it -- is a man named Miguel Caballero. His company, based in Bogota, Colombia, designed and manufactured the 3-pound bulletproof backpack Jaliyah now carries to school.

"We are the last resort," Caballero said. "In the moment when all the rest, they are not working, we have the best way to guarantee the life of the child."

Caballero has been making bulletproof products for 20 years. An industry leader in a country plagued by decades of violence, Caballero says he ships to 23 countries around the world and counts 11 sitting presidents, and even actor Steven Seagal, among his clientele.