Don’t Expect it to Stop a Bullet!

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

Several years ago, I was asked to write a book about making homemade ballistic armor. People had been posting a lot of videos on YouTube, talking about how they had made their own “bulletproof armor” out of everything from denim to ceramic tile. So, a lot of what I had to do is run my own ballistic tests, with the idea of either proving those people right or disproving them.

Fortunately, I had a good relationship with the range I shot at back then, giving me the ability to use their range for my testing. I’ve since moved, but am forever grateful to them for allowing me to go forward of the line, setting up my test stand, so that I could do everything by the book. It was an interesting experience; one in which I learned quite a bit.

The first thing I have to say is that you shouldn’t trust any of those videos. I built my own version of everything I could find on them, and managed to destroy them all with a 9mm, as well as lesser rounds. While there are good materials out there which will stop a bullet, ceramic tile, laminates of denim or canvas and construction adhesive and poorly made fiberglass laminate won’t. For that matter, most steel won’t stop a bullet either; nor will bricks.

Anyone who has ever taken a good look at ballistic armor knows that it comes in different levels. The current standard for soft armor (no hard plate in the plate holder) is Level IIIA. This is tested to be able to stop high-velocity 9mm and .44 magnum hollow-point bullets. It will not stop FN’s FiveSeven round or any rifle round. But in most cases where we’re dealing with criminals, Level IIIA is sufficient.

Ok, so what do you do, if you don’t have body armor or if you’re not wearing it?

Anyone who has watched a cop show or action movie has probably seen the hero hide behind something to avoid getting shot at some time or other. The list of different things they hide behind is limitless, and includes such items as cars, brick walls, wood walls, furniture, filing cabinets and trees. Somehow, by some miracle, those items all manage to stop the bad guys’ bullets, protecting the lives of the good guys.

There’s just one thing, with very little exception, those things won’t stop a bullet. A good-sized tree will stop a pistol bullet, but in my testing, a 9mm round went through 9 inches of plywood. You can forget about any part of a car stopping a bullet, except the engine. So, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to hide behind a car, make sure you’re behind the engine. Most pistol rounds will go right through both sides of the car, without hardly slowing down. Furniture, filing cabinets and walls aren’t going to stop much of anything.

One of the surprises for me, in those tests, was brick walls. I had expected brick to work pretty good, but the only round it could stop was a .22LR. even a .380ACP, which is considered to be a rather marginal self-defense round, was able to break the brick, going through.

Sand, on the other hand, was pretty good at stopping bullets, as long as it was compacted sand. I managed to stop all the pistol rounds I fired, including high-velocity 9mm and .44 magnum, with 3-1/2 inches of packed sand. Just for clarity, when I’m talking about packed sand, the weight of the sand will pack it alone, all except the very top of the stack.

About the only thing you’re going to find in a building, which can stop a bullet, is a concrete column. No furnishings found in offices, stores or restaurants will do any good to stop those bullets. So, when you’re out and about, make sure you identify the concrete columns that are holding up the ceilings of restaurants and stores. In larger department stores, they will often have mirrors stuck to their sides; but you can easily find them by looking up to see what goes above the displays.

Let me add here, that just because all those materials won’t stop bullets, doesn’t mean that they are totally useless. They can still provide concealment. Since the bad guys probably don’t know their bullets will go through cars and brick walls, it might stop them from shooting at you. That’s not something I’d want to count on; but if you can’t find good cover, it’s better than standing out in the open, looking like a target.

Being ready is about more than just keeping your powder dry and your survival gear close at hand; it’s about knowing what you’ll do in any given situation. That includes knowing where you can find good cover to use.

Dr. Rich

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