Bulletproof Backpack Makers, Retailers Slam New York Confiscation Legislation

'I think that this is not related to the product; it's related to the political situation'

Getty Images
February 2, 2021

A New York bill aimed at confiscating body armor would also force parents to hand over safety products designed for school shootings. 

Democrat assemblymember Jonathan G. Jacobson wants to make New York the first state to outlaw bulletproof vests, but his far-reaching legislation would also end up seizing protective backpacks from students and parents. Two bulletproof backpack makers and one local retailer said the bill damages an industry created to protect children from school shootings.

Gabi Siboni, director of the Israeli company ArmorMe, estimates that tens of thousands of New Yorkers have purchased bulletproof products in recent years due to the rise in campus violence and high-profile mass shootings. Those self-defense products could now render them criminals.

"I think that this is not related to the product; it's related to the political situation," said Siboni, a retired Israel Defense Forces colonel who began making the bulletproof knapsacks in 2012. "It's a progressive thing, banning anything that is related to protecting from gunshots or from pistols."  

New York law already makes it a crime to use body armor while committing a gun crime. Jacobson's bill would make it illegal to possess any "bullet-resistant soft body armor" that is rated to stop shots from at least a .38 caliber handgun. Most bulletproof backpacks on the market are rated to stop far more powerful rounds. If passed, the bill would force parents who purchased bulletproof backpacks for their children to turn the protective devices in to the authorities.  

Jacobson did not respond to a request for comment. In a memo submitted alongside his bill, Jacobson justified its need by saying "there is no legitimate reason to purchase or own a bulletproof vest" unless you are in law enforcement or professional security. "Otherwise, bulletproof vests are used by those intending to protect themselves while committing crimes," he said.

Yasir Sheikh, CEO of backpack-maker Guard Dog Security, disputed Jacobson's characterization. He said his company's protective backpacks, which are sold in major retailers such as Office Depot, are almost exclusively purchased by law-abiding civilians. The products have proven especially popular among parents—a 2019 Morning Consult poll found 47 percent of parents have considered buying one for their children. 

"We’re specializing in bulletproof backpacks that are used for consumers, they're used for youth, they're used for travelers," he said.

Brad Pedell, cofounder of 221B Tactical in New York City, said the bulletproof backpacks and vests he sells go mostly to concerned, everyday people, security guards, and reporters. He said parents and the elderly buy the products out of concern they or their children could be attacked in a city that saw 447 murders—a near-decade high—in 2020. 

"People that come in here are concerned. They're nervous like never before because of what's been going on in the United States," he said. "And they just want to have protection. I've had people say, 'I worry about getting slashed when I'm walking on the street.'"  

New York City's recent murder surge indicates the state continues to struggle with gun violence despite having among the country's strictest gun laws. Jacobson now wants to institute the strictest body armor laws too, but Siboni doubted it would solve the problem either because "criminals are criminals" and will find ways around the law. Pedell said bulletproof backpacks and vests are purely defensive products that cannot be used to hurt anyone. He thinks people should be able to use them to protect themselves if they want to, especially in the city. 

"I'm in New York City, man, there's nuts everywhere. Everywhere," Pedell said. "I respect people who just want to be careful."