Commentary: Bulletproof Backpacks

It is early morning, and you are just about ready for school. You grab your bulletproof jacket and swing your Kevlar-lined backpack over your shoulders, feeling the added weight of a bulletproof panel wedged inside. “For additional safety,” your school claimed, before persuading your parents to sign up for active shooter insurance. On the way out the door, you pray that today is not the day you become a statistic on some stranger’s television screen.

Could this be the unsettling future we are headed towards? With the five deadliest mass shootings in American history occurring in just the past decade and no signs of preventative measures being put into place, the grim truth is that it is certainly quite possible.

Back in November of 2017, a school in Miami, Fla., began selling bulletproof backpack inserts to its students in response to the Las Vegas mass shooting, the deadliest in American history so far. Just a couple of months later and less than 50 miles to the north, the recent school shooting in Parkland has once again revealed the apathetic cycle in which our society is mired: a national tragedy occurs, condolences are expressed, fingers are pointed, nothing happens, and repeat. The United States is at a point where extreme acts of gun violence no longer seem out of the norm. Despite these repeated tragedies, we have done nothing to address the root cause of this problem. Even attempts at discussing gun control have become taboo in politics.

At my public elementary and middle school, active shooter drills were as commonplace as fire drills. Even as young kids, we repeatedly practiced lockdowns, training to expect the worst. The possibility that a person could barge into my school with a gun no longer seemed inapplicable to me. Even now at Andover, we are not immune to the pervasiveness of gun violence. Our “Blue Book” has a section titled “Active Shooter Response,” which details the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) protocol. This set of steps is designed to give students and faculty response options in the event of an active shooter crisis.

But that is just it: a response. We have come to accept gun violence as a normal occurrence. As a result, our current mentality is to sit and wait for the worst to happen, and then react. Of course, preparation and protection are important, but readying ourselves is just half of the equation. To curb the pattern of nonsensical mass shootings we have been regularly witnessing, we must prevent as well as prepare. This means implementing a stricter background check and closing loopholes in current gun control legislation. Right now, it is easier to acquire a gun than a driver’s license in most states, and buying a gun from a private seller bypasses most background checks, according to CNN. How can it be that obtaining a lethal weapon is less of a hassle than passing a driving test?

Many Americans cite the Second Amendment when arguing against gun regulation. This is certainly a valid point, as citizens of the United States are indeed allowed to bear arms under the Constitution. However, I believe that someone’s right to bear arms does not allow that person to deny others the right to life. Similarly, I would argue that stricter background checks might not necessarily encroach upon this constitutional right. Gun owners would still be allowed to freely own their guns, just as long as they show that a gun in their possession will not be a danger to society.

Most importantly, we need to break free of our notion that frequent mass shootings and gun violence is the norm. It is absolutely unacceptable that people have been, and continue to be slaughtered while the rest of the nation stands idly by in desensitized acquiescence. Soon, we must confront our path towards a potentially bullet-ridden future and ask ourselves, “How many more tragedies must occur before we acknowledge that this is not normal for a society?” After all, we cannot hide behind bulletproof backpacks forever.

Dominic Yin is a three-year Upper from Andover, Mass. Contact the author at