By Maysoon Khan
Associated Press/Report for America
ALBANY, NY – New York’s new law banning the sale of bulletproof vests to most civilians does not cover the type of armor worn by the gunman who killed 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket, a loophole that his effectiveness in deterring future military-style incursions.
During the May 14 attack, Payton Gendron wore a steel-coated vest, armor strong enough to deflect a handgun fired by a store guard who was trying to stop Gendron’s killing spree.
A law hastily enacted by state lawmakers after the attack restricts the sale of vests, which are defined as “bulletproof soft body armor.”
Soft vests, which are lightweight and can be concealed under clothing, can be effective against pistol fire. Vests with steel, ceramic or polyethylene panels potentially capable of stopping rifle bullets are not specifically covered by the legislation.
That has confused some retailers about what they can and can’t sell – and lawmakers are talking about a possible solution.
“I know you said soft vests, but what about hard armor plates, plate carriers, or armor that is not vests but clothing that offers protection. Is that also forbidden? It’s so vague,” said Brad Pedell, who runs 221B Tactical, a tactical gear and body armor store in New York City. He said his shop tends to sell more hard-coated armor than the banned soft ones.
Since the toughest armor is still allowed to be sold, “I’m not convinced that this legislation makes much sense,” said Warren Eller, a professor of public policy at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
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Assemblyman Jonathon Jacobson, a major sponsor of the legislation, told The Associated Press he would “love to change the law to make it even stronger”.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, is also aware of the need for change, her office said.
“Governor Hochul was proud to sign the landmark new law passed by the legislature to limit the sale of body armor and will work with the legislature to expand the definitions in the law at the earliest opportunity,” it said it.
Nationwide, there are few restrictions on the sale of body armor. Before the New York law was passed, Connecticut had one of the few restrictions. It only allows people to buy it in person from retailers, not through mail order.
According to Pedell, many customers buy the armor at his New York City store for their own protection.
“It’s disappointing because residents are just scared and they come to us because they’re scared and we offer them help that gives them more confidence that they won’t get stabbed or hurt or possibly killed,” Pedell said . “The fact (legislators) are taking that away, for whatever purpose they have in mind, I find that really sad and unnecessary and morally wrong.”
The New York ban aims to prevent criminals from gaining an advantage over peace officers or security guards like Aaron Salter, who was killed trying to stop the gunman’s racist attack on the Buffalo supermarket.
Of the gunmen who have killed four or more people in public places since 1966, 12% wore body vests, said sociologist James Densley, co-founder of The Violence Project, a nonprofit think tank with a database of mass shootings.
New York law restricts the sale of bulletproof soft vests to individuals working in law enforcement and the military, as well as to individuals in certain other occupations that require protective equipment. The list of what types of jobs will and will not entitle someone to purchase armor has yet to be determined by state officials.
The State Department in New York said in an emailed statement that officials are reviewing the new law and plan to develop regulations for eligible occupations that require the use of a body vest.
Chairmen of the Deadline Club, the New York branch of the Society of Professional Journalists, had urged Hochul to veto the bill, citing concerns it would make it difficult for news organizations to buy armor for journalists working in conflict zones or covers work civil unrest in the US
“I know of a number of photographers who have worn protective clothing as a precaution while traveling in situations where violence could erupt,” said Peter Szekely, the group’s advocacy chair.
New Yorkers are still allowed to own body vests and buy them in other states, although Jacobson, a Democrat, said he will work to eliminate that option during the next legislative session in January.
“We wanted to get things done as quickly as possible and not let the perfect get in the way of the good,” Jacobson said. “Like all laws in New York State, we always try to make them better in the future. Of course we will try to improve this law.”