Just days before a new president enters the White House, promising to unify a dangerously divided country, the state of the union can perhaps be judged by this metric: The U.S. is facing a shortage of bulletproof vests, gas masks and ballistic helmets.
Some retailers of protective equipment have seen a fivefold increase in sales of military-grade defensive gear, leading to empty shelves and waiting lists. A retailer in Oregon has sold out of decontamination wipes designed to remove chemical agents such as pepper spray. Customers cleaned out thousands of pieces of body armor from a store in Texas as soon as they went on sale.
Beginning with the arrival of COVID-19 in the United States and continuing through months of protests against racism and police violence, demand for protective equipment has soared. Retailers said it spiked again after a pro-Trump mob infiltrated the U.S. Capitol last week. And it is continuing to rise as state capitols and federal agencies brace themselves for potential unrest ahead of next week’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
For those trying to stock up on protective gear — a group that now includes state and federal lawmakers, law enforcement organizations, journalists and worried civilians — long delays await.
At Los Angeles retailer Security Pro USA, inventory levels of body armor and riot gear that had been depleted over the summer were near normal before rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, said Michael Wilson, the store’s government sales manager.
“Demand went up again after the Capitol,” Wilson said. “It just stacked on top of an already existing shortage.”
Recent buyers have been focused on body armor. Some are “preppers” with an “undertone of fear,” bracing for potential calamity, Wilson said. Civilians have been purchasing ballistic helmets, concealable vests, unmarked riot shields and gas masks.