Can everyday civilians buy ballistic helmets and body armor?
If this question has entered your mind recently, you are likely paying close attention to the political division and civil unrest in our country—a country where the Second Amendment grants most citizens access to firearms. And no matter where you stand on the political spectrum, you have a right to safety.
We at Hard Head Veterans strongly support the ability of a civilian population to own body armor, including ballistic helmets. But what does the law say? And why do we believe this is a right?
In this blog, we go over some laws pertaining to the subject and the legal, statistical, and societal justifications for civilian access to the protection of ballistic armor.
Title 18 of the United States Code is the federal government’s primary criminal code. And section 18 USC § 921(a)(35) defines the term “body armor” as “... any product sold or offered for sale, in interstate or foreign commerce, as personal protective body covering intended to protect against gunfire, regardless of whether the product is to be worn alone or is sold as a complement to another product or garment.”
It is easy to see how ballistic helmets fall within this definition and are in no way separate from other ballistic wearables. So, for the purposes of interpreting federal law, the terms “ballistic helmets” and “body armor” are interchangeable.
There is currently only one federal law about the purchase of body armor, and that is 18 U.S. Code § 931, which essentially states that it is illegal for a convicted felon who has committed “a crime of violence” under federal or state law to possess body armor. A notable exception to this law is if a convicted felon’s job requires them to have ballistic armor, and they get written permission from said employer to exclusively utilize it on the job.
As far as the federal government is concerned, you are okay to purchase body armor and ballistic helmets as long as you are not a felon who has been convicted of a violent crime. However, this does not necessarily protect you from state and local laws. Remember, ignorance of the law is not a defense, and you are responsible for knowing the rules that are applicable where you live.
While we are not aware of any state or local laws strictly prohibiting the purchase of ballistic wear to non-felons, many regulations do address the overall topic. For example, Connecticut has some of the strictest body armor laws in the nation. The state expands the prohibition on felons owning body armor to some felonies that aren’t considered crimes of violence—as one example, “Identity Theft in the First Degree” is not on the list of exceptions for Class C felons who can purchase body armor. And Connecticut insists that all body armor purchases be done in person.
Many states mirror the federal prohibition on violent felons possessing body armor with their own specific exceptions and expanded rules. And some states explicitly prohibit certain activities or enhance penalties for them while wearing ballistic wear, such as committing violent crimes, wearing a firearm, dealing drugs, or being on school property.
An important note: this post does not constitute legal advice, and you are responsible for knowing the laws that apply to you in your area.
Consult with local authorities to truly understand the regulations, and if you are still unsure, speak with an attorney. That being said, it is fairly clear that neither federal nor state laws prohibit most people who have not been convicted of a felony from purchasing or wearing body armor.
And there are a lot of good reasons for a civilian population to have access to ballistic wear:
First off, ballistic wear, including body armor and helmets, is not inherently dangerous to anyone. The pieces themselves are not weaponized nor designed with the intent to harm others. They are merely protective garments with the sole purpose of defending the wearer from harm as a result of gunshots along with other threats. In short, the rights of someone else are not infringed upon by merely donning protective body wear. And there are many applications where this might be useful to an informed citizen.
Any individual who must enter areas where there is a valid threat of being shot should be able to harness ballistic wear to increase their odds of survival. There are often civilians employed in such areas that would greatly benefit from the peace of mind offered by body armor and helmets. The following are just a few scenarios where individuals can significantly benefit from the passive defense of ballistic wear:
In the event civil unrest becomes a massive risk, civilians should be capable of donning gear that protects them from harm. You don’t even have to like guns to want to protect yourself from lawless individuals bent on using firearms to enforce their agendas. There were plenty of examples in 2020 of civil destabilization boiling over and becoming violent, sometimes involving firearms. Having access to protective garments is crucial while attempting to avoid or escape these types of scenarios.
The use of body armor for home defense is another situation that gives civilians an advantage during a gun-involved scenario. Granted, home invasions are often fast and violent. But a conveniently stowed plate carrier and helmet are extreme force modifiers when paired with a home defense weapon. They can be pulled on quickly and will provide extra protection should a home-invader be armed. If nothing else, a would-be thief may pick another place to be entirely after seeing someone armed and armored up!
It may not feel comfortable considering violence at work, but the amount of time we spend there should cause us to assess the risk. According to the National Safety Council, physical assaults were the “fourth leading cause of workplace deaths,” leading to 20,790 injuries and 453 fatalities in America during 2018. And there have been numerous high- and lower-profile workplace shootings in the past few decades. Having an escape plan and some type of ballistic component could greatly increase your odds of surviving an active shooter event in the workplace.
Finally, we want to protect children, and some parents send them off to school with a little more assurance of their safe return. Specially designed body armor products can be placed into children’s backpacks as extra insurance for their protection.
Security and safety should be achieved with a multi-faceted approach of several overlapping layers—and the passive defense of ballistic wear is a strong component of this approach.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there were 14,414 gun homicides in the United States in 2018. While this number is small compared to the overall U.S. population of an estimated 238.2 million (2019), catching a bullet in a violent encounter is not statistically dismissible. Gun homicide deaths in the U.S. alone are equivalent to about 40% of the fatalities caused by motor vehicle crashes.
In a country where the Second Amendment guarantees citizens' rights to firearms, we maintain that the ability to purchase and use ballistic wear seems an obvious if unwritten inclusion. And while not explicitly Constitutionally guaranteed, the Declaration of Independence does espouse “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The right to protection—to secure your life or the lives of those you love—should not be tampered with or inhibited.
Some would challenge or abolish the ability to purchase and wear ballistic helmets and other protection in a misguided effort to save us from some of the very risks mentioned above. Certain members of the government may try to take away access to ballistic wear, and proposed legislation as recently as 2019 would have required the FBI to approve all body armor purchases.
We see these types of regulations as limiting the rights of law-abiding citizens while, no matter how fierce a penalty, not deterring any criminals who are bent on mayhem and destruction. Blocking or restricting access to body armor and helmets for people who merely want to protect themselves is punishing a populous en masse, including the vast majority of individuals with no intent to harm anyone.
And even if the government does find some way to “anoint the good while weeding out the bad” body armor purchasers, this path is fraught with slippery legal implications. And bureaucratic red tape could lead to critical delays for people who are merely seeking to protect themselves.
Once again, Hard Head Veterans supports the Second Amendment—and as an unspoken yet intrinsic part of that right, civilians' ability to purchase body armor and helmets. And no matter where you stand on the political spectrum, you have the right to protect yourself from being shot.
Communicate with your legislators and let them know how you feel. And vote your conscience after considering your personal safety and the security of those you love. We’ll be doing the same while continuing to make products that save lives.
Hard Head Veterans believes it is everyone’s fundamental right to protect themselves from gun violence and other threats. Read more blog posts and be sure to check out our gear, including a selection of the best tactical helmets and essential helmet accessories.