When a shooter attacked a supermarket in Buffalo over the weekend, its security guard tried to stop him. At least one of his shots hit the gunman, but it didn’t stop the deadly rampage because the gunman was wearing body armor.
Ten Black people died in the massacre, including security guard Aaron Salter, a retired Buffalo police officer hailed as a hero.
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 of The Violence Project, a nonpartisan research group that tracks gun violence, the Associated Press reports.
Among them: A massacre that killed 12 people and injured dozens more at a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Co., 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 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, Ca., in 2015.
The Violence Project database doesn’t show a clear correlation between body armor and the number of victims. Such gear can enable attackers to shoot longer, 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.”
Police are seeing body armor in other types of investigations, including narcotics cases, said former Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina. Body armor is relatively easy to get, especially the soft body armor similar to the bulletproof vests regularly worn by police officers that are effective against handguns.
Getting body armor isn’t difficult. It’s illegal under federal law for a convicted felon to buy body armor, but other than that there are few restrictions. Only one state blocks it from being ordered online and shipped to homes: Connecticut, which requires a face-to-face purchase.
Colina would like to see stricter rules.
“I don’t think it’s something that is really thought about too much, but we’ve seen it many times and we’ve seen it here in south Florida,” Colina said. “Somebody commits a crime wearing body armor, and it’s terrifying. The idea that you may not be able to stop them if you had to use deadly force is terrifying.”
In one shooting at Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University Hospital last October, a nursing assistant wearing blue scrubs and a ballistics vest killed a co-worker and then wounded two police officers before being killed himself.
This month in Round Rock, Tx., a 31-year-old Marine veteran wounded a neighbor before engaging in a shootout with law enforcement, after which he was found dead, wearing body armor.