Is Body Armor Legal in California?

man with bulletproof backpack

Body armor or bulletproof vests are solely for the wearer’s protection. They do not compromise anyone’s safety, at least not directly.

Be that as it may, owning and wearing body armor in the US is legal in every state. As is the case with most laws, things can still vary from one state to another.

In California, most adults aged 21 and older can buy, own, and legally possess a gun. But what about bulletproof vests? Do similar laws apply to body armor in the Golden State?

Can You Buy Body Armor in California?

As long as you’re an adult and haven’t been convicted of any felony, you can buy a bulletproof vest from a vendor. You can also get one in a local store and even order it online. So, yes, you can purchase body armor protection in the state of California.

Can You Wear/Use Body Armor in California?

According to the state of California, anyone can both buy and use a bulletproof vest in California, as long as they’re of age and without a felony conviction. Bulletproof vests are considered protective items and not weapons.

Can Body Armor Be Used as a Weapon?

Bulletproof or ballistic vests aren’t considered weapons in most US states (including California), but they raise a couple of safety questions. Although body armor is absolutely a protective piece of apparel (not invasive), the question of who it’s protecting is raised. A person can use body armor to protect themselves in the commission of illegal/violent acts. This means that ballistic vests can actually help the criminal when it comes to committing offenses.

This is why California will use sentence enhancement if body armor is used during the commission of a criminal act. The person who is proven to have committed a crime could get one, two, or three extra years if they were wearing body armor during the illegal act. The state of California can also elevate the level of a felony in case body armor was involved.

What if a Convicted Felon Owns/Uses Body Armor

As stated earlier, it is illegal for a felon to buy, own, or use body armor in the state of California. If a convicted criminal is found in possession of body armor or wearing a ballistic vest, they become eligible for incarceration.

However, exceptions do exist. If a convicted felon has to wear body armor in exceptional cases, permission can be arranged. For the most part, these reasons are work-related.

Federal Law

Let’s talk about how body armor is influenced by federal law.

In the entirety of the United States, a bulletproof vest is regarded as “body armor.” It is illegal for anyone convicted of a violent felony to buy, own, or possess a bulletproof or ballistic vest. The person might be exempt from this if the felon is an employee who needs to wear a vest to perform lawful business. Of course, the employer needs to obtain written certification.

Where Can You Sell Body Armor?

In Connecticut, for instance, you aren’t allowed to purchase a bulletproof vest over the phone or online. The transactions need to take place face-to-face. In California, as it’s the case with the majority of US states, you can sell body armor without meeting the vendor. Here are your options:

  • You can sell a ballistic vest in person. There isn’t a background check or even an ID check required. You don’t have to keep any special record, either
  • You can sell and ship body armor to 49 of the 50 states. The one state that you can’t ship the armor to is Connecticut, where body armor sale is limited to face-to-face transactions, as explained above
  • Body armor can be sold in stores, at gun shows, on websites, over the phone, and even via a catalog
  • Of course, you can’t deal in body armor outside of the US borders without federal permission. This means shipping, taking, bringing, or sending anything that can be regarded as “body armor”

Types of Body Armor

Suppose you’re looking into the legality of buying, selling, owning, and using body armor. In that case, you’re probably interested in learning the types that are available out there. Here’s a quick body armor type guide.

Ballistic Protection

Ballistic vests are the first thing that comes to mind when you think “body armor.” This armor type provides the wearer with bullet resistance. However, the degree of bullet resistance depends on the category level of the armor in question.

Levels IIA-IIIA, for instance, offer protection against the most common firearms, such as 9mm, .44 magnum, and .357 magnum ammo.

Levels III and IV can protect the wearer from high-velocity bullets, like those from sub-machine guns and rifles.

Edged Blade Protection

This type of body armor is used for stab protection. It works against knives, axes, swords, broken bottles, and similar weapons.

Bear in mind, however, that edged blade protection doesn’t stop the blades like ballistic protection stops a bullet. A knife will cut through the protective fabric of the vest. Still, it provides a degree of protection that makes a difference between an injury and a fatality.

Spike Protection

Spike-resistant body armor protects needles, long nails, ice picks, stilettos, screwdrivers, and similar small items that may pass between spaces in the fabric of regular body armor.

Multi-Threat Armor

You can get multi-threat armor that protects against various weapon types. For instance, a stab-proof vest can feature Kevlar plates and be spike-proof, which can effectively shield you from a variety of threats. Multi-threat armors are, naturally, the priciest body armor type available out there.

You should know that all four major body armor types are legal in the state of California and that you can purchase them, as long as you have a legal basis to do so.

Body Armor in the Golden State

For the most part, any adult civilian can buy any type of body armor in California. The only condition is that they aren’t a felon. However, even felons might be eligible to own and wear body armor if this is warranted by their work nature. Of course, this requires permission from their employer.


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Matthew Osborn

Matt is an entrepreneur who has created and successfully exited multiple companies and brands. Now, he dedicates his time to Legionary, where he produces content on guns, family, and freedom.

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