The Polarizing Politics of Ballistic Protection

When the founding team behind the “CoverMe-Seat” clicked submit on their Kickstarter campaign at midnight on a Sunday this past March, they had no way of knowing that their  project would be suspended before they woke up the next morning. That’s because the crowdfunding giant had secretly decided that their product – a $150 convertible stadium seat embedded with ballistic panels and an optional rifle-caliber plate – was a “weapon accessory” and would be banned from the platform.

Three days before the launch, a gunman had opened fire on the students at a High School in Parkland, Florida. It was exactly the type of tragedy that the CoverMe-Seat – then called the “Prydwen Vest” – had been designed to protect against. In a video blog post designed to attract backers to the project, Practical Protection CEO, Aaron Ansel, expressed his frustration that “bulletproof” backpacks aren’t actually designed for the types of weapons being used in mass shootings, and explained his desire to develop “ethical” ballistic protection that covered both sides of the body and could protect against high-powered rifles like the AR-15.

A product compliance attorney, Ansel had done his due diligence. His team had repeatedly confirmed in writing with Kickstarter that the CoverMe-Seat satisfied Kickstarter’s terms and conditions. Kickstarter did not immediately respond to comments for this story, but Ansel provided emails from the company stating that the product had been reviewed by an “Integrity” team and cleared for launch.

After the Parkland shooting, corporations have become increasingly reluctant to have themselves associated with gun or gun-related paraphanelia. In fact, Kickstarter’s decision to ban ballistic safety devices is not unique. Amazon disallows any type of bulletproof protection on its platform, and several of the large social media platforms, including Reddit, refuse to sell advertising space for body armor-related products.

Embracing a correlation between ballistic-defense products and the weapons they are built to protect against is a viewpoint shared by some, but by no means all, gun-control advocates. For Practical Protection, this meant that many of their early efforts at marketing were met with resistance, and often outright hostility. In a tweet from Newsweek promoting their story on the CoverMe-Seat, one of the first replies was a protest stating if the solution didn’t involve gun-control, it wasn’t a solution the account-holder was going to consider. In a viral post on Imgur, a now-deleted comment accused them of being a “weapon manufacturer”.

Seventy-two hours after the CoverMe-Seat was suspended by Kickstarter, the team got an email explaining that bulletproof protection was now considered to be a “Weapon Accessory”, and was therefore prohibited from the platform. The project had been “accepted in error” and would now be hidden from public view. The email contained an assurance that the account was in good standing, and an invitation to launch future projects, “so long as they meet our guidelines”.

The team at Practical Protection – which plans to donate a portion of its profits to mental health advocacy and early intervention training – ended up funding the project themselves. They now sell the CoverMe-Seat on their own webpage. Other anti-ballistic products launched at around the same, including a bulletproof backpack, no longer appear on the platform. We reached out to IndieGoGo – Kickstarter’s main competitor – for comment, and was directed to their product policy, which states: “Safety-enhancing [products] such as bulletproof vests are acceptable”.

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About the Author: Emmy Skylar

Emmy Skylar started working for Debate Report in 2017. Emmy grew up in a small town in northern Manitoba. But moved to Ontario for university. Before joining Debate Report, Emmy briefly worked as a freelance journalist for CBC News.  She covers politics and the economy.

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