(This is an update from our article published on 11/3/2018)
Over the last few years, there’s been a massive uptick in sales of body armor globally. Hardly surprising, what with the rises in mass shootings and terrorism, civil unrest and rioting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and now the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In short, none of us ever know the moment we could find ourselves in the line of fire – whether without choice or simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, without anything like a bullet proof vest to protect, it’s normally average Joes and Janes who bear the brunt.
To this end, investing in body armor has been proven time and again to mean the difference between hanging on to your life or suffering serious injury/death.
Further to our Bulletproof Zone feature on the Best Body Armor: The Ultimate Buyer's Guide, in this article, we’re zeroing in on body armor for civilians - covering the legalities of buying and wearing body armor as a civilian, exactly which civilians wear bulletproof vests, plus our top picks of the latest and greatest civilian body armor out there.
But first, a quick recap on the basics of body armor...
Body Armor 101
By definition, body armor is any kind of protective wear that’s engineered to resist a bullet, a stab/slash, explosive shrapnel, or in some cases a taser discharge.
The Range of Body Armor
Types of Body Armor
Broadly speaking, body armor can be categorized as follows:Soft Armor
- Configured as protective panels (either permanently sewn into the carrier garment or as removable inserts) packed with a fibrous web of one or more synthetic fibers (typically Kevlar or Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene [UHMWPE])
- Designed to ‘trap’ a bullet and/or a stab
- Exists as armored plates (inserted into an outer carrier vest) made from steel, ceramic, polyethylene, or a composite of such materials
- Designed to deflect an incoming projectile and/or an edged/spiked weapon
On the whole, protective panels/plates are laid out front and back to shield the wearer’s heart, lungs, liver, kidneys as well as non-vital organs of the torso from a lethal blow. There are also, though, armored clothing products which offer varying degrees of protection specifically for the head or limbs.
Body Armor Protection Levels
Of all the factors involved when deciding which body armor to buy as a civilian, the designated level of protection matters more than anything.
There are a number of internationally recognized performance standards for body armor. The most widely adopted are those of the U.S. National Institute of Justice: NIJ-STD 0101.06 in respect to ballistic resistance and NIJ-STD 0115.00 in terms of stab/spike resistance.
In brief, Level IIA, Level II, and Level IIIA ballistic protection levels are associated with soft body armor; Level IIIA kit is rated to stop a minimum of 6 Semi-Jacketed Hollow Point rounds from a .44 caliber Magnum handgun.
Level III and Level IV ballistic protection levels relate to hard body armor and are capable of defeating one or more hits from high-velocity rifles such as the AK-47.
For a much more comprehensive run-through of the subject, check out our article on What Do The NIJ Protection Levels Mean?
Civilian Body Armor Laws and Regulations
Getting back to the original question of can civilians buy and wear body armor, it depends exactly where (and who) you are...
In the United States
At the federal level in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, it’s completely legal for anybody at least 18 years of age to buy, own, and wear body armor. What’s more, no background checks, papers, or holding period are necessary.
The only condition is that the individual has no criminal history and hasn’t been convicted of a felony (violent crime); even then, in certain circumstances, convicted felons may be officially sanctioned the use of body armor for reasons of work.
And it almost (but not quite) goes without saying that it's a federal crime to wear something like a bulletproof vest while committing a crime.
It’s also important to know that several of the 50 states (and sometimes cities within states) enact their own non-federal laws concerning body armor - when in particular situations, obtaining or sporting a bulletproof vest isn't actually legal. By way of examples:
Civilian residents can only procure body armor in person (not online, by mail order, nor over the phone).
In Topeka, Kansas, it’s not legal for civilians to don a bullet proof vest during outdoor assemblies, demonstrations, parades, protests, and rallies.
It’s illegal to wear body armor on school property, at a school-sponsored function, and on school transportation.
In New York
A senate committee is still (at March 2022) in talks about the A352 Assembly Bill; if passed, the new laws would completely prohibit private citizens from buying and wearing body armor anywhere in the state of New York.
For a more exhaustive and bang up-to-date breakdown of U.S. state body armor laws, check out our Body Armor is Legal in Which States?
Canadian federal law states that civilians can buy, own, and wear body armor in the provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan, as well as in the territories of Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon.
Do note, however, that some such bulletproof vest vendors in the Great White North operate their own store policy - only selling their wares to civilians in possession of a PAL/RPAL (firearms license), or else limiting the armor to that with a lower protection specification.
In Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia, unless somehow exempted, civilians must hold a Body Armor Permit issued by the respective provincial government in order to buy, own, or wear body armor.
In the United Kingdom
No legal restrictions on the general public buying, wearing or possessing body armor.
In the European Union
As a rule, soft body armor can be freely bought, owned, and worn by civilians; hard body armor, on the other hand, is classed as military armament, so off-limits. Each of the 27 member countries may impose additional controls on the purchase, ownership, and wearing of bulletproof vests by civilians.
In South America
- Argentina – Civilians require a license in order to buy, own, and wear body armor.
- Brazil – Anyone can buy, own, and wear body armor without need of a license.
Unlawful for civilians to possess or use body armor without a valid permit in the federated states of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, as well as in the internal territories of Australian Capital Territory, and Northern Territory.
- India, and Japan – Anyone can buy, own, and wear body armor without need of a license.
- Thailand – Civilians require a special license in order to buy, own, and wear body armor.
We do our utmost at Bulletproof Zone to ensure the information we provide is accurate, timely, and fit for purpose.
At the end of the day, though, satisfying legal requirements in full when purchasing body armor is on you - always do your due diligence and check with local authorities/regulatory departments before buying/wearing body armor lest you get stung with a hefty fine and possible jail time.
All Sorts of Civilians Wear Body Armor
It’s easy to believe that only the armed forces or a police officer would ever don a bulletproof vest. In reality, civilians from all walks of life regularly put on protective armor as part of their profession or personally for peace of mind.
Civilian Duties Assisting in Law and Order
- Bail bond agents
- Bounty hunters
- Door supervisors/bouncers
- Prison officers
- Private Investigators
- Repo men
- Subpoena servers
- Transportation Security Administration airport personnel
Civilian Roles with Ready Access to Cash/Valuables
- Armored truck drivers
- ATM repairmen
- Bank employees
- Convenience store, jewelry store, and pawnshop clerks
- Emergency Medical Technicians
- Gas station attendants
- Mail couriers and postal staff
Civilians who Engage in Close-quarter Security Detail
- Business executives
- Celebrities and VIPs
- Judges and attorneys
- Overseas diplomats
- Political figures
- Royals and presidents
- Trial witnesses
- Caught up in or reporting from a war zone
- Driving for a ride-sharing/-hailing service
- Hunting or range shooting
- Inhabiting or traveling through a crime-prone area
- Living in the sticks where response time from emergency services is too long
- Motorcycle riding at risk of abrasion injuries in the event of an accident
- Teaching in a rough high school
- Prepping for urban survival following a major disaster
The Best Body Armor for Civilians
We’ve rounded up half-a-dozen of the finest civilian body armor products available today:
Spartan Armor Systems DL Concealable Plate Carrier
Spartan Armor Systems DL Concealed Plate Carrier
- Hands down, our best selling brand of body armor
- For use in conjunction with Spartan Armor’s 10"x12" or 11"x14" Level IIIA Flex Fused Core soft armor panels, as well as their Level III AR500 Omega and Level III+ AR550 hard armor plates
- Low-profile ultra-minimalist bottom-loading carrier with integrated soft Mag Pouches
- Trusted by Israeli Security Forces
- Comfortable, streamlined discreet bulletproof vest that doesn't sacrifice safety for mobility
- Waist and shoulder straps can be adjusted up to three sizes bigger and one size smaller than the chosen carrier size
- Totally customizable multi-threat wrap-around bulletproof vest
- Choose from Level II or IIIA ballistic protection, and/or Level 1 or 2 edged blade protection, and/or Level 1 or 2 spike protection
- Coolmax and 3D spacer mesh-lined carrier with fully adjustable shoulder and waist straps for an optimum fit
- Combo head, body, and leg protection
- Bulletproof Hoodie engineered with military style wrap-around bodily protection, and trauma pad attached to each ballistic panel as an extra safeguard
- Bulletproof Pants protect the femoral arteries (in the thighs), the groin and the buttocks
Affordable Body Armor for Civilians - the Bulletproof Zone Promise
As well as the Bulletproof Zone price match guarantee, our bulletproof vests and other body armor are now even easier on the pocket because we let you spread the cost by various financing options. To say nothing of the fact that every single order over US$100 qualifies for complimentary shipping absolutely anywhere in the continental United States.
Unless you're an ex-criminal, the laws in many countries allow ordinary citizens unrestricted access to non-military grade body armor. Even in those places where a bulletproof vest is considered a deadly weapon, regular folks can still enjoy the use of body armor with the right paperwork.
Before investing in any body armor, though, don't neglect doing your homework about the laws and regulations in regard to buying and wearing things like bulletproof vests.
Once you're all clued up, head on over to the Bulletproof Zone body armor collection to find the protective kit which is most right for your specific needs.
Just a heads-up: with the recent turn of events in Ukraine, scores of individuals and charitable organizations across the globe have started snapping up all manner of protective gear to dispatch to the country and help protect otherwise vulnerable locals.
A fair few retailers are already running short (if not dry) on the more popular bulletproof vests. So if you're reading this and in the market for body armor, we'd urge you to get yours sharpish!
Got a pearl of wisdom from your own experience buying body armor such as a bullet proof vest? Or else, a beloved piece of body armor you can't recommend highly enough? Have your say in the comments section below!