As part of Galactic Bioware‘s product development effort, I’ve had to get very deep in the issue of the handling of protected fibres such as those that comprise the well-known Kevlar (Aramid) by DuPont and less well-known, but much more interesting, Dyneema (UHMWPE) by Royal DSM which are common soft fabrics used in body armour products.
tl;dr – anything which can be used to make body armour outside of the US is extremely regulated as a weapon.
Each of the countries in our supply chain has different laws that apply to protected fibres, the ingredients for soft body armour. This makes for a complex regulatory web that impedes innovation in the civilian, defence and military sectors as a whole.
My opening position with this company is that our production should be onshore in Australia to help contribute to Australia’s efforts to rebuild a real economy based on advanced manufacturing, materials science, engineering, research and development, as opposed to, well, digging stuff out of the ground. This is particularly important for the state of Victoria, which has been the most severely economically debilitated by COVID-19.
The politics of body armour is not well known, but it is self-evident once you start to think about it. Some of the policing challenges in Australia’s modern memory start around the time of Ned Kelly and his gang which is a well-known but rare case of body armour being worn in a relatively contemporary society.
Ned Kelly’s home made body armour from c. 1880
- State’s desire for a monopoly on violence
- Principle of escalation in crime management
State monopoly on violence
The opening position of most contemporary societies (ex. USA) is that the state should have the monopoly on violence through police and the military. This means that weapons, and the protection from weapons, the argument goes, should only be available to these groups. Civilians do not need body armour in their daily lives, as the risk of harm from weapons is low.
In the State of Victoria, body armour is so defined:
“body armour” means a garment or item—
a) that is designed, intended or adapted for the purpose of protecting the body from the effects of a weapon, including a firearm; and
b) that is prescribed by the regulations to be body armour;
In New South Wales, the definitions are similar, as they are across most states in Australia.
The police in Australia have a great track record of not shooting people unless absolutely necessary, and violent crime is very low, so the question is why should anyone want body armour in the first place?
Well, low risk is not no risk. The world is becoming increasingly fragile and the availability and proliferation of weapons is definitionally higher than is reported.
Body armour (in general) also protects against innocent accidents e.g. hunter cross-fire to park rangers and hikers, bomb shrapnel, stab wounds, etc. It must be noted though that body armour is surprisingly lacking in versatility, for example, armour that is good for resisting ballistics such as bullets might be hopeless with knife slashes.
Whilst the state has monopolised violence at law, they have not in practice, and the disarmed and disarmoured civilian population currently absorbs this risk.
Principle of escalation
Escalation is best summarised by Commissioner Jim Gordon in Batman Begins:
Jim Gordon: What about escalation?
Jim Gordon: We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor piercing rounds.
It is a well accepted and rarely challenged argument that the greater the availability of body armour, the more it can be used by criminals to resist arrest and potentially do more harm whilst at-large. So that if body armour is legal, then criminals will be harder to catch.
Critics of this position suggest that if criminals can obtain weapons illegally, they can also obtain body armour illegally. Therefore, making body armour illegal disadvantages law abiding citizens seeking lower overall risk of harm, and does not really impact on criminals. Body armour in the hands of law abiding citizens does not pose risk to other citizens.
In an increasingly uncertain world with the visible breaking down of many systems that were assumed to always work, some of these legal positions may need to be revisited.
As a result, when Galactic Bioware launches its first product range in late 2020, the products, while Made in Australia, will not be available for Australian consumers.