By Gordon Cooper, Independent Program Attorney for Texas Law Shield
Recently, a Texas Law Shield member was arrested for the possession of body armor. Ultimately, the member was released from custody and no charges were filed. However, the episode generated a lot of questions, in particular: Am I legally allowed to have body armor?
Short answer: If you’re not a convicted felon, the answer is yes.
Body armor is discussed in one place in the United States Code: 18 U.S.C. § 931. Section 931 contains only one prohibition on the purchase, ownership, or possession of body armor. The law states that anyone who has been convicted of a violent felony (or its state equivalent) cannot purchase, own, or possess body armor. The law then carves out an exception:
If the defendant has written certification that it is necessary for the safe performance of lawful business activity and
The use and possession of the defendant are limited to the business activity
This means that if you are not a felon convicted of a violent crime (or if you are but fit into the exception), it is legal under the federal law to purchase, own, and possess body armor.
What does Texas law say about body armor? Essentially, the same thing as federal law.
The purchase, ownership, and possession of body armor generally is legal in Texas. However, Texas Penal Code § 46.041 prohibits the possession of body armor by anyone convicted of a felony (violent or non-violent).
To recap, if you’re a convicted felon, it’s illegal under state law to possess body armor. If you were convicted of a violent felony, it’s illegal to purchase, own, or possess body armor under federal law. If none of the above apply to you, then you are within your rights to possess whatever body armor you so choose.
Why then did our member get arrested? Because the officer didn’t know what you just read! At the end of the day our legal system is set up such that you go to jail for your ignorance of the law, and you go to jail for the officer’s ignorance of the law. As you can see, it’s very hard to stay out of jail.
If you ever have any questions regarding the legality of any weapon or armor, you can check out the Texas Law Shield blog by clicking here, and the Law Shield Archives here. Both are free. Or, click here to join a Law Shield social media outlet.