In recent years gun-related incidents and attacks have been on the rise. This poses the need for civilians, security personnel, military and law enforcement agents in the US to look into their options for body armor. While no vest is 100% bulletproof, it can significantly increase the wearer’s chances of survival in the event of getting shot. With this in mind, there are different types of ballistic armors suitable against the different types of calibers available in the US today; from soft “lightweight” body armor, to hard body armor with heavy ballistic plates.

To understand how to use body armor in protecting yourself and your loved ones, you need to know what the different levels are and what they protect against. According to the internationally-approved standards of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), there are IV levels of body armor, classified as follows:

  • Level I: Offers protection from .22LR, 40gr/1050fps up to .380 ACP FMJ RN 95gr/1025fps. This level is no longer in use.
  • Level IIA: Offers protection from 9mm FMJ RN 124gr/1090fps up to .40S&W FMJ 180gr/1025fps in addition to all Class I threats. This is also a light vest and can be worn all day without interfering with your mobility or movement.
  • Level II: Offers protection against 9mm FMJ RN 124gr/1175fps (+P?) and .357Magnum JSP IIA 158gr/1400fps, plus all Class I and a threats. This is somewhat bulkier and is worn full time by many law enforcement officers.
  • Level IIIA: Offers protection against 9mm FMJ RN 145gr/1400fps and .44Magnum JHP 240gr/1400fps as well as most other handgun threats and class I through II threats. The aforementioned calibers all being commonplace in many gun collections, class IIIA is a reasonable purchase. This level of protection is the highest available that can still be concealable. Its bulk can make it an issue for daily usage in warmer climates, which can result in health issues, like heat exhaustion. Some of the newer models can be augmented with steel plates that offer further protection, but this adds to weight and heat.
  • Level III: Offers protection against 7.62mm FMJ (M80) 148gr/2750fps as well as class I through IIIA threats as well as against the .223 Remington (5.56×45mm NATO). This armor is heavy and not suitable for daily use. Its benefit comes from tactical use, such as breaching and overcoming barricades. Some of the newer vests can be augmented with hard plates to increase their protective properties. The issues with this level are the same as class II but to a somewhat greater extent.
  • Level IV: Offers protection against .30 Caliber Armor Piercing bullets (M2AP) 166gr/2850fps plus all previous threats and the .308 Winchester, which is similar to the military 7.62x51mm specifications. Other rounds Level IV is effective against are the sniper 7.62×54mmR, the .30-06 Springfield cartridge, the .300 Winchester used by gun enthusiasts, hunters, the Military and Law Enforcement, the long-range sniper. This is the highest level of protection and not suitable in urban settings, for prolonged use, or by untrained individuals. It is for military and law enforcement agents who operate in high-risk, war-torn environments.

While it’s nearly impossible to procure body armor that protects against all firearms in existence and use, there are ways to improve your chances of survival. Knowing the type of environment you will be moving through and the likely threats you are expected to face can help you choose the right bullet proof vest. Be aware that it’s not a good idea to automatically go for the highest possible level with hard plate add-ons as this may add unnecessary weight and visibility to your gear.

In recent years, the most commonly used firearms in random and terrorist attacks are semi-automatic AR-15 rifles and low-caliber handguns. While the latter can be stopped by a standard Level III vest, you will need additional ceramic plates to ensure protection against the 5.56 mm ammunition used in most AR-15 rifles. There is currently a large variety of covert and overt bulletproof vests that have pockets, where extra plates can be fitted to increase the security level. Both carry their advantages in different situations. For example, covert vests work better in urban environments, where you don’t want to draw attention to the fact that you are wearing body armor while overt vests are easy and quick to put on in the event of an unforeseen situation.

These days, access to weapons that combine the firepower of a rifle with the high-capacity ammunition magazines designed for assault rifles with the increased concealability of a handgun is easier than ever. This poses a lot of security issues, the biggest one of them all of how can civilians equip themselves against this type of danger. With proper research and assessment of the crime statistics of your local urban environment, you can take the necessary precautions to ensure your safety in the event of any attack and always be adequately prepared.