Just who are you?I fired my first gun in the late 50's, have been collecting and shooting since the late 60's. An NRA LIFE Member for 25 years. Bought my first BALLISTIC NYLON vest while I was a gun salesman for a classy, famous gunshop in San Francisco in the early 70's. A couple years later I went out on my own and sold vests made by a (major manufacturer) friend of mine. Served as a Deputy Sheriff in the late '70's (supplied my own vest). Went back into sellin' guns & vests for a Police Supply Company in the early '80's, then on to a variety of security-oriented positions, including para-law-enforcement, training, high-tech electronic security, and consulting.
Started H.P.S. as a part-time, later full-time business in the early 90's and sold vests to law-enforcement agencies, traveled widely across the western states. Relocated to Idaho, resumed the high-tech security consultant role, tiring of access cards and surveillance cameras, resumed H.P.S. as a full time business. Since that first vest in '74, I have sold many vests and have considerable experience in the area. You might even find me in a video on vests. I do not claim to be an 'expert' on armor, but merely a 'RKI', or Reasonably Knowledgeable Individual.
Who buys vests? Who needs them?Obviously Police and other law-enforcement officers need vests to protect them in the performance of their duties. Almost all are bought for them by their agency.
NEW vests are expensive, retail can be around the price of a pre-ban AR-15, so, unless you are issued a vest, or have a high-paying dangerous job and can afford the latest model, you are probably interested in a good used one.
Over the years, I have sold vests to Security Guards, Private Investigators, Rescue Personnel, Process Servers, EMT's (Emergency Medical Technicians), Fire Fighters, Lawyers, Doctors, Jewelers, Coin and Gun dealers, Pharmacists, Computer Programmers, Bill Collectors, Bail Enforcement Agents, Delivery Drivers and just about anybody who might find themselves in harm's way. People in fields or hobbies that may experience blunt trauma buy vests: Rodeo Bull Riders, Off-Road Motorcycle Riders, Race Car Drivers and people shooting guns at public ranges (ricochets, accidents etc). There are many more lawful uses for owning a vest. It is no longer considered 'extremist' or 'survivalist' to purchase a protective armor vest. The mere presence of gangs and random shootings in urban areas have caused many mainstream citizens to consider buying passive protection.
Some law-enforcement people do not appreciate the lawful uses for armor, they seem to think that they should be the only people with vests (and the only ones with guns too, usually goes hand-in-hand with this line of thought). I would likely wager that these same guys, especially if they live in an area that experienced disturbances of lawlessness during earthquakes or the Rodney King riots, have 'procured' used departmental armor for their family members.
A vest is a benign, passive article. It does not make the wearer a superman. They can be defeated. The vast majority of buyers do not want to get into a situation where they need to have it, it is like an 'insurance policy' of sorts, It gives the wearer a certain 'peace of mind'. Vests have saved thousands of people from serious injury or death, many from many causes other than bullets.
How long does a vest's ability to stop bullets last?Unless damaged or degraded by sun, chemicals, etc (see vest care), a properly cared for vest can last decades. My personal vest went out of warranty last spring, and I have no plans to replace it, ever. Kevlar degrades at such a miniscule rate (un-measureable), that we might as well not waste time on it.
I will say this, for a demonstration at a para-military-type convention around a decade ago, I watched the owner of a major vest company take a level II-A vest of unknown origin and age, selected at random out of a stack of trade-ins, (well, it was Kevlar 29, and it had been traded in as out of warranty)and nonchalantly shoot himself in the chest with a 6" S&W .44 Magnum.
What is Kevlar? And how does it stop bullets?Kevlar is a synthetic material developed by DuPont. It is about 10 times the tensile strength of steel, by weight. When a bullet impacts the vest, it deforms as it tries to penetrate each successive layer, the deformation helps to distribute the impact over an ever-larger area. The photos on this site show a 9mm JSP that only makes it thru 2 or 3 layers out of 18. Click here to view test sample results.
What about other materials?Allied-Signal makes Spectrashield, a material that is about as strong as Kevlar 129. It is somewhat stiffer and, to me, is less comfortable than Kevlar. It is touted as being un-affected by water, as is Twaron, a synthetic fabric made in Europe that can be made into very soft and thin vests. Both of these materials are relatively new, and expensive. Neither is available in quanities as used armor.
What are the Levels or Classes of vests?When vests first came on the market, the government had to stick its nose into the business, being a major customer, that's OK, but they had to micro-manage everything. Vests were mounted onto blocks of childrens modeling clay and shot. After a while they came up with a catch-phrase. 'Backface Deformation Signature' This is a $350,000 taxpayer -funded word meaning 'Dent'. They then decided that if the 'dent' was deeper than 1.73 inches, that was to be counted as a 'penetration', or failure. Sooooo, they kept demanding that more and more layers be added to reduce the depth of the dent. Now, they added (dash)-A to the levels they imagined, now we have levels:
PISTOL / SHOTGUN VESTS
NOT RECOMMENDEDI-A - Weakest. Stops very little. Not frequently encountered.
I - Weakest. Stops very little. Not frequently encountered.
RECOMMENDEDII-A The Standard. Stops 90%+ of all handgun/shotgun. Recommend II-A or higher.
PROBABLY OVERKILLII - Slightly stronger, slightly thicker and stiffer. Smaller bruise.
III-A - About twice as thick as II-A, stiffer & heavier,smallest bruise.
RIFLE VESTSIII - 2 or 3-A with steel or ceramic or titanium plate in front, stops assault rifle and medium battle rifle rounds. HEAVY.
IV - 2 or 3-A with thicker steel/ceramic/titanium, stops AP. Very HEAVY.
Some of the N.I.J. information and specs on the Levels will be found at the end of this document.
So, in plain English, II-A stops about everything normally encountered in the way of pistols and shotguns. A II-A vest (or thicker) will suffice for the average joe. Now, if I was absolutely positive I was gonna get shot on a given day, I'd want a III-A. And I'd wear it on that particular day. The rest of the time, a II-A would be my choice.
Wearing a vest over another vest will certainly raise your protection to some extent, but 2 III-A vests do not up your protection to a III or IV level. It would be somewhat restrictive and uncomfortable and build-up of body heat would occur. The felt impact of a bullet would be reduced.
Steel Plates and Ceramic Plates are available from me from time to time, you just have to check with me. Personally I believe them to be considerably expensive, and quite heavy. Some folks have checked with their local metal shop to see if they could make for them (at far less expense) a plate made of a hard, tough steel, hard titanium or other alloy that will cause a rifle round to mushroom and stop, or cause an AP round to disentagrate. The makers of plates add liability insurance costs to the cost of the product, so expect these to be expensive.
I can get ceramic plates for you. They are not cheap. E-Mail me and I will get the current price for you. These come in varying thicknesses and can be had to stop single rifle hits, or very thick to stop multiple hits. Ceramic can shatter when dropped (usually an edge hitting the tarmac does this), so the thicker ones are probably the best choice.
A word of caution on hard armor plates (and even non-ballistic trauma plates): A round fired at certian angles CAN deflect OFF the plate and the vest and cause injury to you. This is a dangerous world we enter when we don a vest, no vest can assure you of safety all the time. Other than the laboratory-precise conditions experienced in testing facilities, nobody can really-really predict what is going to occur in field. Some makers wrap their plates in kevlar to try to contain bullets and fragments. To be frank, you just do the best you can with what you have to work with. Now that you're "educated", check out our vest products.