Is it legal to wear body armor in public?
Disclaimer: We are not lawyers. If you have specific questions, it's best to ask your local law enforcement agency about the laws governing the purchase and use of body armor in your state.
It's no secret, with the state of things going on in the world, there’s a large number of people looking for the best way to keep them and their families out of harm's way. Gun purchases have gone up, and something mostly dedicated to military, law enforcement, and security details is being looked at by a larger group of people, specifically civilians. This leads to a question many folks are asking; is it legal to wear body armor in public?
Unfortunately, like most things governed by a higher authority, body armor usage is not a simple yes or no answer. Instead, it's more of an "it depends" answer, although in most cases it is legal. Like owning a gun, it depends on where you live, your criminal record, and intent. The question people should really be asking is, when is it illegal to wear body armor?
It's a Federal Crime to Purchase Body Armor as a Convicted Felon
It is a federal crime to purchase body armor as a convicted felon, which means it doesn't matter if you live in New York City or a small town in Texas. If you've been convicted of a violent felony, you cannot purchase body armor, in most cases (more on that later). However, this doesn't mean states can't add additional laws around the purchases, ownership, and use of armor too, but first, let’s talk about federal regulations.
FEDERAL BODY ARMOR REGULATIONS
While some states dictate when and how you can wear body armor, the federal government has its own set of laws. These laws state that no convicted felon in the United States can purchase or possess body armor. Buying body armor as a convicted felon is yet another federal crime to add to your record. Below is the statute that covers the use of body armor by a violent felon.
18 U.S.C. 931 PROHIBITION ON PURCHASE, OWNERSHIP, OR POSSESSION OF BODY ARMOR BY VIOLENT FELONS
(a) IN GENERAL—Except as provided in subsection (b), it shall be unlawful for a person to purchase, own, or possess body armor, if that person has been convicted of a felony that is—
(1) a crime of violence (as defined in section 16); or (2) an offense under State law that would constitute a crime of violence under paragraph
(1) if it occurred within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
(b) AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—It shall be an affirmative defense under this section that—
(A) the defendant obtained a prior written certification from his or her employer that the defendant's purchase, use, or possession of body armor was necessary for the safe performance of lawful business activity; and
(B) the use and possession by the defendant were limited to the course of such performance.
(2) EMPLOYER.—In this subsection, the term "employer" means any other individual employed by the defendant's business that supervises the defendant's activity. If that defendant has no supervisor, prior written certification is acceptable from any other employee of the business.
Now, to break all that down to layman's terms. Suppose you've been convicted of a violent felony in the United States. In that case, it is unlawful for you to purchase, own, or possess body armor.
That means, if you want to purchase body armor for a friend, you can't. If you want a friend to buy body armor for you, you should decline that offer. If a friend leaves their body armor in your car, you're the one in possession; therefore, you are unlawful, per federal law.
Here’s the exception: If you must wear body armor because of your job, you can do so. However, you must get written certification saying that from your supervisor.
State Body Armor Laws
While most states abide strictly by the federal law regarding body armor, there are a few that add their own bit of flair to it. However, the purchase and use of body armor, by civilians in general, is legal. Again, if you're convicted of a violent felony, it's illegal unless you fall into the exception.
Yes, some states do impose additional laws to go with the federal regulations on body armor. While the federal government says convicted felons can't purchase body armor, some states say those with certain misdemeanor classes can't possess body armor either.
In Maryland, if you've ever been convicted of a violent crime or drug trafficking, you have to apply for a permit that lets you purchase or possess body armor. And if you get approved, you'll have to get it renewed every five years.
The state of New Jersey is very specific with its definition of unlawful use of body armor. If you commit or attempt to commit murder, manslaughter, robbery, sexual assault, burglary, kidnapping, criminal escape, or assault and leave or try to leave the scene while wearing or using ballistic protection, you are committing a crime. They go so far as to say that committing a first-degree crime with a vest on is committing a second degree-crime. If it's not classified as a first-degree crime, then you're committing a third-degree crime.
Wearing Body Armor
Most states allow anyone to wear body armor anywhere, with federal laws in mind. However, some states don't allow the wear of body armor in schools, unless you're performing a job that requires it.
Louisiana is one of these states. According to R.S. 14:95.9, "Wearing or possessing body armor, by a student or nonstudent on school property, at a school-sponsored function, or in a firearm-free zone is unlawful and shall be defined as wearing or possessing of body armor, on one's person, at any time while on a school campus, on school transportation, or at any school-sponsored function in a specific designated area including but not limited to athletic competitions, dances, parties, or any extracurricular activities, or within one thousand feet of any school campus."
However, students can have and wear backpacks made with bullet-resistant metal or other materials to protect them from weapons or bodily injury. The student can also get written permission from the principal if they need to wear a bullet-proof vest.
Body Armor and Intent
Now, let's talk about intent because this matters in most states. Let's say you are legally allowed to purchase body armor, how you use it matters.
For example, suppose I purchase body armor and wear it to the grocery store because I live in a bad part of town. In that case, my intent is to protect myself just in case something were to go wrong. This is legal in most states because the intention is non-criminal.
However, suppose I were to purchase body armor and wear it to commit a crime. In that case, my intent is based on criminal activity. In many states, if you carry a deadly weapon to commit a crime, you have committed a second crime by wearing body armor.
In the state of New York, according to Penal Code § 270.20, it's unlawful to wear "body vests" when committing violent felony offenses while in possession of a firearm. It's also illegal to wear a "body vest" if you were to act with someone who committed a violent felony, even if you didn't do anything violent yourself.
Purchasing Body Armor
Almost all states allow in-person and Internet transactions for the purchase of body armor. However, suppose you're a resident of Connecticut. In that case, the law states, "It is a class B misdemeanor to sell or deliver body armor without the transfer occurring in person."
This means, if you're an online retailer only, you can't sell to residents of Connecticut. You would have to go see them in person to make this sale. Of course, this could change, but as of the writing of this article, this is Connecticut law.
For everyone else, purchasing body armor is pretty simple, so long as you aren't a felon.
As a reminder, we are not lawyers, and laws get updated. While this material may have been up to date as of the publication of this article, things do change. We advise you to talk to your local law enforcement agency if you have any questions about purchasing and using body armor in your state.