Bulletproof vests not a new problem for police
BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- In shootings around the nation, police often find the gunman is wearing a bulletproof vest -- and while it's an issue that has recently jumped into the spotlight, it's hardly a new problem for law enforcement.
"The bad guys have used body armor going way back," said John Grebert, executive director of the New York State Police Chiefs Association. "We still train our officers that if they have to use their weapon, to fire on two kill zones -- two bullets fired at the chest, a third at the head, in case the person is wearing a vest."
More companies are making body armor, and there are now more places to buy it, law enforcement officials say.
Police said 41-year-old Jiverly Wong was wearing a bulletproof vest when he burst into the American Civic Association in Binghamton on Friday morning and killed 13 people before taking his own life.
Richard Poplawski, 23, was wearing one when he killed three Pittsburgh police officers Saturday.
Other than the Internet, buyers can also find body armor at hunting stores, gun shops, surplus military supply stores, and even occasionally at yard and garage sales.
Federal law precludes anyone convicted of a violent felony from possessing body armor. New York and several other states also have made it a felony for someone to wear body armor while committing a violent crime or using a weapon, Grebert said.
Companies that sell body armor do not need any special licenses, nor are they required to run background checks. The onus is on the buyer to be truthful about his past, said Nick Taylor, manager of BulletProofME, an Austin, Texas-based company.
"There's no legal requirement, but it's good business practice to be careful who you are selling to," Taylor said.
Taylor said his company checks into a buyer's background before completing a sale, but he said he didn't want to divulge the exact steps for security reasons.
While the majority of his sales are to law enforcement agencies and the military, Taylor said he has "significant" business with civilians, including politicians, business executives, journalists and taxi drivers.
"I sold one to a restaurant owner who was concerned about his safety because he routinely made bank deposits at three, four in the morning," Taylor said.
"I'm not sure making them illegal would help. Criminals ignore the law anyway, and they'd still find a way to get them. All you would accomplish is that people with legitimate safety issues wouldn't be able to get them," Taylor said.
For many years, modern bullet-resistant vests were made from woven Kevlar, but newer materials have since been developed that are lighter, thinner and more resistant, although much more expensive.
The cost of bulletproof vests ranges anywhere from several hundred dollars to more than $1,300 for top-quality, highly resistant ones.
The term "bulletproof" is a misnomer since the vests -- depending on their rating -- may provide little or no protection against rifle ammunition, unusually high velocity pistol ammunition, pistol ammo fired from a rifle barrel, armor piercing ammunition and sharp-edged or pointed instruments, such as knives or icepicks, according to BulletProofME's website.
Additionally, projectiles that are successfully stopped by armor will always produce some level of injury, resulting in severe bruising, broken bones, serious internal injury or even death.