Navigating the Legal Terrain: Civilian Ownership of Body Armor in the United States

29th Mar 2024

Navigating the Legal Terrain: Civilian Ownership of Body Armor in the United States

In the United States, the ownership and use of body armor by civilians are topics wrapped in layers of federal, state, and local regulations. While the primary intent of these laws is to enhance public safety, they also ensure that civilians who require body armor for legitimate purposes can access it. This blog post aims to demystify the legal aspects surrounding the purchase and wear of body armor by civilians across various jurisdictions within the U.S.

Federal Regulations

At the federal level, the pivotal piece of legislation is the James Guelff and Chris McCurley Body Armor Act of 2002, encoded in 18 U.S.C. 931. This law prohibits convicted felons from purchasing, owning, or possessing body armor. The restriction is specifically tailored to individuals convicted of violent crimes, with the rationale being to prevent further instances of armed violence. However, exceptions exist—if a felon requires body armor for lawful employment, they can obtain it with an authorized court or employer's written consent.

Importantly, the federal law doesn't place restrictions on law-abiding civilians regarding the acquisition or use of body armor. Civilians can purchase body armor face-to-face, online, or via phone, with no federal requirement for background checks or registration.

State-Specific Variations

When diving into state laws, the landscape becomes more nuanced, with regulations varying significantly from one state to another:

  • Connecticut: Unique among states, Connecticut prohibits the sale of body armor except in face-to-face transactions. This law means that residents cannot legally purchase body armor online or from a catalog. Moreover, only individuals who sell body armor as a part of their business to an authorized user are allowed to engage in these transactions.
  • California: In California, anyone can purchase and use body armor, provided they're not convicted felons. However, wearing body armor during the commission of a crime adds an additional charge to the wearer.
  • Florida: Like in California, Florida allows the purchase and wearing of body armor by civilians. However, using body armor while committing certain crimes can result in additional penalties.
  • Illinois: Civilians can own body armor, but convicted felons are prohibited from possessing it. The state mandates that anyone selling body armor must keep a record of the transaction.
  • New York: The state permits the purchase of body armor in person or online, but you cannot wear body armor on school grounds or commit a felony while wearing it.

Local Ordinances

In addition to federal and state laws, some local jurisdictions may have their own rules regarding body armor. It's crucial for civilians to verify any local regulations that might affect body armor ownership or use in their specific locality.

Legal Responsibilities of Civilians

Civilians owning or considering purchasing body armor should be proactive in understanding the laws applicable to them. Misuse or unlawful possession can lead to serious legal consequences, including fines and imprisonment. It's also advisable for civilians to consider the ethical implications and ensure that body armor is used responsibly and legally.


While the federal government provides a baseline for body armor regulation, the nuances of state and local laws in the U.S. create a complex legal landscape that civilians must navigate carefully. Whether for personal protection, professional use, or collector's interest, understanding and complying with these laws ensures that civilians can legally and responsibly own and use body armor. As with any legal matter, when in doubt, consult with a legal expert to ensure compliance with the latest laws in your jurisdiction.