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The ballistic vest - the final defense.

"When you close up your shop, be sure you go home alive"

The police training academy preaches the motto: When the shift is over, be sure you go home alive. Even if your shop is in a "nice" part of town, you and all gun dealers are at high risk for armed robbery. If that ever happens, you -- like police -- must do everything you can to "go home alive."

Burglar alarms, window bars, video cameras, and concealed sidearms can all help deter criminals, but if you ever find yourself looking down the barrel of a robber's gun, you may want more than a wish and a prayer on your side. This month, Massad Ayoob examines the feasibility of a dealer wearing one of the "bullet-proof" vests he sells so often to his police customers. Concealable soft body armor was introduced by Richard Davis of Second Chance some 20 years ago. In the score of years since then, there have been well over 1,100 documented cases of "good guys" saved from death by these comfortable, hidden "bulletproof" vests.

Not all of those saves have been cops or soldiers. A number have been employees of high-risk retail stores -- a category of employment that most certainly includes gunshops. Consider the following true stories.

* Police have a tip that a robber may hit a neighborhood liquor store. As a precaution, the stakeout team puts a Second Chance vest on the clerk manning the primary register.

When the robber comes in he has more than money on his mind. His first act is to smash the clerk in the face with his sawed-off shotgun. As the clerk lies helpless, the gunman shoots him point-blank in the chest with a full charge of 12-gauge, 00 buckshot. Instants later the fire of the stakeout cops sends the gunman to the "prison of no parole."

The clerk suffers massive bruising but no internal injury -- not so much as a cracked rib.

* An elderly liquor store owner has become an increasingly frequent target for rapacious armed robbers. A sympathetic cop lends him a Second Chance vest. When a pair of robbers subsequently holds up the store, the old gentleman cooperates, but one of the vicious criminals shoots him in the chest just to watch him die.

Imagine the robbers' surprise when the store owner merely rocks back at the impact of the trapped .38 slug, grabs a 20-gauge shotgun from beneath the counter, and blasts both antagonists into eternity. He suffers only a black-and-blue chest.

* A jewelry courier -- wearing a Kevlar vest -- is shot by a robber with a Colt Python .357 Magnum; the courier draws his own identical Python and returns fire, disabling his attacker. He has saved the jewels, but more importantly, his vest has saved his life.

* One of three robbers holding up a convenience store panics. For no reason at all he shoots the clerk in the stomach with a .38 revolver. The clerk, saved by his vest, whips a .380 from under the counter and shoots them each once in the chest. One is found dead a distance from the store, another is arrested as he skulks under a car, nursing his gunshot wound. The third is taken into custody the next day.

Suffice to say that there is proof in the field that high-risk retailers, like police officers, can benefit significantly from a concealed, bullet-resistant vest worn routinely.

Background of the Vest

The first "soft vests" were made of Burlington ballistic nylon. They were swiftly superseded by DuPont's Kevlar, an aramid fiber originally developed to replace the steel belts in radial tires. Variants of Kevlar are used in everything from lightweight, warp-resistant rifle stocks to boat hulls. In a "bulletproof" vest we're talking about a material that, when crafted into cloth, feels rather like wearing a starched sweatshirt beneath street clothing.

Other constructions are available. European makers wait in the wings to introduce Twaron, but don't hold your breath; this fiber is an analog to Kevlar and will do nothing Kevlar doesn't.

Spectra shows promise, but this new synthetic is a film rather than a fiber, and can't breathe. There is some question about how it will hold up over the long run and what its day-in, day-out comfort factor will be. In any case, it's not yet street proven.

Numerous makers offer quality Kevlar vests today. They include, but are not limited to, Second Chance, Point Blank, American Body Armor, Silent Partner, and Safariland.

Choosing A Vest For Work

You'll want to look for these features in a vest to wear every day under your street clothes.

* Get a vest that will stop your own gun's load. The one weapon you're most likely to be shot with is your own because it is always there at the scene. You want a vest that will defeat your own ammo if it's fired against you; ditto for the ammo carried by your fellow employees in the store.

* Level IIa protection should be minimum. Avoid chintzy, thin, Level I vests that stop little more than 158-grain, round nose lead .38 and .45 ball. I've personally shot 9mm hollowpoints and .357 Magnum rounds through and through such vests. Level IIa, or the thicker Level II and Level III, will defeat the 9mm and .357 Magnum as well as the 10 mm or even .44 Magnum rounds you can assume any halfway intelligent crook would bring to a gunfight in a gunshop.

* Buy a vest that's both comfortable and concealable. Consider the Second Chance Deep Cover carrier or equivalent. This is a heavy-duty, Spandex T-shirt with pockets for the ballistic panels. the Spandex holds the vest tight against your body to absolutely minimize bulge and "vest lines," allowing you to conceal it under a sportshirt or even a dark polo shirt or T-shirt one or two sizes too large.

Many manufacturers offer a quilted outer shell carrier into which the regular vest panels can be inserted. To the uninitiated, it looks like you're wearing an Eddie Bauer down vest closed in the front. It insulates you against more than just the cold, however.

* Decide what your reason is for wearing the vest. Some retailers aren't as concerned about criminals as they are about their customers inadvertently firm, a round from a gun which was accidentally left loaded. One gunsmith who wears a Second Chance vest also charges $10 for "unloading a weapon." He reports that about once a month a customer hands him a pistol for repair, he works the slide, and out pops a live round! Since he's more concerned about an accidental discharge than an armed robber, he wears the vest over his shirt as a visual reminder to his customers to empty their weapons.

A $100 Level I vest is better than nothing, and some firms sell recycled or re-manufactured trade-in vests with attractively low prices but no warranty. Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $500 at full retail for a good Level IIa vest with front, back, and side coverage, and warranty.

But, hey -- when did anyone reading this journal pay retail? You can become a dealer for one of the better brands! You'll move a lot of product to police, security professionals, other high-risk retailers, firearms instructors, and even those good-guy citizens who my friend Chuck Taylor describes as "people who take life seriously." This will also allow you to outfit your staff and yourself with life-saving products at a minimal cost.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Publishers' Development Corporation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Lethal Weapon
Author:Ayoob, Massad
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 1, 1992
Words:1242
Previous Article:What went wrong in Hartford?
Next Article:Firearm production by U.S. manufacturers: 1991.
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