Can Your Body Armor Stop Armor-Piercing Bullets?

Can Your Body Armor Stop Armor-Piercing Bullets?

There are over 100 body armor companies around the country that sell personal ballistic protection. 

Personal ballistic protection includes bulletproof hoodies, backpacks, soft armor inserts, and hard plates for rifle-caliber protection. 

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There are still plenty of misconceptions about what type of bullets NIJ-Listed body armor can stop. 

With so many companies selling armor, how do you know if your armor will stop an Armor Piercing (AP) bullet? 

Our goal today is to explain the difference between armor-piercing bullets and standard ball type rifle ammo. You’ll also learn how ShotStop® proves our Duritium® Level IV+ plates stop AP ammo. 

What is an Armor Piercing Bullet?

According to the ATF (Pg.3), an AP bullet has to meet 1 of 2 classifications in order to be considered an AP round. 

  1. a projectile core (handgun) that is made entirely or has any combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper or depleted uranium.
  2. Any FMJ projectile (larger than .22 caliber), that’s intended for a handgun that has a jacket weight of over 25% of the total weight of the projectile.

As much as it frustrates body armor companies, part of the confusion about AP rounds is because of the language that the ATF uses when describing AP bullets. 

For example, did you notice both classifications mention handguns, but not rifles?

Fortunately, the ATF convinced Congress to include any projectile, regardless of its “intent” to be an AP bullet if the FMJ weighs more than 25% of the projectile weight. 

However, unless you read the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), 18 U.S.C. Chapter 44, you wouldn’t know. Even if you read the document, it's difficult to comprehend if you’re not versed in reading government documents. 

Is Armor Piercing Ammo Legal?

Contrary to popular belief, any law-abiding American citizen can own, make, and even sell AP ammo. 

I’ve read dozens of articles and blogs stating it's illegal, but our attention to detail and desire for truth drives our ability to provide you with truthful, verified information.

As always, we’ve brought our receipts directly from the ATF and federal government.

The GCA of 1968 is the guideline for AP ammo and clearly states the legality of AP ammo for civilian use. 

The GCA gives the United States Attorney General the power to give Americans an exemption for AP ammo if they can prove the ammo is “primarily used for sporting purposes”. 

However, as you’d expect, there is a catch… 

How Do I Apply For Armor Piercing Ammo?

Any person wanting to make, own, and sell AP ammo must write a formal request to the ATF Director. 

There are 2 other documents you’ll have to fill out before you can start making, buying, or selling Ap ammo. The ATF Responsible Person’s Questionnaire and the official application of an FFL

Once you read through these documents and see the amount of work and time to get everything done, the question becomes, “is AP ammo worth it?”.  

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For me, there is plenty of ammo that I can buy from any ammo store online that will give me what I need for sport shooting and hunting applications. 

However, I realize that we’re all different and you may have a need for this type of ammo. Just know that it’s going to take a lot of time and patience to ensure everything is legal. 

Why Would a Civilian Need AP Ammo?

As a ballistic protection company, we understand there are distinct characteristics of each caliber of ammo. 

We often hear that only anarchists and criminals want to use AP ammo. Even if there are half truths in that sentiment, it’s not the full truth. 

For example, there are at least 30 states with lead bullet bans on hunting or sport shooting. Not only did the majestic California Condor almost go extinct from lead poisoning, our nation’s symbol of beauty and freedom, the Bald Eagle, has also suffered from lead poisoning.

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Lead ammo can wreak havoc on our nation's raptors because lead ammo can remain in the gut track of a deer, elk, or waterfowl. These incredible birds can digest any lead fragmentation, causing a painful and unnecessary death. 

A response to this issue is using metals, such as tungsten, steel, copper, and brass, instead of lead. Manufacturers use these metals in AP bullets to offer more weight and energy transmission. 

Those hunting at longer ranges in the Rockies, Cascades, or the Sierra Nevada mountain range can benefit from the added weight and ballistic advantage of an AP round. 

One thing to consider is not every metal tip is going to be an AP bullet. If the jacket isn’t over 25% of the total weight, it’s not classified as AP ammo in the eyes of the ATF.

What Do Different Color Bullet Tips Mean?

For the sake of this blog, we’re only going to focus on rifle ammo, instead of handgun ammo. We know there are dozens of companies that provide great body armor for handgun caliber bullets. 

Stopping a 7.62x63mm M2AP bullet is another story, though. This table below should help clarify what the different colored tips mean on rifle-caliber bullets. 

Bullet Tip Color














Dark Ignition Tracer


Standard/ Ball (Also could be older M855A1 ammo)

What are Black Tip Bullets For?

Any rifle-caliber bullet you see with a black tip is an AP bullet designed to push through light vehicles, windshields, and light personal armor (E.G. Level 2-Level 3). 

Black tip ammo can’t be found commercially because it’s meant for military combat rifles and machine guns. 

Black tip rifle-caliber bullets can punch through steel up to 1” thick, including many AR500 steel plates you see many people wearing. 

What is M855 Ammo?

I don't know if there has ever been a more controversial round than the M855 5.56x45mm bullet. Is the M855 an AP bullet or not? 

There is so much misinformation on the internet about this bullet that it’s hard for anyone not in the industry to know the truth. 

Although the M855 “green tip” bullet was initially intended as an armor piercing bullet, it doesn’t meet any of the guidelines for the ATF to qualify as AP.

For example, if you look back up to see the qualifications of an AP bullet, the M855 isn’t made from 100% tungsten alloy, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper or depleted uranium. It’s made mostly of lead and finished with a steel inside the core. 

The U.S. Army intends the M855 to be better and more effective against hard targets than the M193, but it underperformed in every ballistic category. Not only does the M855 have lead in its core, it’s not even an FMJ. 

From my research, I could not find any scenario on the LEOKA where an officer was killed by an M855 bullet while wearing armor from. In short, the M855 is going to punch through soft armor inserts with no problem, but so will the M193 that can buy anywhere.

What is M855A1 Ammo?

The M855A1 replaced the M855 my last year in the military (2010) because it’s significantly better in every characteristic. 

The M855A1 has a full steel penetrator core, whereas the M855 is mostly lead. The U.S. Army states that moving to the M855A1 removes over 2,000 tons of lead from bullet manufacturing.

Since the steel penetrator is ⅓ lighter than lead, you can achieve better ballistics with the M855A1 than the M855. The Army even uses higher-efficiency gun powder to reduce the muzzle flash of a supersonic rifle bullet. 

The M855A1 will defeat AR500 steel and many other ceramic and lower grade polyethylene plates. This is why it’s so important to ensure the NIJ rates your body armor to stop a steel penetrating core bullet. 

Will Duritium® Level 4 Body Armor Stop AP Ammo?

As we’ve stated many times before, ShotStop® cares deeply about the men and women who protect our nation and our communities.

If you’re looking for a hard plate insert for your plate carrier, there is nothing better than our 4.5 lb (per plate) Duritium® Level IV+HS plate. We’ve shown our Level 4 plates to be multi-hit, even with AP ammo. 

Duritium Level IV+HA body armor plate

Best Body Armor for Armor Piercing Protection

Our Duritium® Level IV+HS plate is the gold standard for maximum protection. We often get asked, “which plate gives me the highest level of protection?”.

Our Level IV + HS plate is rated to stop at least 6 30-06 M2AP, M855A1, and .308 AP bullets

What makes our HS plate so special is the durability of the plate under pressure. The NIJ standard for AP protection is 1 bullet. However, ShotStop® doesn’t believe in meeting the minimum standard in any test. 

We believe in setting the industry-leading standard for weight, protection, durability, and profile.

You can look all day and you’ll never find another plate that exceeds the standards of the NIJ with AP ammo and has an overall weight of only 5.3 lbs and thickness of less than 1”. 

We’re so confident in our Level IV+HS plate, we offer a 2-3x longer warranty on our Level 4 plates than anyone else in the industry. Our 10-year warranty is just one more reason it’s a simple decision for all LEOs and soldiers to switch to ShotStop®. 

Level 4 body armor

If the industry-leading specs of the plate can’t convince you, we offer exclusive and extensive discounts to all first responders and military personnel. 

We’re a business and we have to make money to stay a business, but from day one, our primary goal for ShotStop® is to Protect the Protectors

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