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New NY law on body vests touted by Hochul hardly bullet-proof

Gov. Kathy Hochul is facing a torrent of criticism after bragging about a new state gun law restricting body vests — which does not include the protective armor worn weeks ago by a teenage white supremacist arrested in the massacre of black shoppers at a Buffalo supermarket.

“Thoughts and prayers won’t fix this, but taking strong action will,” Hochul said June 6 while signing a 10-bill gun package into law touted as a direct response to mass shootings in Buffalo and Texas.  

One of the new laws signed by the governor earlier this month restricts sales of so-called body vests that use interwoven fibers to block some low-power ammunition rounds. But the law does nothing about bullet-proof Kevlar and steel-plated armor – a fact first highlighted by an AP report Monday.

During the May 14 attack, Payton Gendron wore a steel-plated vest, an armor strong enough to stop a handgun round fired by a store security guard who tried to halt his rampage, AP reported.

But the law hastily enacted by Hochul and state lawmakers after the attack restricts sales of vests defined as “bullet-resistant soft body armor.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul recently signed a bill into law that restricts body vests, but not the kind that was worn by the teenage white supremacist arrested for the Buffalo mass shooting.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Soft vests, which are light and can be concealed beneath clothing, can be effective against pistol fire. Vests carrying steel, ceramic or polyethylene plates, which can potentially stop rifle rounds, aren’t explicitly covered by the legislation.

Republican Party state chair Nick Langworthy likened the legislation to something disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo might have championed as governor before Hochul took over following his resignation last August.

“This is right out of the Cuomo playbook — rush to pass meaningless laws to get a news headline without doing anything to actually solve problems. Reason 10,000 why we need new leadership in New York,” Langworthy, who is currently running for Congress, said in a statement Monday.

Payton Gendron takes a selfie wearing a body vest.
Payton Gendron wore a steel-plated vest during his alleged attack on Buffalo supermarket shoppers on May 14.

The governor is also feeling the heat from Democratic primary rival Tom Suozzi, who accused her of prioritizing politics over substance ahead of the June 28 gubernatorial primaries. 

“Hochul’s political response to a serious policy issue has once again put New Yorkers at risk,” Suozzi said in a statement.

A Hochul spokeswoman did not provide comment by publication time.

A man is detained following a mass shooting in the parking lot of TOPS supermarket, in a still image from a social media video in Buffalo, New York, U.S. May 14, 2022
Gendron’s vest was strong enough to stop a handgun round fired by a store security guard who tried to halt his rampage, according to reports.
BigDawg via REUTERS

Suozzi has joined Republicans in taking aim at Hochul for months over changes to bail reform that they broadly argue do not go far enough in confronting an ongoing surge of gun crimes.

Gubernatorial efforts on guns are “pretty well thought out” when it comes to emphasizing a range of factors like the pandemic, online extremism and the inflow of illegal guns from other states, according to John Jay College Associate Professor Warren Eller.

Even if the governor and state lawmakers were to broaden the new law on body vests, which a recent poll shows 58% of registered voters supporting, to include armor like that used in Buffalo, Eller believes it would likely make little difference in preventing future deaths in mass shootings. 

“We haven’t had that many shootings – mass shootings or otherwise – which have included body armor. And in most cases, those that have included any sort of body armor, the perpetrator surrendered immediately upon confrontation anyhow,” Eller, who chairs the Department of Public Management at John Jay said.

“But in the wake of something like Buffalo … One of the things that politicians have to do is they have to do something,” he added. 

And the new law has some retailers confused about what they can and can’t sell — and lawmakers talking about a possible fix.

“I know you said soft vests, but what about hard armor plates, plate carriers, or armors that aren’t vests, but clothing that provide protection. Is that also prohibited? It is so vague,” Brad Pedell, who runs 221B Tactical, a tactical gear and body armor store in New York City, told AP. He said his store tends to sell more hard-plated armor than the soft type being banned.

“I’m not convinced that this legislation is very meaningful,” Warren Eller, a public policy professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told the news service.

— with Associated Press

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