It's usually best to not delve into politicians' motivations lest one end up stupider for the effort. Nowhere is that truer than in the bills signed Monday by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) that, among other foolish restrictions, ban the acquisition of body armor by anybody outside of a few favored, government-controlled professions. These protective devices, incapable of offensive use unless thrown especially hard, are now unavailable for legal purchase by New Yorkers seeking even the most passive means of defending themselves and their loved ones.
"As in far too many other mass shootings, the gunman in Buffalo went into the store wearing a bulletproof vest so he would be safe while he slaughtered innocent victims," insisted Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson. "Unless your profession puts you at risk of gun violence, there is no reason you need this kind of body armor. This bill will help keep bulletproof vests out of the hands of those who want to protect themselves from law enforcement or other security officers while harming others."
It's true that the mass-murderer at Tops supermarket in Buffalo wore body armor, as have several other criminals in recent years. The same factors that drive sales to the public at large, specifically the ability of armor to protect users from injury, make the product unavoidably attractive to people who intend harm.
"A veteran Marine and former police officer in both Wyoming and Iowa, Waldrop started his company to make body armor for his fellow law enforcement officers and servicemen and women," according to a January 2021 report from Iowa's WOI about RMA Armament Inc. "And until March of 2020, 80% of his sales were law enforcement and defense contracts. The rest he said was often to veterans or tactical gear enthusiasts. Those figures are now flipped."
Company CEO Blake Waldrop attributed soaring sales to economic uncertainty and social unrest. The public wants to protect itself against the criminals who are part of that social unrest, while criminals want to protect themselves against members of the public defending themselves and against police who might, on occasion, care to intervene in crimes. New York's new law would ban body armor sales on the grounds that armor plates are sometimes used by bad guys as well as the good ones. It's the same moral cooties theory of legislation that drives gun control laws, but this time applied to passive protective devices. At the risk of giving anybody ideas, the same arguments might well apply to the cars criminals drive or any first aid gear they might carry.
Until now, the only state with body armor restrictions beyond penalizing their use in crime was Connecticut, which requires that transactions take place in-person. "It is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for up to six months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both, to sell or deliver body armor unless the transferee meets in person with the transferor to accomplish the sale or delivery," reads that state's law, which makes exceptions for military and law enforcement personnel.
New York's new law goes further, making it a Class A misdemeanor if people "not being engaged or employed in an eligible profession…knowingly purchase or take possession of a body vest." As in Connecticut, the law exempts military and law-enforcement personnel and "such other professions designated by the Department of State."
Incidentally, New York and neighboring Connecticut both already have plenty of experience with performative and unenforceable laws seeking to restrict self-defense rights. When Connecticut in 2013 required the registration of military-looking semiautomatic rifles tagged as "assault weapons," compliance never got higher than about 15 percent. The next year, a similar law in New York scored about 5 percent compliance. It's obvious that many Americans aren't impressed by lawmakers and are unwilling to go along with their dictates.
Now New York government officials think they're going to deprive people of items that can't be used to hurt anybody, but which may protect their wearers against criminals and, yes, against cops good and bad. They want to prevent the public from purchasing protection even as stories continue to appear about the unwillingness and inability of police to act in Uvalde, Texas, and in many violent incidents before. Rather than rely on law enforcement, people take responsibility for their own safety by purchasing firearms and, unsurprisingly, body armor. Parents are eagerly buying protection for their kids.
"Parents are doing anything to keep their kids safe on the heels of another school mass shooting—and that means an all-new run on bulletproof backpacks," reports TMZ. "Former Secret Service agent, Mike De Geus, is the founder and CEO of Leatherback Gear, and he says his company has seen an 800% spike in sales for their fortified knapsacks" after the Uvalde, Texas murders.
Note that there's absolutely nothing stopping New Yorkers from driving to Pennsylvania (or Connecticut, for that matter) and purchasing body armor. State residents might want to take advantage of that option, since criminals planning attacks are unlikely to be terribly observant of any inconvenient laws. Don't be surprised if New Yorkers worried about their safety once again refuse to comply with an astoundingly foolish law. (In fact, this law is so stupid that it appears to accidentally ban only soft armor that is effective against pistol rounds and not hard plates that work against rifle bullets.)*
Let's go back to Assemblyman Jacobson's justification for this new law. "This bill will help keep bulletproof vests out of the hands of those who want to protect themselves from law enforcement or other security officers while harming others," he said. That is, he wants to make it more difficult for people to avoid being shot, on the assumption that it will be good cops doing the shooting. But there are far more decent human beings concerned about their safety than there are bad people intending harm. It's unfortunate that those who intend harm are capable of using the same tools available to good people, but that's an inevitable byproduct of shared humanity. Decent people shouldn't be made collateral damage of anti-crime efforts.
"In response to the recent high-profile mass shootings, lots of legislators are hinting about restricting the sale of body armor to private citizens," writes former police officer and current tactical trainer Greg Ellifritz. "Obviously, that will do nothing to prevent an active killer attack but they feel pressed to 'do something.'"
Ellifritz's words introduce a helpful guide to body armor including his recommendations. I'm sure that nobody with brains and opinions worth considering would object if you make a purchase on behalf of a friend in New York.
*CLARIFICATION: This article has been updated to provide additional information about the type of armor banned by the New York legislation.