We answer that question with an “it depends on…”
We thought we’d take a moment to provide a more straightforward answer to the question, “when is it illegal to own and wear a bulletproof vest?”
Federal Law vs. State Law
To better answer the question at hand, you need to understand that both federal and state laws govern body armor use. For instance, there are cases where it’s illegal to wear body armor to school events—according to the state.
But according to federal guidelines, if that were the only thing you were going by, it’s completely legal so long as you’re not using the vest while committing a crime and you’re not a convicted felon.
Unfortunately after the recent mass shootings…there’s been some lawmakers calling to add body armor regulations on regular civilians.
What is a Bulletproof Vest?
A bulletproof vest is just what it says, a vest. Its made with ballistic resistant materials such as Kevlar, ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), ceramic, or steel.
These materials allow a bullet or other projectile to hit the vest but not penetrate through to the person wearing it.
A bulletproof vest fits like a typical vest by covering the front, sides, and back of the upper torso.
Who is the Bulletproof Vest For?
Typically those that wear bulletproof vests are in high-risk occupations such as military, law enforcement, and security or executive protection.
These occupations are at a much higher risk of encountering violent confrontations.
That said, civilians can and do use bulletproof vests as well. You'll find bulletproof vests for children, adults, and working dogs that work with law enforcement and military.
Different Types of Bulletproof Vests
There are two primary flavors of bulletproof vests. You’re looking at either soft armor or hard armor depending on the threats you need to be prepared for.
There are several things to consider when deciding whether soft body armor or hard body armor is best for you.SOFT BODY ARMOR
- NIJ Level IIA to IIIA: protects against handgun rounds up to .44 Magnum
- Made with lightweight, ultra-strong materials such as Kevlar or Dyneema (UHMWPE)
- concealable and discrete (can be worn under clothing)
- easier to move in due to lighter weight and materials
Soft armor can be incorporated into a low profile plate carrier to offer similar protection to an actual vest.
The big difference between the two is the bulletproof vest is a composite soft armor vest; there are no armor plates that you insert and remove.HARD BODY ARMOR
- NIJ Level III to IV: body armor that protects against advanced threat levels and armor-piercing rounds
- Usually made of steel, polyethylene, or ceramic
- Typically used in overt plate carriers (not concealable - worn over clothing)
- Not as lightweight as soft armor due to heavier steel or ceramic plates, so mobility can be affected
Hard armor plate carriers function in pretty much the same way as soft armor carrier vests: you insert armor plates into the front and back pockets (and sometimes sides) of the vest.
But with hard armor carrier vests, you're looking at much more advanced protection than soft armor provides.
Hard Armor Plate Carrier vs Soft Armor Vest
Choose a soft armor vest if your most likely threats are handguns AND you need the vest to basically be like a second skin. This setup is ideal for executive protection details or those working in a low vis environment.
Soft armor vests are wearable for extended work shifts, concealable beneath everyday clothing, and light enough not to hamper your mobility in case you need to run, jump, roll, etc.
But remember: soft armor vests (rated for level 3a protection) provide no ballistic protection against rifle calibers.
If you’re in an occupation where you face the threat of rifle calibers, choose a hard armor plate carrier with armor plates rated at a minimum of Level 3. If you want maximum protection against rifle rounds, then look at level 4 armor plates.
Choosing The Best Body Armor for Your Bulletproof Vest
Knowing the threats you’re likely to face will help in identifying the type of body armor to use in your plate carrier. There are two main types of body armor; soft armor and hard armor.
Soft body armor is typically in the form of a soft insert that is rated at level 3a which only stops handgun rounds. These are found in backpacks much of the time and not inside a plate carrier. For your plate carrier, you’re going to want hard plates in order to defeat rifle threats.
For the best all-around hard armor plates, go with Level III which is rated to defeat 5.56 NATO and the hotter M855 green tip rounds. These are the most commonly used rounds with the AR-15 rifle. Level III body armor will also defeat other rifle rounds such as 7.62x39, 308 WIN, and 300 Blackout.
To determine what level of body armor plates you need in your plate carrier, it helps to understand the NIJ levels.
For an in-depth explanation of these, be sure to read the following articles we wrote breaking it all down.
How Can ShotStop Help
We offer comfortable plates for both men and women. All Duritium® Level III+ and Duritium® Level IV plates are stand-alone. Duritium® has outstanding multi-hit protection with up to dozens of stopped bullets. You can expect to see at least a 6-shot protection from our Level III plates.
We understand that not everyone comes in the same shapes and sizes and that’s why we’ve created our plates to be multi-curved. Have you ever worn body armor and ever felt like the armor was too tight and it was restricting your breathing? If so, you should look for a multi-curved plate.
A plate with multiple curves is designed to accommodate as many body types as possible. The curvature of the plate is designed to give you more room in the chest and stomach. This type of plate still provides the same level of protection as a flat plate, but it’s just going to be much more comfortable for women and larger men.
Choosing ShotStop® gives you the best chance at staying in the fight after you’ve been hit. There is no sugarcoating the fact that even if your armor stops the bullet it’s going to hurt… A LOT.
Choosing body armor isn’t something that should be taken lightly.
After all, it’s your life you’re entrusting to a few inches of steel, ceramic, or plastic, so you want to feel confident in your decision.
Be sure to do a little research into what threat protection level suits your needs and take time to measure yourself, so you can find the right armor plates.