The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Reasons Civilians Should Own Body Armor: And Why They Should Consider Other Priorities First

“Why would someone like you ever need body armor?” This was a question my soon-to-be-ex-wife asked me around Christmas 2023. (And, no, that question alone isn’t the reason we’re getting divorced.) At the time, us both knowing the sh*t we were going through, I joked, “Sometimes I just want a tight, heavy embrace.” 

I referenced her weighted blanket and inserted my own standard of sarcasm — a fine mix of truth and snide humor. But her question did get me thinking: Why, indeed?

I am 100 percent civilian. And in the context of armor-manufacturer brand speak — where it’s important to further classify context — I’m a “law-abiding” and/or “concerned” citizen. My training background is mostly competition-focused, with a small degree of personal defense as it relates EDC and home security. I can likely electric slide better than I can Groucho walk. 

But I’m highly intentional in most aspects of my life, especially when it comes to self-sustainability and protecting the ones I love. Below are some reasons why every civilian should consider investing in body armor, followed by insight as to why they shouldn’t.


During our interview for our Issue 72 piece “7 Lifesaving Skills Every Gun Owner Should Know,” Wesley Medical trauma director Dr. David Acuna shared how shootings went up significantly at the start of COVID and haven’t gone down.

“COVID made it worse and it never got better,” said Acuna. “Society changed. It wasn’t just COVID, but we’re also going through a lot of social unrest in cities. And I think the population’s attitude toward law enforcement and just social norms just took a dive.

“And it affected society in a way that has not recovered. Our data here [at Wesley Medical Center] also reflects national data. And so we were in the low single digits in 2019, probably like 3 to 4 percent of our penetrating trauma [which includes both gunshots and stabbings]. I think in ’21, we dropped back down to the 8-percent range.”

But alarming world trends extend well beyond COVID.

Todd Meeks is the president of Spartan Armor Systems based in Tucson, Arizona. Approximately 75 percent of their sales are to concerned citizens (the remaining customers being law enforcement and military). 

As a result of the controversy at the Mexican border, his company has seen an increase in purchases from ranchers and other civilians in the region.

“So that’s kind of a unique situation being close to the Mexico border,” Meeks said. “The other reason is with active shooters in schools and stuff like that we’re starting to see a lot more school safety officers. 

“We’re selling more to schools these days for them,” Meeks said. “They’re keeping it in their office, and then if there’s an active shooter situation, they have it. Again, that’s not so much civilian.”

But Spartan Armor Systems also sees a high volume of their purchases originating from civilians in higher-risk jobs such as convenience-store clerks, dispensary staff, bank tellers, post-office personnel, or even mail carriers. A lot of these workers opt for soft, concealable armor. 

“And I think a lot of times it’s more about things that hit close to home,” said Meeks. “So if you’ve had an incident in your area, we will definitely see an increase. It makes people feel safer.”

“Sometimes that’s half the battle, too,” said Meeks. “Instead of doing nothing, you’re doing something.” 


Weapons, cartridges, and load-development have all evolved, and body-armor manufacturers are keeping pace both for compliance purposes, but to also protect against emerging threats. Comfortable options, including models designed specifically for women, are also expanding.

In December 2023, the NIJ put out the following statement:

“In early 2024, the NIJ Compliance Testing Program will stop accepting new armor models for testing under the old version of the standard. Behind the scenes, the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) will use NIJ Standard 0101.07 to accredit ballistics laboratories and, in spring 2024, the program will begin testing, evaluation, and certification of ballistic-resistant body armor to the updated standard. Law enforcement agencies should expect to see body armor certified by NIJ to the 0101.07 standard sometime in late 2024 or early 2025.”

While armor and bullets may seem like the most attractive option, exercise equipment might do more to save your life in the long term.

The NIJ Compliance Testing Program is NIJ’s body armor certification program. It involves testing armor to protect against common handgun, rifle, and stab threats. The program ensures law enforcement, military, and even law-abiding citizens can know what body armor meets their minimum performance requirements.

The performance standard has been revised six times since the first version was published over half a century ago. According to the NIJ, these updates are vital to maintain an appropriate response to the ever-evolving weapons arsenal being produced worldwide.

For concerned-civilian consumers looking to purchase armor, it’s advised to check if plates are NIJ certified (versus just “tested”). Certification is a lengthy, expensive process for manufacturers, but that certification ensures your purchase will protect you according to the specifications set forth by the NIJ. 

For info, check out our Body Armor 101 at

“To actually go through a true NIJ certification, you’re sending for Level IV, I think we sent 50 to 60 plates,” said Meeks. “There’s conditioning involved, including submersion tests where they’re underwater, some even scratched as part of conditioning. 

The conditioning is what will make most people that try to get their end plates NIJ certified — that conditioning will kill you [as a manufacturer].  It is the biggest expense, but legitimacy matters.”


Firstly, understand your state laws — specifically if you reside in New York, California, Illinois, or Connecticut. In New York, civilians cannot purchase any body armor unless the state deems their profession warrants it. 

In Connecticut, purchases must be made face-to-face. Both California and Illinois are trying to pass legislation to restrict or eliminate the purchase of body armor. Spartan Armor Systems actually has a blog posted titled “Body Armor Laws by State 2023: Know Your Rights,” which they will be updating soon for 2024.

If we’re honest, most of us would be adequately served with a low profile Level III vest, rather than hard plates.

Matthew Davis is the founder and CEO at WarBird Protection, which just recently released a line of NIJ-

certified Level II to IIIA soft body armor. Davis has been heavily involved in the body-armor industry for the past 50 years. He has seen how federally funded military engineering has driven innovation, but also appreciates how big contracts, alongside civilian investments, have benefited the market for concerned citizens.

“The military funds tons of research programs, and they generate specifications for armor that challenge the art of the possible,” said Davis. “They really push manufacturers and our suppliers to collaborate on our research and development programs. This results in a ton of new technology, which then spills over into the law enforcement and civilian markets.”

For Spartan Armor Systems, when COVID hit, they were dealing with bottlenecks in terms of facility space, storage, manufacturing, and shipping. But then 16 million people became first-time gun owners, and just as toilet paper was in high demand, so was body armor.

“Early on, we were outsourcing our laser cutting,” said Meeks. 

“During COVID [thanks to increased sales], we brought on a 4,000-watt Trumpf laser. We had to build a customized gantry and a crane to pick up the sheets of steel. The state of emergency during that time allowed us to do that. It allowed us and some of the other players in the industry to grow.”

Spartan Armor Systems purchased an autoclave to align with industry best practices for manufacturing Level IV plates. “We vacuum bag the ceramic material and then it’s got a composite backer, and that autoclave allows that composite material to bind to the ceramic,” Meeks said. “All the big players and all the real players in the industry use an autoclave to manufacture their Level IV plates.”

While technological advancements are mainly the result of Department of Defense (DOD) spending and contracts for military engineering, the more body armor civilians purchase, the easier we make it for manufacturers to justify production costs and source raw materials domestically. A higher shipping volume leads to shipping discounts for manufacturers and facilitates quick delivery, and overall, a distribution infrastructure that helps get gear to those who need it yesterday.


Seems obvious, no? But what setup saves your life, and what slows you down — it’s potentially a lifesaving decision.

“There’s the saying that ‘ounces are pounds and pounds are pain,’” said Gabriel Todd, vice president for business development at Vecro Materials, a company that remains the only company in the world that has successfully completed the NIJ’s administrative clarification for scalar armors. “We call it an imbricated armor system,” said Todd.

Increasing protection by using trauma plates over vital organs is a way to balance weight with resistance to threats.

Verco Materials manufactures body armor that draws into and molds to the body. This scalar or imbricated armor is certified by the NIJ to stop a 7.62×51 (M80 FMJ) traveling at 2,800 feet per second. It remains exclusive to military and law enforcement, but Todd, with over 15 years of experience in the engineering of body armor, understands the trickle-down-technology benefits to the civilian market.

“I kind of think of it the same way as we think of like NASA funding,” said Todd. “What is your ‘mission’ set? What are you willing to negotiate on and what are you actually not willing to negotiate on?

“If you’re putting on your body armor and a rucksack and you’re rucking it — you know 10, 20 clicks — yeah, but if you’re not used to wearing armor and you’re not in shape for that armor, there’s actually the greater chance of injury by wearing more weight than you need.”

Preparing yourself for the most likely, highest level of threat is the general consensus. 

“You should be preparing yourself for all cases and that means being physically and mentally fit,” said Todd. 

“If you’re law enforcement or military and you’re wearing it all day, every day, you have to weigh the real possibility of fatigue injuries versus the statistical chance of an encounter. If you’re a civilian not having to do that all day, every day, but you’re keeping yourself fit enough that you can throw it on when you need to then you can probably put up with quite a lot more.”

“Statistically speaking,” said Todd, “something like 96 percent or even more of all firearm encounters are with handguns. So if you’re looking at things from a statistical point of view, some of this becomes even null and void because the possibility of you encountering something that needs more than soft armor is really low.”

Balance the level of protection with the perceived threat. Soft armor may be a better option offering better coverage if you’re most likely to face adversaries armed with handguns.

WarBird Protection, with its offering of soft body armor, has invested in this understanding. “There are over 3,000 documented cases where police officers have been saved by their bulletproof vest. Body armor works, and it can serve as a critical component to keeping you and your family safe,” said Davis. “When selecting body armor, it’s important to perform a threat assessment. What type of weapons are you likely to encounter? On the streets of America, this is most likely handguns ranging from 9mm to .44 Magnum.

“There’s a reason why police officers wear soft body armor when out on patrol,” said Davis. “It’s standard issue equipment that aligns with the most likely threats they face in the line of duty. Heavier plates and tactical armor have their place, but they are reserved for active shooter response and SWAT teams who commonly engage in high-risk situations.”


A plate carrier, plates inserted, still slick with nothing secured to MOLLE webbing — it serves as a blank canvas. What comes next?

A 5.56 placard? Pistol-magazine pouches? TQ holder? IFAK? All which beg the question — how trained are you with what you’re adding?

The general rule is as follows: “Make holes. Stop holes. Plug holes.”

So then, what are your groupings from 100 yards offhand with a rifle? What’s your draw-to-shot time with a pistol, and how’s that Bill Drill coming along? How far from a wound should you twist down a tourniquet? Can you recognize arterial bleeding from venous?

If you’re reading this and aren’t sure, perhaps it’s less of a question of what to add to that plate carrier packed with armor, but rather: What do I invest in prior to body armor?

“Before spending on these things,” said Todd, “think about spending money on a medical course, on a field aid course or an outdoors aid course — because the reality is if you’re trying to be prepared, you are far more likely to encounter a car accident. 

What medical aid is needed immediately? God forbid, but the reality is that even for your family, if you’re trying to be prepared, you’re far more likely to encounter a medical situation.”

“If you’re on the job, the next steps are pretty clear,” said Davis. “If you’re a civilian who’s enhancing their personal security, we recommend you seek out some professional training. There are great concealed-carry and home-defense instructors out there who can provide you with the proper training.”

Bottom line: Training will always trump gear. Preparedness is far more than what hangs from a 35-pound-capacity hook. “Brain over brawny hard armor,” as the saying goes. The NIJ cannot classify what level sits between your ears. Only you can. Invest wisely.

Reach out to me on Instagram 

(@WildGameJack) with any questions or comments. 


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