Manufacturers typically make body armor with law enforcement and military groups in mind. Body armor is designed to absorb or deflect physical attacks, which could also help protect citizens. So, can civilians buy bulletproof vests and other forms of body armor?
Most states do not regulate the sale or use of body armor. Civilians are typically free to purchase and wear any type of body armor. However, convicted felons are not allowed to own bulletproof vests and other forms of body armor.
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Is Body Armor Legal in All States?
Body armor is legal for most civilians in all 50 states and the District of Columbia (DC). According to federal laws, felons are not permitted to possess body armor. The federal government does not have any additional restrictions on body armor for civilians.
Yet, some states have implemented their own laws and regulations. The following states have laws making it illegal to wear body armor during the commission of a crime:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Committing a crime while wearing body armor in one of these 19 states is a felony. Individuals charged with a crime will likely face additional charges related to the use of body armor.
Civilians cannot purchase body armor online in Connecticut. Connecticut’s residents can only purchase body armor in person. However, the law includes a few exemptions for:
- Law enforcement officials
- Authorized municipal officials purchasing body armor for law enforcement
- Authorized judicial branch officials purchasing body armor for probation officers
- Members of the armed forces and the National Guard
Online retailers cannot market and sell body armor to Connecticut residents. Businesses and individuals found guilty of violating the law face a class B misdemeanor. The offense is punishable with up to six months of imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000.
Is it Legal to Wear Body Armor in Public?
There are no federal laws prohibiting people from wearing body armor in public. Yet, some states have laws prohibiting body armor on school property and other public facilities. Businesses and property owners may also prohibit people from wearing body armor on private property.
For example, certain stores, offices, and other facilities have policies that prohibit body armor. The property or business owner has the right to refuse service or entry to civilians who violate their policies.
Some local jurisdictions also have restrictions on wearing bulletproof vests and body armor in public. County, city, or township laws or ordinances may include fines or other penalties for wearing body armor.
For example, in Topeka, Kansas, it is illegal to wear a bulletproof vest during a public demonstration, rally, protest, or assembly. The same law also prohibits citizens from wearing gas masks or devices to conceal one’s identity.
Can Civilians Own Level 4 Body Armor?
Civilians can purchase level IV (4) body armor if they do not have a felony record. Connecticut residents must also complete the sale in person.
The protection levels provided by body armor are based on standards maintained by the US National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the UK Centre for Applied Science and Technology.
Bulletproof vests are a type of ballistic body armor. The NIJ uses the following levels to classify the protection provided by ballistic armor:
- Level IIA
- Level II
- Level IIIA
- Level III
- Level IV
Level IV body armor offers the highest level of protection and often includes plates measuring one-inch-thick. Level III body armor is typically worn by law enforcement and military personnel. It can protect against up to 7.62 mm caliber rounds.
While Level III and Level IV body armor are legal for civilians, some manufacturers may only sell to law enforcement and military groups.
Can Civilians Wear Bulletproof Vests in Other Countries?
The laws on bulletproof vests vary across the world. In some countries, such as Australia, bulletproof vests are classified as prohibited weapons.
There are no restrictions on body armor in the United Kingdom. However, the European Union (EU) prohibits civilians from purchasing body armor made mainly for military usage, which may include Level III and Level IV body armor.