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Body Armor Frequent Asked Questions

Ever since prehistoric man sharpened its first spear, humanity has sought the best protection from exposure and injury. From leather to bronze, chainmail, and plate, body armor reflects the technologies and strategies of each era and culture.

Modern body armor is just the latest iteration of these technologies, so it is difficult to name any single inventor as the ‘creator’ of body armor. Soldiers have employed body armor in almost every conflict in human history. Even in the wild west, infamous outlaw Jim Miller made history by wearing a steel breastplate under his coat. When a sheriff emptied 6 pistol rounds into his chest, Miller escaped alive (and eventually claimed his revenge).

The first ‘modern’ standard-issue military armor emerged in World War I, where soldiers wore metal helmets to protect them from artillery and shrapnel while firing from trenches. In WWII, bomber crews donned flak jackets and shrapnel protection to safeguard against anti-aircraft munitions.

When DuPont introduced Kevlar in the mid-1970s, body armor development boomed, and companies like American Body Armor and Second Chance Body Armor helped standardize Kevlar police vests, which have saved the lives of thousands of American police officers.

Nowadays, police and military groups employ a mix of soft Kevlar-based vests for pistol protection and ceramic-based chest plates for rifle protection.

Yes! Body armor is legal in every state, though most states have laws that limit or regulate the sale of body armor in certain conditions.

For example, most states prohibit convicted felons from owning body armor. A felon found in possession of body armor may face additional charges.

Similarly, most states have laws that target criminals wearing body armor during the commission of a crime. Depending on the state, this law may or may not exclude non-violent crimes, so always review your own local laws for the specific stipulations.

The most restrictive state is Connecticut, which bans online sale of body armor. Body armor is still available to residents, but they must purchase it in face-to-face exchanges. Failure to comply with this law can lead to a misdemeanor charge with potential 6-month imprisonment and/or $1000 fine.

Unfortunately, that means most Connecticut residents cannot order body armor from our site, but there are some exceptions. If you are a sworn police officer, armed forced/national guard member, or a specially authorized official, you can purchase body armor online.

If you own a firearm for personal defense, you recognize the importance of protecting yourself and others. A defensive firearm is an important force multiplier, but ambush attackers have every advantage in landing the first hit. When any gunshot can be potentially disabling, body armor is life-saving equipment that can single-handedly change the outcome of a gunfight.

Gunshot wounds to the chest, particularly those that impact the heart or central nervous system, are often lethal, and center-mass is the easiest target for an attacker to hit. If you are wearing body armor, you can protect the most vulnerable section of your body from injury.

By wearing proper body armor, you reduce the likelihood of instantly debilitating injuries in a gunfight, which can mean all the difference when attempting to escape or seek cover. That’s why most professional soldiers, police, and first responders use body armor in any major threat response.

Simply put, an armored target is significantly less-vulnerable than an unarmored target, and when you choose to own a rifle, there’s no reason skip out on other gear—especially when it’s affordable.

Are you a convicted felon?

If not, you can probably purchase body armor online or over-the-counter in any state. If you’re a Connecticut resident, you’re unfortunately limited to local, face-to-face purchases only.

In most other states, body armor purchases are unregulated, aside from prohibiting felon ownership. You don’t need to complete a background check or even show ID, though some online retailers may ask to see a copy of your Driver’s License or Carry Permit.

The effectiveness of body armor depends on the materials, construction, and coverage. Remember: body armor is a diverse market, and every product is a balance of protection, comfort, and price. If you want the most protective armor set in the world, don’t expect it to be comfortable or cheap. Likewise, if you want the lightest armor plates on the market, don’t expect them to stop armor-piercing rifle threats. You cannot have the best of all worlds.

When shopping for body armor, you should always consider your protection requirements, budget, and intended use-case.

For example, if you’re shopping for an everyday vest, you’ll want lightweight, comfortable soft armor. If you want the best home-defense protection, you’ll want durable rifle plates with plenty of coverage. The body armor market accommodates a tremendous variety of designs, weights, sizes, and materials, so there is an answer for any type of situation—so long as you can find it.

Thankfully, the National Institute of Justice provides a universal testing and evaluation protocol with defined ‘threat levels’, so you can determine a plate’s relative effectiveness by looking at its certification results. This makes it easy to find high-quality armor that gives you exactly the protection you need.

The cost of armor will depend on a multitude of factors. As we described earlier, quality and materials play an important role in defining the price point of body armor products.

Entry level plates cost as little as $100 each, but we recommend investing in true NIJ-certified armor, which costs a little more.

Average body armor costs between $250-500. This price range accommodates most armor budgets, and you’ll find a good balance of both soft and hard armor for most any application.

If you are looking for top-of-the-line protection from names like HESCO and Velocity Systems, you could pay as much as $1200 a plate. The sticker shock hurts, but when you see the protective performance and weight rating, you’ll understand why many choose to make the premium investment.

Body Armor ‘Threat Levels’ are a protection rating system developed by the National Institute of Justice for classifying body armor products. When armor manufacturers submit a new product to the NIJ for certification, the NIJ’s ballistic labs will test the armor according to its proposed ‘threat level’. If the armor meets all the testing requirements, the NIJ will certify its performance for that level of protection.

The following threat levels are the current standards from NIJ 0101.06, organized from least to most protective:

LEVEL IIA (2A): Soft armor, protecting from most common pistol threats as well as 00 Buckshot pellets.

LEVEL II (2): Soft armor, protecting from all previous, plus certain high-velocity pistol cartridges and .44 Magnum.

LEVEL IIIA (3A): Soft Armor, protecting from all previous threats, plus certain very high-velocity pistol cartridges and 1oz 12ga Slugs.

LEVEL III (3): Hard rifle plates, protecting from basic rifle cartridges like 7.62x51mm M80.

LEVEL IV (4): Hard rifle plates, protecting from armor-penetrating rifle cartridges like .30-caliber M2AP.

NOTE: These protection ratings are not all-inclusive. The NIJ’s testing standards define specific projectiles at specific velocities and ambient temperatures. For example, a level 3 rifle plate must stop M80 for certification, but it doesn’t have to stop high-velocity 5.56 or barrier-defeating rounds like M855.

Just because a plate can stop a more powerful cartridge doesn’t guarantee protection against ‘weaker’ cartridges. Many armor manufacturers will offer ‘Level 3+’ or ‘SRT’ plates to answer special intermediate threats. Always refer to the manufacturer’s protection specifications when evaluating armor’s viability against cartridges beyond NIJ testing protocol.

To help address this issue, the NIJ is releasing their 0101.07 testing standards, which are more inclusive of today’s common rifle and pistol threats.

‘In Conjunction With’

This is a term used for armor that relies on an additional soft backer to achieve its tested threat level. If you use an ICW plate without a level IIIA backer, you will not achieve the full protective performance of the plate.

When sizing for soft armor, use the manufacturer’s specific sizing guidelines. Their vest will need to accurately fit your body to be properly concealed or effective in ballistic protection.

When sizing for hard armor, the size of the carrier comes from the size of the plate. Plate sizing is NOT the same as shirt sizing. When you are wearing a rifle plate, you are protecting your organs—not your entire torso.

For SAPI plates, use the military’s reference guide for sizing. It will instruct you on how to measure your torso to find the correctly sized plate. You then would purchase a matching plate carrier, which will have adjustment to fit your body shape.

If non-SAPI plates or irregular plates, refer to the manufacturer’s individual sizing instructions.

The best concealable body armor will be the most comfortable, affordable vest for your desired threat rating. If you want protection from most pistol calibers, a concealable Level II or IIIA vest can be comfortable and lightweight for everyday or covert wear.

We highly recommend our customers look at brands like Survival Armor, which has provided armor to professionals with over 100 years of experience. Their products incorporate many of the latest technologies and designs to strike an optimal balance of mobility and security.

If you need something even lighter, level IIA armor will give you the minimal profile, but we’ve found that level II vests have become comfortable enough that you shouldn’t need to sacrifice protection for minor convenience.

Like soft armor, the best rifle-rated body armor will match your threat profile.

In the military, level IV plates are a standard because soldiers frequently face enemies with machine guns and armor-piercing ammunition. If you’re stateside, most of your common rifle threats will be 5.56 ARs or .308 hunting rifles. Here, a standalone level III+ plate will give you the best weight-to-protection ratio.

We highly recommend looking at HESCO’s latest offerings on any rifle plates. Their 800-series incorporates the latest materials engineering to reduce weight and improve durability and ballistic protection. HESCO has an outstanding reputation as one of our military’s leading armor suppliers, and they have always stood behind their products.

You can buy armor right here at primaryarms.com.

We carry a growing assortment of both rifle plates and soft armor from top brands like HESCO, Premier Body Armor, Survival Armor, and more. We always offer competitive pricing, fast shipping, and top-notch customer service, who can help answer any questions.

We can ship body armor to any state EXCEPT Connecticut. Unfortunately, due to state law, Connecticut residents cannot purchase body armor online. You can only purchase armor from a local gun store, surplus shop, or police supplier.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to send us a message at info@primaryarms.com or call us at 713-344-9600.

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