The 9 Things You Should Know Before Buying a Ballistic Shield
We humans have been using shields in the interests of bodily safety for millennia. Long gone are the days, though, when they were made only to fend off arrows and spears.
Today, what with gun crime a serious and ever growing threat in society, proper protection is needed against bullets and other projectiles.
Of course, there’s bulletproof vests, plate carriers and such like. Except in certain situations or circumstances, body armor alone just won’t cut it.
Presenting the Ballistic Shield.
Around since the early 1900s but, thanks to breakthroughs in materials science and technology, evolved plenty during the last couple of decades.
Compared to picking out body armor, however, there’s a whole lot more to weigh up when investing in a ballistic shield.
But help is at hand. To spare you the sleepless nights, we’ve put together the finer points of what to look for when choosing a ballistic shield.
To start off though, let’s go right back to ground zero…
AT A GLANCE
- What is a Ballistic Shield?
- Who uses a Ballistic Shield and When?
- Tactical Shields for Police/Law Enforcement
- Tactical Shields for Armed Forces/Paramilitary
- Ballistic Shields for Civilians
- How to Choose a Ballistic Shield
- What is the difference between a ballistic shield and a riot shield?
WHAT IS A BALLISTIC SHIELD?
The ballistic shield goes by many names:
Bullet-resistant shield (or strictly incorrectly, bulletproof shield)
Tactical Shield (most commonly of all)
It’s a device that, one-on-one or in formation, is used mostly defensively to protect from a wide variety of physical attacks.
Beyond everything, as a barrier against bullets.
Far more often than not, ballistic shields can also ward off potentially less serious threats:
Weaponized projectiles such as hurled Molotov cocktails or bricks, and blunt objects such as a baseball bat or a sledgehammer
Chemical splash hazards
Slashes from a machete, stabs from a knife, and spikes from a hypodermic needle or an ice pick
Kicks and punches
Simply shifted from one position to another, a ballistic shield can counter threats coming from all directions.
In some instances, at short range, a ballistic shield can be used in an offensive capacity - - as an instrument to push back or lash out at an opponent during Close-Quarters Battle [CQB], for example.
On other occasions, ballistic shields can be invaluable as a de-escalation tool - - to quickly defuse violent or aggressive behaviour without having to resort to lethal force.
No matter how they’re used and against what, their job is always the same - - to help neutralize threats swiftly while keeping the shield operator, any team mates, and the law-abiding community out of harm’s way.
WHO USES A BALLISTIC SHIELD & WHEN?
Tactical Shields for Police/Law Enforcement
By a long way, ballistic shields are most often deployed by the police.
Above all, tactical officers from special ops crews such as:
Local and state police departments’ Special Weapons and Tactics [SWAT].
At a national/regional level, the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Critical Incident Response Group [CIRG] and Hostage Rescue Team [HRT].
They’re brought into play when tackling society’s most dangerous crimes. To reel off just a few applications:
Busting narcotics dens
Executing high-risk warrants (search/arrest) and traffic stops
Storming barricaded buildings or suspects/perps
Setting up a perimeter (before waiting for reinforcements)
More and more though, ballistic shields are being taken up by School Resource Officers [SROs]. Not to mention, by patrol officers who chance arriving first on the scene at, say, a mass shooting.
In case such a life-threatening scenario crops up whilst on duty, it’s fast becoming standard practice for peace officers to stash a tactical shield in their patrol vehicle.
Not forgetting that, however niche, ballistic shields are also issued in other U.S. law enforcement agencies like Customs and Border Protection, Marshall Service, Corrections, and Courts.
Tactical Shields for Military Personnel
Ballistic shields are in service with the armed forces and paramilitary outfits as well. Just, in contrast to their use by police, far less so.
In particular, they’re engaged by elite Special Forces operatives during urban assaults on blockaded buildings and public transportation.
Plus, by Special Reaction Team [SRT] (military police) units within the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard when dealing with high-threat alerts inside a military base/compound.
Ballistic Shields for Civilians
Besides other first responders like Tactical Emergency Medical Technicians, ballistic shields aren’t so sought after (or even thought necessary) among regular folk.
If anything, private citizens tend to plump for some form of body armor. Or as Every-Day Carry [EDC], a bulletproof backpack which can actually be wielded as a mini ballistic shield.
Ballistic shields for real are sometimes snagged for the sake of home defense. Else, for in the event of a car-jacking.
Not that, in being as prepared as possible, ballistic shields offer any less value for those working in dicier occupations - - professionals who assist in law and order like bail bondsmen, bounty hunters, and security guards or persons with ready access to cash/valuables such as convenience or jewelry store staff, armored truck drivers, ATM repairmen, and bank employees.
Wherever, as a civilian, just be sure to comply with federal/state laws concerning the purchase, ownership, and use of ballistic shields.
Country-wise, at the minute, they’re legal for ordinary Americans to own. Even so, in some states, tactical shields aren’t allowed where concealed carry isn’t.
HOW TO CHOOSE A BALLISTIC SHIELD?
Having the right ballistic shield for the given situation or circumstances can be the difference between life and death.
Meaning every make and model of tactical shield has its virtues as well as failings.
Precisely why, before shelling out on one, it’s vital to think about the where, when and how of using the shield. At the very least, factor in the following:
What types of ballistic shield are there?
Ballistic shields can be neatly categorized as one of two sorts:
Designed to be held with one or two hands.
Used across the board.
Mounted on a wheeled dolly, and meant to be rolled.
One for the pros at security check posts, diplomatic missions, and so forth (and not something the average Joe or Jane would keep at home!).
What are ballistic shields made of?
Perhaps not surprisingly, tactical shields share the same kind of protective make-up as body armor.
The majority of ballistic shields are constructed of synthetic Ultra-High Molecular Weight PolyEthylene [UHMWPE] and/or aramid (usually Kevlar).
Much lighter, the soft armor fabric is engineered to trap an incoming bullet.
Whereas others are made from the likes of ceramic, steel, or carbon fiber. Loads heavier, the hard armor materials deflect (even shatter) the projectile.
What’s more, the outside of ballistic shields are often treated with a layer of polyurea. Coating the shield to resist spall, flames, salt, oil, gas, even the elements.
Heck, some ballistic shields are painted to refract Near-Infrared [NIR] light to avoid being detected by Night Vision Goggles [NVGs].
What levels of protection do ballistic shields provide?
As distinct from body armor, tactical shields are rated according to U.S. National Institute of Justice NIJ-STD 0108.01. The designated threat levels, though, are identical.
In order of increasing protection:
Stops almost all small arms rounds including 9mm, .357 SIG Sauer, 12 gauge shotgun slugs, and up to a .44 Magnum.
An unofficial rating, Level IIIA+ provides protection as per Level IIIA plus one or more ‘special threats’ specified by the shield manufacturer.
Far and away, the most popular protection level amongst ballistic shields.
Defeats rifle cartridges up to 7.62 mm FMJ and 5.56mm. On top of all lesser ballistic threats.
An unofficial rating, Level III+ provides protection as per Level III plus one or more ‘special threats’ as set by the shield manufacturer.
Growing in popularity as active shooters gradually adopt higher powered firearms.
Repels high-velocity armor-piercing rifle calibers such as 7.62 AP and 30-06 M2 AP.
Pretty much limited to push shields, and only wheeled out under extreme conditions.
Also unlike body armor, bullets halted by a ballistic shield shouldn’t inflict blunt force trauma to the operator. That’s because the shield isn’t in direct contact with the body.
As it happens, with the shield as a counterbalance and other than a bang as the bullet strikes, the operator wouldn’t feel the impact. Maybe a slight shove backwards if hit with a higher velocity round. They would, though, notice the effect if the shield was pelted with rocks, say.
Still, even the beefiest tactical shield on the planet is only as good as the individual brandishing it.
Proper training, online and field instruction, is an absolute must – - not just to know the way the shield itself works, but also how so when used together with other gear such as a firearm.
Which are the most important specifications of a ballistic shield?
The weight of a ballistic shield is the key spec to think about. Specially, in connection with the maximum protection it offers versus how portable it is.
Generally, the heavier the shield, the higher the protection. But at the expense of mobility and speed.
On the flip side, lighter weight shields sacrifice some protection. But are easier to stabilize on the go, and make the operator faster and more maneuverable on their feet.
As a rough guide, portable shields run from a mere 5lbs to nearly ten times that. Level IIIA shields come in somewhere between 8lbs and 30lbs.
Push shields, on the other hand, can tip the scales at a whopping several hundred pounds.
Bear in mind too that it’s not only the ballistic materials that account for the weight of a tactical shield. Adding one or more features to the shield will up its mass by varying degrees, sometimes quite significantly.
SHAPE & CURVATURE
Once the norm, flat ballistic shields are the least costly to turn out. When forming a wall of defense, they can also be linked together, horizontally or vertically, more tightly.
Then again, curved ballistic shields give greater protection at the edges and from shots coming in at an angle. Along with dispersing a bullet’s energy more efficiently.
Rectangular tactical shields are still the standard shape.
Dynamic shape ballistic shields come in all manner of styles. And count a platform that lets the operator, most quickly and easily, hold and fire a weapon.
V-shape ballistic shields, as can be guessed, are tapered towards the bottom. They’re purposed for linear assaults and to draw fire away from the centerline.
Whatever the shield’s profile, typically, they can be customized with a weapon cut-out (or else a weapon support bracket). Allowing the operator to insert (or seat) a firearm without being fully exposed.
Even the most compact ballistic shield affords greater protective coverage than just about any body armor panel or plate.
They start as little as 8”x16”. Those up to about 16”x20” are most suited for when there’s nearby cover from trees, walls, and whatnot; or in confined spaces (think stairwells, hallways, or tunnels).
They’re appropriate for safeguarding the head and torso. At the same time, can be readied instantly and a breeze to stow.
More mainstream proportioned ballistic shields, from 20”x30” to 24”x36”, provide arguably the best combination of mobility and protection.
Those bigger yet, at some 24”x48”, can manage full-length protection. Shielding either a single operator or a stack of operators behind.
It wasn’t long ago that ballistic shields could only be had in black. Reason being so the shield wasn’t overly conspicuous and didn’t attract attention.
Though still the most widespread color, lately, tactical shields are being knocked out in extra colors/patterns. Not least Coyote Tan, Wolf Gray, MultiCam, and Ranger Green.
Although something of a rarity, a few models of tactical shield are entirely clear. Made out of ballistic polycarbonate laminate, they give the operator a more or less unobstructed view of the goings-on around them.
What are the typical features of a ballistic shield?
Save for those which have to be pushed, tactical shields are lugged around by means of single or double handles at the back.
Many are built for ambidextrous use so equally transportable by both left- and right-handed users. Oftentimes with the option of two or three different carry positions.
How the handgrip is configured will impact how hassle-free the shield is to be carried or swapped from one hand to another.
Over and above affecting the class of firearm that can used with the shield and how the gun can be held, shot, and loaded/reloaded.
Apart from rigid handles, ballistic shields can be accessorized to provide added carrying comfort during extended use. High-density padding, forearm straps, and quick-release shoulder sling/harness, for instance.
Bar those which are transparent, most tactical shields can be rigged with a viewport.
A clear window for seeing straight ahead and, depending on the size and shape, to the sides, and up and down so the operator has eyes on at all moments without having to peer round the side of the shield and leave their head vulnerable.
Viewing ports are armored, of course; normally of ballistic polycarbonate.
Any number of super tough high-power spotlights can be installed on the strike face of a ballistic shield. Exactly where on the front, though, needs mulling over carefully.
Either built-in or as an add-on, shield lights serve a dual purpose.
For one, the operator can clock obstacles, threats, and other things in dark environments.
For another, those facing the shield are forced to look away, turn around or, with strobe lighting, become disoriented. Whichever, it gives the shield bearer a tactical advantage.
How much do ballistic shields cost?
What with their bulletproofing, ballistic shields are admittedly rather harder on the pocket than riot shields.
As a rule, the higher the protection level, the steeper the price tag. Same goes the more sizeable the shield, the more features it boasts, any special finishes, even the color/pattern.
In a word, there’s the broadest spectrum of pricing. Overall, from a touch under 300 bucks to more than 20 grand.
Roughly speaking, smaller personal shields drop from $500 to $1000; medium and larger handheld shields up to $4000; and push shields anywhere from $5000 upwards.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BALLISTIC SHIELD AND A RIOT SHIELD?
Sure, the two are indistinguishable in some respects, but in others radically different. So to clear up any confusion:
Save for circular riot shields, both are two or three times taller than wide and curved in profile.
Added to which, one and the other are used by police and military alike mainly for self-defense.
Virtually all riot shields, other than an identifier imprint/strip, are completely see-through. Ballistic shields seldom are.
Riot shields are also, by and large, only man-portable and deployed for crowd control; whether on the streets or in a prison facility. Unless the unrest gets especially brutal when ballistic shields will likely be brought into action.
With precious few exceptions, a riot shield is only good to protect against blunt or bladed weapons, thrown projectiles, rubber bullets, water cannons and similar.
So when armed conflict is expected or the odds high, a riot shield just wouldn’t offer adequate protection. Instead, a ballistic shield’s called for.
Courtesy of advances in materials and tech, ballistic shields have gotten decidedly stronger and more lightweight in the last twenty years.
These days, they're wielded by the police, military, even at home and in the workplace against a multitude of threats; from defending against bullets to ramping down hostile intent.
Yet with heaps of separate aspects to ponder, selecting the right tactical shield for the specific situation can be something of a minefield. Key among them being the type of shield, the protection level, weight, shape and size, additional features and, naturally, the cost.
Crucially different from riot shields, reckon a ballistic shield as body armor with benefits. When facing off, tactical shields are indispensable for bringing a potentially deadly confrontation to a quick and decisive end.
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We hope this blog post helped you learn more about these life-saving piece of equipment! Comment below if you have an experience with ballistics shields - we would love to hear from you!