Massad Ayoob flat-out knows his stuff. His book In The Gravest Extreme is a must-read for anyone thinking about employing a gun for self defense. If the gun guru recommends a firearm-related tactic, technique or piece of hardware for defending yourself or your family, the smart money says he got it right. However, when Ayoob told a commentator at glocktalk.com that body armor is an important part of any good home defense plan, you have to give the idea some serious consideration. This time, however, that process doesn’t end in agreement. My personal experience tells me that body armor is a bad idea for home defense.
I’ve only worn body armor in anger on one occasion. I was a deputy prosecuting attorney accompanying a detective during an interview field-trip that turned into a fugitive search. It wasn’t as nerve-wracking as the methamphetamine lab we stumbled onto while responding to a building code complaint. But I digress. (Officer Ford, wherever you are, you’re a brave man and true.)
I was left alone in an abandoned lumberyard with a shotgun and a spectra vest at my feet. I felt very exposed (and, worse, unarmed). I fumbled the vest over my head and tried to adjust the panels to cover most of my vitals. I’m sure that anyone would get better at this with practice, but it seemed to take me an eternity of split seconds to get myself up-armored and ready to rock. (It didn’t help that the vest’s detective owner was much larger in the torso than myself. My vest was a spare from his trunk.) I felt a hell of a lot better with the Remington 870 back in my hands and six rounds of buckshot only a fingertip away.
But let’s assume that you’ve followed Ayoob’s advice, and your Level III-A vest and hard Kevlar helmet are conveniently hanging by your bedside (imagine having *that* conversation with the wife). How do you employ them? If you hear the proverbial window breaking downstairs in the dead of night, you’ve got a difficult decision to make. A decision with serious consequences.
Do you arm yourself first, or do you go for the armor? You now hear footsteps downstairs, and you have precisely zero seconds to make your choice.
As von Clausewitz wrote, defense is the stronger form of warfare, but achieves only the weaker objective: that of preserving the status quo. Body armor can help you stay in the fight by minimizing your injuries if you get shot, but you cannot win the fight unless you are armed.
In the first few groggy seconds when you start to suspect—no, when you suddenly know that something is very wrong inside your house, I don’t think you can spend the precious seconds required to strap on body armor.
Why? ‘Soft’ body armor is secured with velcro straps. Your vision is momentarily blocked as you slip your head through the shoulder straps connecting the front and back armor panels, and then you must strap the front and back panels together with velcro. It’s almost impossible unless you use both hands, which requires you to disarm yourself.
As you tighten the velcro straps, the ripping sound will seem louder than breaking glass to your hyper-sensitized hearing. And the intruder(s) will hear it too. You could skip fastening the panels together, but that will leave you with limited mobility (as the armor swings from your moving torso like an untied chef’s apron) and give very little protection from angled incoming fire.
Face it: if we’re awakened by the sound of breaking glass downstairs, we’re probably lucky if we have enough advance warning to wake up and arm/equip ourselves properly. The extra seconds (very vulnerable and possibly noisy seconds) spent donning body armor could be better spent moving quietly with your pistol to the gun safe where The Big Gun (whatever floats your boat: shotgun, carbine or “Phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range”) sits ready with a full magazine of ammo and a high-intensity weapon light.
Ayoob’s advice might work your you, however. If your home layout, remote alarm system, or armed partner can provide you with the time and cover to up-armor yourself without being temporarily vulnerable, then by all means do so.
Against an alert homeowner both armed and armored, there’s no way the baddies will win unless they’re packing hand grenades. But most of us probably don’t have the floorplan, alarm system, or armed spouse to buy us those precious seconds. Not in my home, anyway.
I’ll spend them going for The Big Gun.