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Body Armor For Civilians - Part 1: What You May Not Know

Body Armor For Civilians - Part 1: What You May Not Know

Civilian Body Armor Use: What You Should Know

Part 1: A Practical Matter

April is body armor month at 221B Tactical, and we’re offering a 15-percent discount on most body armor we sell, including plates.

This month, I’m also going to share some practical, useful information for civilians about body armor. I’ll discuss how to choose the right kind of body armor, and explain the different ballistic protection levels. I’ll also discuss the role of body armor in home defense, how to wear it and how to train with it.

Today, I want to make the case that civilian use of body armor is a matter of practicality, not paranoia. Because in today’s world, it’s not just police officers who are at risk. Civilians, too, face real and present danger in day-to-day life, and the use of body armor protection could make the difference between life and death for them.

We know body armor works. More than 3,100 officers have been saved from death or serious injury since 1987 by wearing body armor (Source: International Association of Chiefs of Police/DuPoint Kevlar Survivors’ Club). That’s why I always wore body armor in my 13 years of police service. And today, as a civilian, I keep body armor at home and in my vehicle as a matter of practical preparedness.

I like the analogy of fire extinguishers in the home. Statistically, it’s improbable that you’ll need to use one, but the probability is not zero. Similarly, the possibility of encountering violence is not likely, but it’s certainly not zero. Your individual probability depends on individual factors, such as where you live, your livelihood and your lifestyle—just as your probability of needing a fire extinguisher depends on factors such as how old your home is and how much cooking you do.

Potential Violence is Everywhere

The FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program reports 21,570 homicides in the U.S. in 2020, an increase of nearly 30 percent over the previous year. It also reports 16,940 carjackings during the same period, a 40.1-percent increase over the previous year. This is the most current data available. Interestingly, the FBI does not track home invasions—only general burglaries.

But we don’t need statistics to see what’s going on around us. We know that millions of people have poured across our southern border in the past couple of years, fueling the fentanyl epidemic, with the attendant homelessness and violence that drug addiction wreaks on a society. We also see that many politicians and prosecutors today will not punish crime, and so it flourishes.

As a former police officer, I can tell you that violence happens everywhere. We’re potentially vulnerable in our homes, at work, at school, at leisure events, and in traveling from one to another.

Now more than ever, people associate schools with gun violence. But there are so many other places where you wouldn’t expect someone to start shooting, such as at church service. In my career, I’ve seen two shootings at the same movie theater in one month. I’ve seen people with guns show up at a pre-school, at a gym, a basketball game, a soccer field. A guy came into a popular supermarket to confront his ex-wife, and started shooting people. You really aren’t 100 percent safe anywhere people don’t have to pass through a metal detector.

At Home, At Work, and On the Road

On the road, in the car, you never know when you’ll run into civil unrest, or something else. A friend, a retired police officer, was in a car when he saw a woman running to the local school. This was the Parkland, Florida school shooting of 2018. The kids texted their parents when the shooting started. My friend had a handgun, but no body armor in the car.

I ask myself, if someone feels they should carry a gun, or keep one at home, why wouldn’t they also have appropriate body armor for the situation they’re prepared to engage?

To me, it’s common sense to keep a ballistic vest or two in the car, as well as at home. Like putting on a seat belt. Or keeping a fire extinguisher in the trunk.

During a home invasion, body armor provides an additional layer of protection. Knowing you’re home, an intruder may well be armed with a firearm or knife. You hear something in the middle of the night, you grab your gun and throw on your ballistic vest. Importantly, you tell your family members to put on their vests, or use some other armor protection, such as a ballistic shield.

From a preparedness perspective, many civilian jobs involve enough risk that wearing body armor, or at least having it at-hand and available, is a practical matter. Taxi or ride-share drivers, for example. Paramedics and fire fighters working in dangerous areas. Journalists reporting on conflicts or civil unrest. High-risk fields such as bail bondsmen, process servers, and repo agents.

If You Knew What I Know

With the rise in crime, people are starting to realize that bad things can happen anywhere at any time. Before New York State banned civilian body armor, ordinary people would come into our Manhattan office to buy a ballistic vest to wear for their daily commute--on the subway, bus, or just walking to work. We once had a rabbi come in and buy a vest. Today, they’d be felons for defending themselves with body armor.

When I tell people I was a cop, they typically ask me two questions. One of them is, “What’s the craziest thing you ever saw?” The answer is that I saw crazy things nearly every day. If ordinary people could see what police officers see every day, about what happens in the most unassuming of situations, everyone would own body armor. It’s just that wild out there.



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