Can Civilians Own Body Armor?

You keep your Glock by the bedside in case home invaders attack during the night, and you have your motion cameras recording at all times, but are you prepared if a disgruntled employee shows up at the office and starts shooting? It’s not unheard of; say “going postal,” and more than half the people in the room know what you mean.

If you’ve decided it’s time to add body armor to your personal protection gear, do you know what you need or want? Have you checked the laws in your state? Do you want level 1 or level 4? Covert or overt? Bulletproof or stab-proof?

This article gives you an overview of body armor laws, the different body armor types, and other pertinent information you need before buying your first vest or plate t-shirt.

What is Body Armor?

If you are like most people, you immediately think of swat teams and bulletproof vests when you think of body armor. Body armor covers more than just bulletproof vests. Any gear that is designed to protect your body from harm can be considered body armor.

Body armor can be designed to protect you from stabs and cuts only, or it can be designed to protect you from bullets. The level of protection can vary as well. Some armor is made to protect you from handgun bullets, while others shield you from a rifle and higher ballistic bullets.

Is It Legal to Buy and Own Body Armor?

The simple answer is yes; you can buy and own body armor if you are a law-abiding citizen. However, there are a few caveats that you have to keep in mind:

  • If you have a felony conviction on your record, you cannot buy a bulletproof vest.
  • Connecticut citizens must make their purchases face-to-face, with no online sales.
  • If you wear body armor while committing a crime, the penalty for the crime is significantly worse.

Unlike gun purchases, you do not have to undergo a background check when buying bulletproof vests and other protection for yourself. If you have a felony in your background, buying the armor is a decision you have to make yourself.

Even if you have a felony in your past, you may still be able to buy protective gear. If you work in a field that requires it, you can get a written statement and assert an affirmative defense if you are charged with a crime.

You do need to check your state laws to find out if there are other criteria before you buy your gear. Most states don’t have specific laws regarding owning body armor. However, in Connecticut, you have to make your purchase in person; you can’t buy it online.

Can You Wear Body Armor in Public?

Just like the laws regarding buying body armor, the law isn’t very detailed about wearing the gear in public. If you have a felony in your background, you can’t wear it in public because you can’t legally purchase it.

Again, you need to check your state’s laws to determine if there are specifics for wearing armor. In many states, it is illegal to wear body armor on school grounds unless your job requires it.

The biggest thing to remember is that if you are wearing body armor while committing a crime, the penalties for the crime are more severe, and in some cases, the crime itself may change from one degree to a more severe degree.

Should Civilians Own Body Armor?

Watch the national news. How many people are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time when a riot breaks out? You’re minding your own business, trying to buy a coffee, and suddenly there are gunshots and people throwing bottles.

What do you do? If you’re prepared, you aren’t nearly as worried as some people. You have on your plated t-shirt under your jacket, or your briefcase has riot-proof padding.

It’s no different than owning guns to protect your family at home. You travel to and from work daily. You never know when you might find yourself in a situation where having protective clothing or gear could save your life. It’s always better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

If you are part of a neighborhood watch group or take evening walks around the park, you might want a vest or something covert that will protect you if you are attacked.

Level 4 Body Armor

Level 4 body armor is designed for military use; it will stop up to a .30 caliber bullet from penetrating. If you want this much protection, you can legally buy and wear it as long as you are not a convicted felon.

Adding this level of protection can be beneficial if you will be in situations that could become deadly, like the previously mentioned neighborhood watch. You don’t take a knife to a gunfight; why wear a vest that is only rated for knives when the area is known for drive-bys and shootouts?

Level 4 body armor is made of ceramic and polyethylene. It is designed to be used in vests that protect the chest and back from gunshot wounds and can be purchased online and through some gun and tactical shops.

Choosing Body Armor

There are three main factors that you should use when choosing your protective gear:

  1. Weight
  2. Cost
  3. Threat Level


If you are going to wear your gear all day, you don’t want to lug around an additional 20 lbs. or feel constricted by the armor. Consider how long you will have it on at any one time and what you will be doing while wearing it.

Do you want stand-alone body armor or in-conjunction armor? In-conjunction plates are used with softcover armor and add weight. Stand-alone is the most common type of armor.


Body armor isn’t super expensive, but it’s also not going to be the cheapest thing in your wardrobe. Be prepared to spend more based on the level of protection you need and the material it is made of. If you want the lightest material with the best protection, you may have to pay more.


The most important thing to consider is the threat level. How much protection do you need or want? You can get body armor designed to protect you from the basic homeowner’s handgun all the way up to a 30.06.

Most people opt for body armor somewhere in the middle of the two. Level 4 might be a little more than you need, but you probably do want something more than a level 2, especially in today’s world where guns of every caliber are on the street.

No material is truly bulletproof, only bullet resistant. Keep this in mind as well when making your decisions on what to buy.

Overt or Covert?

You also need to decide if you want visible, overt, or hidden, covert, body armor.

Do you want your body armor hidden under your clothing, or do you care if it is visible? If you plan to wear it all day under your suit, you may want a softer, lighter-weight covert option.

On the other hand, if you want to be able to take it off and on quickly and don’t care who knows you are wearing gear, you might want to look at overt options. Both have varying levels of protection available.

While you are looking at overt and covert options, you should also think about protecting other parts of your body, like your head or arms and legs. You can buy headgear and arm and leg protection if you feel like you need to add extra gear.

If you want a piece of gear that you can use as a shield during unexpected chaos, a briefcase or backpack with plates is a good option. You don’t have to worry about looking like you are ready for a fight with armor, but at the same time, you are ready to shield yourself if the bullets start flying.

Where Can Civilians Buy Body Armor?

Because there are no forms to fill out, buying body armor is a simple as logging on to the Internet and ordering what you want unless you live in Connecticut, where you have to buy it in person.

If you prefer to shop in person, a quick Google search will point you in the direction of businesses near you that sell protective gear. Purchasing body armor is currently done on an honor system; even though it is illegal to buy it if you have a felony, no one checks your background.


Can civilians own body armor? Yes, as long as you don’t have a felony background, you can buy and wear body armor anytime you want. You should check state laws for any added laws, such as not wearing it on school grounds, but for the most part, it is perfectly legal to put on your bulletproof vest and go for a jog.

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