By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters
If you watch YouTube, a lot of firearms trainers and YouTube gun channel personalities are wearing body armor. A number of instructors have advocated in print that the armed citizen should have it as well. Since the civilian market for guns and other gear mirrors or otherwise takes inspiration from trends in the military and law enforcement equipment, it stands to reason that if cops and soldiers wear body armor to save their lives, we should too.
Should you have body armor?
This isn’t to touch on the issue of whether body armor should be sold to civilians. Some body armor manufacturers will only sell their products to law enforcement or militaries as they feel that to be the case. Furthermore it would be ludicrous prima facie to argue that safety equipment should only be sold to some people; doing so at some point devolves into (either directly or by the transitive property) arguing that some people should be less concerned about losing their lives and/or that some lives are less worth saving than others.
Instead, the idea is to consider whether or not purchasing body armor really is a good idea for the armed citizen and/or the Average Joe or Jane. Not for police officers – who have to wear it – or for armed guards or armored truck drivers, but for the typical civilian.
The short answer is that it’s a good idea on paper, but unless you’re going to wear it all the time it’s not going to do much for you in the real world and at that, not much. However, there are some off-label uses, so to speak, that actually might be worth getting it for, which we’ll get into.
Obviously, you want to give yourself every possible advantage over potential threats that you can, which body armor does give you. Level II, IIA, IIIA or even Level IV armor (for those unaware, Level IV armor has ceramic or steel plates) will keep a bullet from entering your body if hit in the torso, and keeping you in the fight. An armed criminal or maniacal mass shooter who isn’t wearing any will therefore be at a disadvantage to an armed citizen who is, which is also why police (and certainly the military) wear body armor.
As mentioned, a good idea on paper. But exactly how practical is it?
This isn’t to argue that you should be cavalier about any aspect of personal safety. This is instead to say that the chances you’ll ever get into a shootout with anyone are extremely low.
This isn’t new information, but almost all the evidence we have indicates that of the several million annual instances of defensive gun use by armed civilians in the United States, more than 99 percent don’t involve a single shot being fired. There are millions of defensive gun uses (estimates range from 2 million to 7 million instances per year) but only a few thousand shootings and a few hundred justifiable homicides per year, so it’s safe to say that civilians just don’t often get into shootouts with bad guys.
Furthermore, if you have a reasonable expectation that you’ll have need of it – meaning your odds of needing body armor are realistically high relative to the average person – chances are your best bet is finding a Realtor (and moving to somewhere less crime-ridden) or you need to enter witness protection.
Sure, there’s the threat of a potential terrorist attack or some sort of mass shooting event, but those events are exceedingly rare. Yes, some parts of the media state that several hundred mass shootings take place per year, but the definition is loose (it just means more than 4 people are wounded) and most of them, when examined, are gang-related.
Again, this isn’t to say that you should be cavalier about risks to your safety, but be aware that some risks are mostly hypothetical (though possible) and some are realistic given a higher degree of probability.
Hypothetically, there could be a mass shooting that starts the next time you go to an area Large Mart store, but it’s more likely that you’ll get killed in a car crash on the way there. The fried chicken and jojo potatoes from the deli are even more dangerous, given how many Americans suffer from heart disease and Type II diabetes.
In other words, body armor can protect you; that much is inarguable. The odds you’ll need that type of protection are exceedingly low.
But aren’t the criminals wearing it now?
Sometimes they are. The perpetrators in the North Hollywood shootout were, as have a few other high-profile incidents, including a few mass shootings.
But how often?
In 2012, Slate reported a few states’ findings on arrests of criminals for use of a bulletproof vest in the commission of a crime. Illinois reported 87 arrests from 2005 to 2012, Florida reported 41 arrests from 2010 to 2012 and New York state reported 176 arrests from 2007 to 2011. Slate also reported 25 incidents in Lexis Nexis that involved the use of body armor or a tactical vest in the commission of a crime between January and August of that year. These incidents included instances wherein home invaders wore body armor.
Body armor and tactical vests are also frequently found in raids of gang members and drug dealer’s homes. There is also a certain amount of black market trade to Mexican cartels, wherein straw buyers purchase body armor and then smuggle it over the border.
Criminals are definitely obtaining and using body armor, but the evidence indicates that it’s quite rare.
Then we come to the issue of actually wearing it.
Wearing body armor is less comfortable than not wearing it. As a general rule, people will find reasons to not put things on their body that they don’t like because it turns out that being more comfortable is generally more desirable than being less comfortable.
For the average citizen, that means you probably won’t wear your body armor very often if you buy it, which more or less defeats the purpose.
You could keep in the trunk of your car much like how some people keep a “car gun” (often a shotgun or carbine in the trunk) but the hitch there is that you’ve got to get to it for it to do you any good. It could happen, but it’s not likely; most real-world defensive encounters happen too fast.
Again, there’s what is hypothetically possible and there’s what is realistically probable, and rarely do the two meet in the real world. Unless you’re going to wear it all the time, it’s almost pointless to have it in the first place for it’s typical use of stopping bullets.
So, should you buy body armor? Well, it’s a good idea for all the obvious reasons, but unless you’re prepared to wear it all the time it’s not likely to do you any good for its primary purpose and the odds you’ll need it are exceedingly low.
But there are some off-label uses, so to speak, that actually make it a good thing to have.
Body armor, even soft body armor like Level II and Level III, guards against blunt force and penetrative trauma, so any instance where that’s a known risk would be a good time to be wearing it.
For instance, body armor could provide very beneficial protection for people who, say, ride motorcycles or horses, or participate in certain outdoor activities that present a high risk of such injury like mountain climbing or downhill skiing or snowboarding (powder is fine to fall on, but harder-packed snow is not) and so on and so forth.
Granted, Harley owners probably don’t have to worry about it as much since they’re going to be on the side of the road with mechanical issues but it would be a decent investment if you had a Gold Wing.
In those instances, investing in Kevlar or other body armor would be a very good idea. As for everyone else? Well, you get to make your own decisions. If you feel like you need to or want to, feel free.
Sam Hoober is a Contributing Editor to AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.