Disclaimer: We are not lawyers. If you have specific questions, it's best to ask your local law enforcement agency about the laws governing the purchase and use of body armor in your state.
Not too long ago, we wrote a blog answering the question, is it legal to wear body armor in public? We answer that question with an “it depends on…” While it was covered in the previous blog, we thought we’d take a moment to provide a more straightforward answer to the question, when is it illegal to own 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.
CAN CONVICTED FELONS HAVE BODY ARMOR?
No, as a convicted felon it’s illegal to possess, purchase, or own body armor. However, there are cases of employment where this does not apply. Let’s go over what each of these means.
CAN CONVICTED FELONS POSSESS BODY ARMOR?
The easy answer, no, unless it’s needed for employment. But what does possession mean exactly? Possession means your buddy can’t leave his or her armor in your car. To be more specific, if you’re a felon and get pulled over with body armor in your vehicle, the excuse “it’s not mine” won’t work. The thing could have a birth certificate with your friend’s name on it, and you’ll still be in violation of federal law.
CAN CONVICTED FELONS PURCHASE BODY ARMOR?
Unless it’s needed for employment a felon cannot purchase body armor. This means, if your buddy is short on cash and he or she needs or wants body armor, you can’t buy it for them. You can’t buy anyone body armor for Christmas, their birthday, or just because if you’re a convicted felon.
CAN CONVICTED FELONS OWN BODY ARMOR?
Again, unless it’s needed for employment, no. This means someone can’t purchase body armor for you.
HOW TO GET BODY ARMOR AS A CONVICTED FELON
As stated several times already, if you’re a convicted felon but need body armor for your job, then you can possess, purchase, and own body armor for yourself. However, there are some steps you’ll need to take to make this legal.
If you happen to work a job where body armor is required, you’ll need written certification from a supervisor stating this. Otherwise, you’re still committing a crime because there’s no proof you were authorized to have and wear body armor.
18 U.S.C. 931 PROHIBITION ON PURCHASE, OWNERSHIP, OR POSSESSION OF BODY ARMOR BY VIOLENT FELONS
(a) IN GENERAL—Except as provided in subsection (b), it shall be unlawful for a person to purchase, own, or possess body armor, if that person has been convicted of a felony that is—
(1) a crime of violence (as defined in section 16); or (2) an offense under State law that would constitute a crime of violence under paragraph
(1) if it occurred within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
(b) AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—It shall be an affirmative defense under this section that—
(A) the defendant obtained a prior written certification from his or her employer that the defendant's purchase, use, or possession of body armor was necessary for the safe performance of lawful business activity; and
(B) the use and possession by the defendant were limited to the course of such performance.
(2) EMPLOYER.—In this subsection, the term "employer" means any other individual employed by the defendant's business that supervises the defendant's activity. If that defendant has no supervisor, prior written certification is acceptable from any other employee of the business.
Body Armor State Laws
What happens when you break state law, but you’re within your federal rights? You might get a sentence enhancement, charged with a body armor specific crime, or simply get charged with possession if you’re a convicted felon or even convicted of certain violent misdemeanors. Let’s dive into those a little bit more.
ENHANCED SENTENCING FOR CRIMES INVOLVING BODY ARMOR
If you break state laws in regards to body armor, there’s a chance you’ll get enhanced sentencing, depending on what state you live in. For example, if you happen to live in the state of California, you can have an additional two years added to your sentence.
Some states even increase the felony level. What does this mean? It means whatever felony you committed; if you were using body armor while committing that crime, your felony charges could increase, again depending on what state you’ve committed the crime in.
BODY ARMOR CRIMES
Some states consider the use of body armor to commit a crime to be a stand-alone crime. This means, if you were to go into a convenience store and rob the place, you’d be charged with robbery. However, if you went into the store to steal and were wearing body armor, you’d be charged with theft AND a second charge of wearing body armor while committing a crime.
Some states, specifically Louisiana, don’t care if you’ve committed a crime or not. Without written permission from a principal, you can’t wear body armor on school grounds. In fact, you can’t wear body armor to any function sponsored by a school without written permission.
BODY ARMOR POSSESSION CHARGES
Just like federal laws, there are state laws in place prohibiting the possession of body armor if you’re a convicted felon. However, the statutes per each state may read a bit differently.
For instance, some states restrict possession to personnel who committed violent felonies. Therefore, if you’re a felon, but you didn’t commit a felony involving violence, you’re not committing a crime, per that specific state. Keep in mind; there are still federal laws.
There are also states which have stricter laws than the federal government. For example, some states include misdemeanors involving violence. However, if you work a job requiring body armor, there are states allowing possession.
SELLING BODY ARMOR
Just as laws govern the possession and use of body armor, some states even have specific laws restricting how body armor is sold. For instance, if you live in the state of Connecticut, you MUST sell in person. That means you can’t sell body armor to someone over the internet. If you do sell to someone in the state of Connecticut and you did it online or over the phone, you’re going to face some state charges.
Again, we aren’t lawyers. If you think there’s any reason you can’t possess, purchase, or own body armor, then you should reach out to local authorities. If you’ve committed a felony or violent misdemeanor and need body armor, you should also talk with local authorities. Ask and see if you’re authorized to use and possess body armor for work, and find out what your state requires to make this legal.