Standing near a booth filled with bulletproof vests that passersby in the Twin Cities could try on Friday, the parents of a teenager killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., lobbied for gun reform before such vests become a necessity.
Manuel Oliver, the father of 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver who was shot and killed with 16 others in 2018, said the goal was to highlight his view that gun violence in the United States has gotten to the point where it is reasonable to wear a bulletproof vest in public.
"It's to show that irony and stupidity behind" wearing a bulletproof vest in public, Oliver said. "If you put this in London, people will just laugh. Whereas here it makes sense."
Manuel and his wife, Patricia, set up the booths as part of the "New Life Vest" public awareness campaign along with Minneapolis ad agency Preston Spire. The agency came up with the idea for the campaign a year ago and partnered with Manuel and Patricia's nonprofit Change the Ref.
"In order to make a change, we have to keep the conversation going," said Brett Essman, creative director for Preston Spire who was helping lead the filming of the public's reactions. "Having people in the community see this could be our new life if we don't take action and have some reform."
As the couple spoke with people outside the Target store in Dinkytown, most were supportive of their message. But at least one was opposed and argued against having more stringent gun laws.
"Why? The law-abiding citizens aren't the ones shooting people up," said a construction worker who was working nearby and declined to give his name to the filming crew.
The worker said he owns an AR-15 rifle he keeps locked in a safe, and that he already meets requirements to maintain his gun license.
Others who spoke with the Olivers said they support having more restrictions. Palash Bhanot and Pavit Kohli, two recent University of Minnesota graduates, said they think politicians need to better recognize the need for gun laws.
"We shouldn't have to all carry around vests to protect ourselves. The world shouldn't have to be like that, and they were so heavy," Bhanot said. "Ideally, gun laws should be enacted to protect us."
Minnesota ranks 31st when it comes to states with the most mass shootings per-capita, according to the per-capita mass shootings, Violence Project database, which was created by Minnesota researchers. The U.S. also saw the total number of school shootings increase each year since 2020, going from 115 shootings in 2020 to 250 in 2021 and 304 in 2022, the project's website shows.
The Twin Cities area is the only location so far used for the "New Life Vest" project, but Manuel Oliver said he would be open to trying it elsewhere to bring awareness to the issue.
"What's frustrating is we see more and more victims, dying for the same reason that my son died: being an innocent bystander and enjoying life," he said. "I cannot pretend everyone will agree with me, so I have to speak for my son."