Thursday, February 4, 2016

Bullet Proof

 bullet proof
Real plate armor, not some HALO avatar
Does the armed citizen need body armor?

I’m not talking about the guy or gal who is an investigator or works in auto repo.  Nor am I talking about the citizen who has a contract/bounty on him, a modern day Frank Serpico.   I mean you, the person who makes his living selling cars, building homes or working in an office.

The national Institute of Justice (NIJ) has published standards for protection levels which you should understand.  (CAST – Center for Applied Science and Technology in the UK functions the same way.)  While this discussion has dimensions bigger than this article, let stay with the basics.

The lowest practical NIJ rating is level IIA.  That’s resistant to most calibers in the normal non-P-plus range of 9mm, .40ACP, .380 ACP, .38 special and .45ACP.  But not necessarily .22LR.  There are factors involving bullet weight, velocity and cross-sectional density that complicate things.

A step up in performance is level II which increases the protective level to include the hot 9mm and .357 magnum.

Level IIIA starts giving you protection from the really hot stuff like .357 Sig and .44 mag.

Level III starts to defeat rifle rounds like 7.62 x51 mm NATO, if the velocity and bullet type co-operate.

Level IV is the highest NIJ will admit to in public.  We’re talking 30-06 armor piercing ammo and/or at least one single hit covered by level IIA through III.

(Just a side note:  Even with a bullet-proof vest, it doesn't mean you will not be injured if the vest takes a round. Fractures, broken bones and internal injuries are possible.)

Change parameters.  Experience a faster bullet, different caliber, differently built bullet construction and you may find your vest not performing to its level.  Fortunately, most of us aren’t dealing with custom loaded +P+ .357 Sig with a carbide core bullet.

As we increase the level of protection we also increase weight and cost.  Some people attempt to purchase vests from gun shows or buy used vests from private sellers.  But considering how improper storage, washing and treatment, as well as age can degrade performance, it makes more sense to purchase from a reputable dealer and not from the back of a biker mag.  

Bullet proof vest demo
Pre- NIJ testing.

Internal or External?
On top of this you have two options.  You can wear the armor or you can carry it.
Most vests are not designed to cover your entire body from gonads to jugular vein.  Such armor would be heavy, very heavy and very hot.  Movement might be damn near impossible and sitting could be an activity of the past.

Reduced size armor is a trade-off of protecting heart, lungs, and other important stuff and providing for movement and comfort.  You may think comfort isn’t a factor, but it is.  If the discomfort level is too high, you’ll sit on it or store it but not wear it.

Special under shirts have been designed to help with evaporative cooling just as new technology has produced synthetic fibers with even more strength than Kevlar allowing for thinner and cooler vests.  These super synthetic fibers have their problems too.  Micro-fine synthetic spider silk offers almost supernatural levels of protection, but that’s still a dream.  Everything else is a trade off.

You could just opt to carry the armor, anticipating you will have time to throw it up between harm and yourself.  This assumes you have time and your first indication something is wrong isn’t a sharp pain followed by blackness.

Plastic or fiber?
Still it’s appealing to many of us.  I recently saw a vendor selling half inch thick lexan plates as armor.  (He proofed them himself to .44 mag.  Who need the millions of dollars NIJ spends on testing!) You carry the plate in a shoulder bag and when the time comes you throw the plate up to collar bone level to protect vital organs while you draw your gun or head for cover and concealment. 

This is fine, except that bullet proof lexan is composed of laminate layers and suffers from exposure to heat (car trunk in August) and from sunlight.  Both significantly degrade performance.  While three quarters of a inch of high strength steel might be a better answer, you still have deal with the weight and the need to provide some energy absorbing material to prevent the impact from transmitting a shock wave into your body.

Several years ago an educational program demonstrated why knights of old could be killed even if they were wearing the newest in heavy plate armor.  They were knocked off their horse and then struck with a war hammer while on the ground.  You couldn’t dent the armor, but you could transmit shock waves and do fatal internal damage.  That’s a problem you want to avoid with your steel plates or lexan.

Last but not least, what if you have to scoop your child, injured wife, handicapped parent while trying to hold a bulletproof shield in front of you? Do you have enough arms?

So, do we need armor?

I want to say no.  I don’t think I need a bullet proof vest, but I’m not you and I don’t live in your neighborhood.  Maybe you are the local Frank Serpico.  I’d suggest a level II under a shirt.

I’d also suggest moving to a safer neighborhood.

Here's an opposing View point:  No civilian should own a vest.

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