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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 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.

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  1. Gonna have to agree with Ayoob on this one. In addition to body armor, Mas is a strong advocate of a layered defense against unwanted visitors including (but not limited to) fences, driveway sensors, motion activated lighting outside the home, good doors & deadbolts, window locks & venetian blinds to slow entry from outside and one or more 4 legged alarm systems named Rover, Rex, etc. None of these is a fail-safe by itself, but should buy you time to respond to an intrusion before the intruder is standing at the foot of your bed.

    Ayoob also counsels getting family members accounted for and behind cover when possible rather than doing a one man impression of a swat team. An armed and armored ensconced defender between the bad guy(s) and your family is a pretty solid tactical position. Of course the sound of breaking glass followed by screaming from my daughters' room would merit as dynamic a response as I could muster–with or without body armor.

    If you're going from dead sleep to armed homeowner in a matter of seconds, the act of shrugging on a vest is an investment in buying yourself a moment for your eyes to start focusing again lest you mistakenly find yourself holding a family member at gunpoint for something that went bump in the night.

    I appreciate your thoughts on this, Chris, there are clearly many ways to approach this issue.

  2. I'm with Chris. When it comes to home defense, simple is always better. There's less to go wrong. I've already added ear protectors to my home defense shotgun-grabbing routine (so I don't go deaf in the middle of a gunfight). I can see lots of ways that could go wrong. I would MUCH prefer to have a noise supressor than fumble with muffs. But they're illegal.

    A vest? In a panic? I mean, high stress situation where seconds can mean the difference between life and death? Fuhgeddaboutit.

    Once again, the perfect is the enemy of the good. And a gun guru forgets that the average gun owner is untrained, uncoordinated and unprepared. Adding complexity is adding trouble.

  3. If the situation were that I had a couple of spare seconds, I would certain grab armor. If the threat is imminent, it would not be the first thought on my mind. A good plan must be layered, if for nothing else but to slow down the aggression to provide time to reach our children and tools, but how many of us truly have a plan and practice it with the family?

  4. I like a lot of Ayoob's writing, but "Gravest Extreme" really needs to be updated–at lest bring it into the 90's. Nearly half its limited content is obsolete.

    Body armor is not the next thing I would add to my home defense plan–I would need several more layers of warnings and barriers before I would risk the time it would take to put on and get adjusted.

  5. Your disagreement w/Ayoob regarding body armor sounds like it’s based on your inexperience with body armor.

    Here’s how it works: Put the armor on and adjust it. Now, open one side. Store. When needed, it can be slipped on as easily as a t-shirt and the open side fastened. No noise. Hopefully you can figure it out from that brief description.

    Not sure what else to say. You don’t have an alarm system? They’re so inexpensive now (including monitoring at $9/mo if you want it) that it seems to indicate you haven’t thought some other things through very well either.

  6. I must admit that I don’t always agree with Massad Ayoob (although I often do). I teach my students to have a variety of tools in their tool boxes. Armor is but one tool. Like any other tool, we should use it when appropriate and not when inappropriate. A hammer is not the best tool to drive screws, for example.
    When time permits and the situation warrants, wearing body armor can be a big plus. By way of example: when the bump in the night is outside and I suspect that someone is prowling around my house, I would armor up while on the phone with the police. Then I would be both armed and armored, if and when the thug entered. I would NOT go outside looking for him! That’s a job for the cops. I don’t do that for a living anymore. Likewise, if looters and rioters were doing their thing in my area, my family and I would wear body armor in addition to arming ourselves.
    On the other hand, time is often of the essence and does not always permit the changing of garments. If someone gets into my house and past whatever barriers I have in place in the middle of the night, I am more likely to be found defending my family in my boxer shorts than in body armor.
    So, rather than dealing in absolutes, the questions I ask myself are 1) What tools do I have in my home defense tool box. 2) What tools are missing that could increase my ability to fight off bad guys. 3) Which missing tools can I actually afford to buy (we all have budgets). 4) How, and under what circumstances would I use each too. When I ask myself these questions I find that body armor is a worthwhile tool to invest in. I just wouldn’t use it under all and ever circumstance.

  7. I have learned from experience in Afghanistan that even a cumbersome IOTV can be donned VERY quickly when you have a massive adrenaline dump in your system. If the situation gives you 2 or 3 extra seconds, that can be plenty of time to throw on a plate carrier. I’ve put on, and fully adjusted an IOTV and helmet, under direct fire, while laying on my back in a tiny guard shack in under 10 seconds. And I did this with zero visibility, due to smoke and dust. If you are awaken in the middle of the night by glass breaking, or somebody starting to kick your door, you will likely have enough time to don a vest. The more minimal the vest is, the easier it is to put on in a hurry, too.

  8. What you need is heavy bullet proof deadlocked bedroom door. This gives you time to put on armour, call cops and have gun ready.

    • A bulletproof door is fine IF….

      a: the adjacent walls are also bulletproof. A great door is useless if the bad guy can just step 2 feet to the left or right and start firing into the room through the walls. Not to mention the bad guy now has a bulletproof barrier of his own to hide behind.
      b: there aren’t other people in the house who needs to be protected. Most homes have no way to use a single door to cut off access to the bedrooms, etc of the entire family. Mine sure doesn’t.
      c: you have a peephole or security camera so you know when the threat is over and it REALLY is the cops outside

      The key, as others have mentioned, is layered defense. I live in a rural area. I have many layers:

      1. driveway alarm. As soon as you’re half a car length in my driveway, I know it.
      2. motion lights
      3. 5 dogs. Only 2 of them might actually try to bite you, but you don’t know which 2, do you? 🙂 Some are inside, some out. ALL bark if one barks, so the driveway alarm is almost useless.
      4. 360 degree security camera coverage. All at once, meaning NOT a camera that has to be tilted, panned, etc. I have 8 cameras, which also have night vision, around the house. I can view them all at once or one at a time on any tv in my house, as well as my phone or any laptop. Sounds complicated, sounds expensive, but it wasn’t. A little google time and you’d be surprised what you can pick up. Are they HD? Nope, but good enough I can see what’s going on.
      5. Alarm system. Nuff said.
      6. Cell phones
      7. Firearms. Nightstand (his and hers) plus others stashed securely in several other critical places.

      No, I don’t think I’m some ninja. No, I don’t think I’m 100% secure. But the truth is 95% of your average punks will encounter the first few layers at the most then think better and move on to an easier target. Another 4 might go a little further and then back off. So maybe 1% at most would ever get all the way in and require firearms to be deployed on my part. So I figure I’ve reduced my general risk by 99%. 🙂 Those of you relying solely on your guns are in better shape than having NO gun, but you’re at the same level of risk for someone actually entering the hope. Get some layers and sleep better. 🙂

  9. You mention cutting off your vision; but not all vests go on over the head. You can have a soft vest that quickly slips on like a jacket as well, and ensure that it’s pre-adjusted so that you need just a moment to slide it on and quietly shove the velcro shut–and given that decent soft armor will stop nearly all pistol/shotgun rounds, you’re armored against the most likely weapons an intruder might be carrying.

  10. I have upgraded my set up to include Body Armor. The plate carrier has a pistol attached and a flash light and spare mags.
    Sitting right next to the bed one side open. I can be armored in two seconds with every thing I need as I sit up.
    Or I can just grab the gun if needed.
    Nothing wrong with options.

    • Oh a side note. I have found you should not bring it up on normal gun Forums. The same guys who think nothing about planting guns in every nook and cranny of their home so as to never be out of reach of a gun. They will call you every kind of kook imaginable if you bring up adding body armor to the mix.
      Strange response actually, I guess they never envision receiving return fire.
      To my mind is was just a natural extension to the desire to add a tactical vest to keep every thing I needed handy. If that rig also has a armor plate all the better.


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