Buffalo senator targets use of armor

Two years ago, there was no appetite for anyone in the state Senate to sponsor legislation criminalizing the use of body armor.

There is now.

Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, has introduced S.9407 in the state Senate to amend the state Penal Law to change the state’s laws for body vests. A person would be guilty of unlawful wearing of a body vest while committing any misdemeanor or felony crime, regardless of the nature of the crime committed.

The legislation was originally introduced in the state Assembly during the 2019-20 legislative session, but it never made it out of committee and companion legislation wasn’t introduced in the state Senate.

“The use of body vests by criminals emboldens them to commit crimes,” Kennedy wrote in his legislative justification. “This bill would deter the use of body vests since the penalty would run consecutively with the sentence for the underlying crime. Further, this bill would help protect law enforcement officers since it would discourage the use of body vests in all crimes — not just violent felonies committed while using firearms.”

State law currently only prohibits wearing of body vests to those committing a violent felony with a firearm, rifle or shotgun.

But it does indicate a level of planning. Body armor was mentioned more than a dozen times in the online writings attributed to the white suspect in the Buffalo shooting, Payton Gendron, who was arrested at the supermarket and has pleaded not guilty to murder.

According to the Associated Press, at least 21 mass shooters over the last four decades have worn some kind of body armor — and the majority of those were within the last 10 years, according to a database maintained by The Violence Project, a nonpartisan research group that tracks gun violence.

Among them: A massacre that killed 12 people and injured dozens more at a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012, and another in nearby Boulder that left 10 people dead at a supermarket last year. The shooter in Texas’s deadliest mass slaying was also wearing protective gear when he killed more than two dozen people at a church in 2017, as was a radicalized Islamic couple who carried out a terror attack in San Bernardino, California, in 2015.

The Violence Project database doesn’t show a clear correlation with body armor and the number of victims. But such gear can enable attackers to shoot longer and is a symbolic way to adhere to societal expectations of what a mass shooting looks like, said James Densley, a criminal justice professor at Metro State University in Minnesota who co-founded The Violence Project.

“A mass shooting is intended to be a final act — you don’t get away with a mass shooting,” Densley said. “So it’s meant to be a big spectacle, and it’s meant to have people pay attention and to notice it. One of the ways you do that is you dress up pretending you’re in the military.”

Getting body armor isn’t difficult under U.S. laws. It’s illegal under federal law for a convicted felon to buy body armor, but other than that there are few restrictions on purchasing it. Only one state blocks it from being ordered online and shipped to homes: Connecticut, which requires a face-to-face purchase.

“Most of those same laws apply to guns,” Chris Burbank, the former police chief in Salt Lake City who’s now with the Center for Policing Equity, told the Associated Press recently. “Does that prohibit anyone in this nation from having access to a firearm?”


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