Imagine you are part of the crowd of concertgoers at the country music festival in Las Vegas at the moment Stephen Paddock opens fire from his 32nd floor room, and you are carrying whatever pistol you normally carry. What can you do? You’re caught in the open, people around you are being hit, and cover (there’s not much) is several yards or more away. Returning fire would require a combination of superhuman ability and lottery-winning luck.
What can you do?
There exist other situations in which you would not or might not want to start shooting back immediately, though this is the most extreme circumstance of which I’ve so far heard. You might be caught beyond your accuracy-over-range limit and need to cross an open space to get the shot you need. You might have someone else you want to protect, with whom you can’t stay or whom you want to cover better than you can with just your body.
Ballistic plates are carried in vests worn by our troops in combat and by law enforcement entry teams. Normally, there is at least a front and a back plate.
You might be in range of the fight but unable to move any direction other than directly forward or backward. You will shoot back, of course, while you counter-attack or escape, but what else can you do to reduce your chance of taking hits while you deliver them?
If you have a reasonably sized bag with you and the right items in that bag, there sure is something you can do.
I’m not talking about what is sometimes called a “bag gun,” which I define as a gun carried off-body as a supplement to the one you carry on-body. A bag gun can be anything from a larger version of your carry gun to a full-sized rifle (and, yes, you can conceal a full-sized rifle in a bag quite well if you want to).
I’ve written about bag guns in articles here and in books before, but that’s not what I’m suggesting in this specific case because another gun won’t help keep you from being hit if you’re caught in a circumstance like I described above.
What I’m suggesting is the inclusion of what is usually called a “rifle plate,” a sheet of hard body armor that is certified by standardized testing to be able to stop multiple rounds of the most common types of ammunition. You might also see it referred to as a “ballistic plate.” It is physically rigid (as opposed to the soft armor that is worn in a concealed armor vest under a shirt).
Ballistic plates are carried in vests worn by our troops in combat and by law enforcement entry teams. Normally, there is at least a front and a back plate, which are available in a few standard sizes (sometimes, smaller side plates are added as well). The most common plate size is 10 inches wide by 12 inches high; they are also available in small sizes.
If worn in front, the plate will be tapered to a narrower top edge (starting around a quarter of its height from the upper edge) in order to allow the wearer freedom of shoulder and upper-arm movement. The back plate can be fully rectangular or have a taper, which is called a “shooter’s cut” or, if the taper is more pronounced, a “swimmer’s cut.”
No matter the shape, one of these ballistic armor plates will easily fit in a laptop bag or a backpack of comparable size, where it can rest behind the e-reader, the books or the diapers and wet wipes or, yes, even the bag gun and spare ammunition if that’s the way you want to roll.
The way you put such a “bag plate” into use depends mainly on what kind of bag or pack you have it in at the time. Assuming you want to protect your front, a backpack would have to be taken off, and you would have to put your arms through the straps backwards (or should it be frontwards?) to get the pack facing forward on your chest. A sling bag can usually be grasped by a strap at either the top or bottom and rolled over your shoulder or under your arm to where it would be hanging in front of you — a very quick movement if you have practiced doing so.
A shoulder bag (or “man purse”) would have to be lifted and held in place in front of you, with one hand through a strap or handle and one hand running your carry pistol. You could hold a backpack or sling bag with the armor in it the same way, providing you some protection of your mid-to-upper body’s vital areas and a better chance to get through an attack alive and intact.
To protect another person, you would hand it to him or her and have that individual hold it the same way as you would yourself.
You can get anything from a single-curved to a triple-curved plate; triple-curved will generally fit better when it’s worn as intended in a vest, though it may be less handy in a sling bag.
Besides the size and shape, factors that might affect your carry and use of hard armor in a bag like this are the weight of the plate and the fact that ballistic armor meant to be worn in a carrier on the body is curved. You can get anything from a single-curved to a triple-curved plate; triple-curved will generally fit better when it’s worn as intended in a vest, though it may be less handy in a sling bag. In fact, the curve of the plate will make it take up more room in a bag. The weight of the plate, however, is a larger factor and will vary depending primarily on its construction.
Bullet Proof ME, for example, offers Level III+ and IV-rated plates that range in weight from about 4 pounds to about 8 pounds for an 8-by-10-inch single-curve “Shooters Cut” plate. Obviously, lighter is better for something you’re going to carry around a lot, but the lighter plates are also more expensive. There is, and probably always will be, a trade-off like this that you’ll have to take into account.
When shopping for a rifle plate, limit your choice to Level III+ or some (but not all) Level IV plates if you want to be as sure as possible that you’ll be protected from multiple hits from the 5.56-caliber M855 (sometimes also referred to as SS109) round. Without getting too detailed about it, this is a 62-grain AR round with a steel core, denoted by a green-tipped bullet, that is commonly available in the U.S. If the attacker is using a rifle, history says that it is likely to be an AR. That AR might not be loaded with this specific ammunition, but any armor that can stop this round can probably stop anything else the shooter may have loaded.
Level III and some Level IV plates, even if they will stop multiple hits from a heavier-caliber rifle, are not always proofed against the M855, so do the research and be as certain as you can about what you’re getting before you put your life behind it.
You have to take care of plate armor in somewhat the same way that you have to take care of soft armor. There are additional considerations as well. Bullet Proof ME points out that plate-armor materials may be adversely affected or permanently reduced by prolonged exposure to temperatures below -15 degrees Fahrenheit and greater than 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
Excessive direct sunlight and the resultant UV exposure can easily inflict heat damage to the external surface, and the plate should be replaced if it begins to look any different than when you bought it.
Don’t take any chances by leaving your rifle plates in extremely cold or hot environments or by inadvertently letting them “cook” in the sun. For example, it’d be best to avoid leaving rifle plates in a closed vehicle in the sun, unprotected on asphalt in intense sun, or unprotected on top of metal in the sun.
In short, if it’s too hot for your body, don’t leave your body armor there.
Ceramic rifle plates can be damaged if abused, especially if they’re dropped on one of their corners. They are not delicate like fine tea china, but…
I can only touch the surface of the bag-armor concept here. I have to leave additional discussion to other times and other places. I encourage you to do some research and think about this idea and, if you come to the conclusion that it’s time to order a system, choose wisely and be as fully informed as you can be about your choice. We all plan for the worst and hope for the best, but if you want to protect yourself or someone else against a rifle, hoping will only go so far.
Bullet Proof ME: BulletProofME.com