That’s my assessment of Representative Mike Honda (D-San Jose, CA) and his recent introduction of California H.R. 5344, or The Responsible Body Armor Possession Act of 2014. It’s a bill that, if passed, would make it illegal for private citizens in the Sunshine State to own body armor of any kind. As he sees it (and let me know if you’ve heard this one before) the tools of war should not be in the hands of private civilians.
Speaking at a August 6th press conference Honda said,
This bill will keep military body armor out of the wrong hands. It would ensure that only law enforcement; firefighters and other first responders would be able to have access to enhanced body armor. We’re not talking about just a standard bulletproof vest. We’re talking about body armor that is designed for warfare, designed to protect against law enforcement ammunitions. (Bay City News 2014)
His announcement and proposed legislation were immediately crooned by the anti-gun establishment like the Violence Policy Center, which posted on their social media site,
The gun industry has increasingly featured body armor in firearm company marketing materials, which display men wearing body armor and helmets while carrying military-style assault rifles.
Honda’s proposed legislation would make it illegal to buy, sell, or possess Type III body armor (or shielding) as determined by the National Institute of Justice Standard–0101.06. Citing a July 22nd shooting in Riverside, Honda’s effort is supported by the California State Sheriffs’ Association, Fraternal Order of Police, Peace Officers Research Association of California, Santa Clara County’s District Attorney Jeff Rosen, Sheriff Laurie Smith, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, and Sheriff Gregory Ahern. Santa Clara police Chief Michael Sellers and Milpitas police Chief Steve Pangelinan also attended the early August news conference.
However there are a number of elements here that reek more of an anti-gun political strategy than any real desire to influence criminal access to body armor.
Perhaps the most glaring deficiency is the bill’s simple failure to stop, in any aspect, criminal access to the very armor it seeks to restrict. This is a localized piece of legislation, and would only be enacted within the state of California. Body armor is (and still would be) readily available in neighboring states throughout the US – without restriction. There is no nationalized effort to outright ban the manufacturing or possession of Type III body armor. So while you as a citizen of California are mandated by your local governing parties (that you elected into power) to go without protection; those very criminals will still be able to access other points of purchase beyond the state. Furthermore, since 2002 its been illegal under federal law for those with a criminal background to own body armor, so this proposal is merely intended to target California’s citizenry from owning this protective equipment– not criminals whom are already restricted. (Portman 2014)
The other failure here is in the very wording of Honda’s efforts. Titled “The Responsible Body Armor Possession Act”, it has nothing to do with increasing ownership responsibility, but everything with restricting ownership to merely a select few directly under the state’s control (i.e. the military, law enforcement, and first responders). The bill also does not specifically define “enhanced” or “military grade” body armor, clouding the fact that a majority of all commercial-grade body armor is of equal protection to that fielded by government agencies. So the average citizen, who has no criminal past, enjoys firearms, and merely wants the added protection while practicing or for their family at home will be banned from possessing that armor under this bill. But again, because it is only a localized piece of legislation – access to armor purchased elsewhere will still be readily available to those choosing to exist outside the law.
But oddly (or not), other anti-gun states have also historically considered similar legislation. In 2009 both New York and Pennsylvania considered similar measures that were largely the fallout from highly publicized and emotional shootings. (Erdley 2009) Politicians scrambled to find a solution that would appease the anti-gun public, but their efforts ended in mixed results. And in either case, it didn’t help to diminish the levels of violent crime or criminal access to ballistic protection. Nor too is this the first time California politicians have tried to limit ownership of firearms or the 2nd Amendment. In March there was Dianne Feinstein’s attempt to reenact a nation-wide gun ban. Or how California is attempting to enact gun registration and then using that listing to target gun owners under the pretense of finding “criminal ownership” of firearms.
So, what is the real purpose here? To further regulate a slice of the pro-gun world? Try to regulate elements of the state’s economy while restricting usage to a select few? Make it so civilians can’t further protect themselves amid a government crackdown? Grab a few headlines to appease the base? Who’s to say? Depends which theory you ascribe to (and how far your political slant takes you). But fact remains that it isn’t illegal, as a lawful citizen, to own ballistic protection because of what it offers both in domestic and practical training purposes. And that’s where it should stay.
Bay City News. Rep. Mike Honda Introduces Bill Banning Civilians from Buying Body Armor. 6-August 2014. http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Rep-Mike-Honda-Introduces-Bill-Banning-Civilians-from-Buying-Body-Armor-270223431.html (accessed 6-August 2014).
Erdley, Debra. New York, Pennsylvania consider body armor restrictions after slayings. April 20, 2009. http://triblive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/regional/s_621388.html#axzz3AQa47uWz (accessed August 13, 2014).
Portman, Janet. When It’s Illegal To Own a Bullet-Proof Vest. 2014. http://www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/resources/criminal-defense/criminal-offense/when-its-illegal-to-own-a-bullet-proof-vest (accessed August 13, 2014).