When a shooter attacked a supermarket over the weekend in Buffalo, New York, his security guard tried to stop him. At least one of his shots hit the gunman, but it did not stop the deadly stampede as the gunman was wearing body armor.
Ten black people were killed in the racist massacre, including security guard Aaron Salter, a retired Buffalo police officer who was hailed as a hero. This is the latest mass shooting in which the gunman apparently came prepared to try to stop anyone with a gun.
At least 21 major shooters have worn some sort of body armor over the past four decades—and most of them were within the past 10 years, according to a database maintained by The Violence Project, a nonpartisan research group that Tracks gun violence.
Among them: a massacre at an overcrowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 that killed 12 people and injured dozens, and another in nearby Boulder, which killed 10 people at a supermarket last year. The shooter in Texas’ deadliest mass murder was also wearing protective gear when he killed more than two dozen people at a church in 2017, as did a radical Islamist couple who killed a group in San Bernardino, California, in 2015. terrorist attack.
Chris Burbank, a former Salt Lake City police chief, said, “They are demonstrating the intent that, ‘I want to kill or hurt as many people as possible before I can’t fight anymore. Center for Police Equity.
The Violence Project database does not show a clear relationship between body armor and the number of victims. But such gear could 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.
“The purpose of a mass shooting is to be the ultimate act — you don’t get away with a mass shooting,” Densley said. “So it has to be a big spectacle, and that means people pay attention and notice it. One way you can do that is to dress up pretending to be in the military.”
Former Miami Police Chief George Colina said police officers are looking at body armor in other types of investigations, such as narcotics cases. Body armor is relatively easy to obtain, especially soft body armor similar to bulletproof vests regularly worn by police officers that are effective against handguns.
Body armor is not difficult to obtain under US laws. It is illegal under federal law for a convicted criminal to purchase body armor, but there are some restrictions on purchasing it in addition. Only one state prevents it from ordering online and shipping to homes: Connecticut, which requires face-to-face purchases.
Colina would like to see more states consider stricter regulations.
“I don’t think it’s something that’s really thought about too much, but we’ve seen it many times and we’ve seen it here in South Florida,” Collina said. “Somebody commits a crime by wearing body armor, and that’s horrifying. The idea that you won’t be able to stop them if you have to use lethal force is terrifying.”
Still, body armor isn’t dangerous in itself and is actually aimed at protection — something on many people’s minds amid a spike in gun violence in the US, Burbank said. And it is unclear what effective body armor regulation would look like given the difficulty of regulating the weapons used in shooting.
“Most of those laws apply to guns,” Burbank said. “Does this stop anyone in this country from owning a gun?”
Body armor has not been worn in most mass shootings, said James Allen Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University who has been tracking mass killings with the Associated Press and USA Today since 2006.
But it indicates the level of planning. Body armor was mentioned more than a dozen times in online writings attributed to Peyton Gendron, the white suspect in the Buffalo shooting who was arrested at the supermarket and pleaded not guilty to murder. .
The Violence Project database also excludes murders that do not meet the definition of mass shooting because fewer than four people were killed.
In one such shooting last October at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, a nursing assistant wearing a blue scrub and ballistic vest killed a colleague and then wounded two police officers before killing himself. In another, this month in Round Rock, Texas, a 31-year-old marine veteran injured a neighbor before engaging in a shootout with law enforcement, after which he was found dead wearing body armor.
Contrary to US laws, four Canadian provinces have imposed severe restrictions on the possession of body armor – Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. Residents must obtain permits to possess body armor, including ballistic vests, and undergo background checks before obtaining those permits, which must be renewed on an annual or biennial basis. Violators face hefty fines and jail time.
Ian Roddick, spokesman for the province’s Ministry of Justice and solicitor general, said Alberta adopted its law in 2012 because of spiraling gang violence, in which gang members committed crimes such as drive-by shootings and even allowed them sported in public.
Applicants should not have any criminal record. Permits are typically granted to people whose jobs, such as security guards, require protection.
Some Australian territories also restrict the possession of body armor.
Associated Press writer Susan High in Hartford, Connecticut contributed to this report.