In the wake of the attacks in Paris, and with security ramped up all over the jittery French capital for the climate change conference, there's a lot of talk about fear.
The fear people are talking about mostly boils down to a fear of venturing into public places, where there's a greater risk of being randomly gunned down by madmen.
A fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time has become an inescapable trope of modern times, and it flares up every time we're confronted with hellish events like the bombings and shootings in Paris -- on a Friday the thirteenth, no less, a date long steeped in fear and phobias.
Along with heightened fears many of us may feel a certain sense of helplessness. We can hope that our leaders' words and deeds aimed at stamping out terrorism and other violent acts will succeed, but in the meantime, what practical steps can we, as individuals, take to make ourselves less fearful and more secure when we want to sit in a café, or go to a concert, or a game, or a movie, or even a school? Just stay home?
To that, many Parisians have already defiantly said non. They have gathered at La Place de la République, amid chants that they will not be afraid, and they are returning to their cafés, bistros and clubs, effectively flipping the bird of freedom at those who would terrorize the City of Light.
Still, an understandable fear lingers, and not just in Paris, because in the post-1984, post-9/11 world, it may be that Big Brother is watching you, but Little Brother could be shooting you.
Donald Trump, with inimitable bluster, promptly declared that shootings like the ones in Paris "would've been a much, much different situation" -- presumably he meant a less horrific one -- if the victims had been armed.
Trump is hardly the first to contend that a better-armed citizenry is the solution to any "situation" involving violent people with guns. Innocents who unexpectedly find themselves under siege -- whether in a Parisian café or on any given street corner in America -- would be better off if they are prepared to fight gunfire with gunfire, this line of thinking goes.
The thing is, your sidearm seems unlikely to be of much use when shots are fired at you from out of the blue, as happened in Paris and happens elsewhere with alarming regularity, as we in the U.S. are painfully aware.
In a lot of these surprise-attack situations, it seems that your personal weapon could do little more than deflect incoming fire -- sort of like the cellphone that saved a man from being fatally struck by shrapnel when one of several bombs went off during the soccer game at the Stade de France northwest of Paris.
This was not the first known case of a mobile phone shielding its owner, and we've probably all heard stories about lives being saved simply because an object someone carried was in the right place at the right time, like Teddy Roosevelt's campaign speech, which was folded into the former president's breast pocket. The fifty pages helped slow the bullet from an assailant's Colt .38 revolver, fired at close range as TR waved to a crowd in Milwaukee.
It occurred to me that if you take these happenstance shieldings a step farther we might just have the seeds of a solution -- far from foolproof, perhaps, but at least a meaningful step that ordinary citizens could take for self-protection besides packing heat. Suppose, for example, an everyday item of clothing like a dress shirt were bulletproof, or at least bullet resistant -- and what better place than Paris, fashion capital of the world, to inspire a security-minded sartorial trend?
As it turns out, such a trend may already be discreetly under way, at least among heads of state, business moguls and celebrities, including Steven Seagal, Sean "Diddy" Combs and the Wu-Tang Clan. Bulletproof vests and body armor of various kinds have long been staples in military and law enforcement lockers, but toward the end of the 20th century, a Bogotá-born entrepreneur named Miguel Caballero recognized that wealthy Colombians were frequent targets for murder, and wearing bulky bulletproof vests was not always desirable, nor particularly fashionable.
So Caballero came up with a clothing line that looks like it would fit in at Nordstrom, except that his designs are available in a variety of protection levels, as established by testing agencies like the National Institute of Justice. President Obama is rumored to have worn a Caballero suit to his first inauguration. Caballero's collection includes a tank-top T-shirt, the ubiquitous style disturbingly known in America as a "wife beater." It's sturdy enough to stop any conventional 9-mm attack, meaning bullets fired from all sorts of commonplace guns.
This T-shirt will also set you back about $2,000, and other items, like stylish casual jackets, cost about twice as much -- although that could be priceless if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. You can understand why some call Caballero "the Armani of bulletproof clothing," but it seems clear that the marketplace could use some similarly protective garments at Target prices, as in the discount retailer, like a more literal kind of Under Armour that'll do more than just deflect raindrops or wick away sweat.
Three years ago this month, after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Caballero ventured into children's wear, although the American company BulletBlocker, which has some stylish pieces to rival Caballero's, had already added a children's backpack to its bulletproof line a half-dozen years earlier. At least one other U.S. firm, Amendment II, has children's backpacks, too, and even a protective blanket.
As with seatbelts and all manner of helmets -- bike, ski, motorcycle, football -- wearing bullet-resistant clothing might not guarantee your safety, but could a bulletproof T-shirt or jacket have saved someone like the young Parisian mother so heart-wrenchingly mourned, with transcendent grace, honesty and humanity, in her husband's viral video?
If the answer is yes, well, then maybe Donald Trump, who's already in the fashion business, could be just the guy to lead the way in creating chic yet affordable bulletproof apparel, and give fearful civilians everywhere a way to dress not just for success, but for survival.