The following will upset some who have not thought things through. The goal is to be smart about buying stuff and integrate with your system and mindset. If you have armor but have not trained with it, how will you perform while wearing it? How do you know how the armor affects or hinders your movement? If your armor hinders your ability to shoot or access a firearm in the way you carry a gun, does the armor help, or hurt you? Some of the best ways to iron out armor carry systems is to train with it and adjust that system as needed. Force on force as well as carbine courses usually end up inspiring students to adjust their loadout after the first hour or two.
The purpose of modern ballistic body armor is to protect your body from being pierced by projectiles fired from firearms. It is not for dress up, it is not for the “gram”, it is not for fantasy battles where people imagine they are the hero inspired by movies they grew up with.
Step one in the journey for armor is determine if it fits your needs – is there is a realistic point in your life where you would use it and need it? Will people be shooting at you? If there is not an immediate need, are there other investments that need attention first? I wear soft body armor daily as part of my uniform as a police officer. The odds are I will not need it, but part of my job is responding to critical incidents- which often enough involve firearms. The armor I wear daily stops the most likely threats I will face.
Step two determines what potential threats you might face. I live in Utah, everyone is armed, hunting rifles are prevalent, ARs are plentiful. Am I concerned the everyday citizen as a threat? Nope. Should I be aware of what is out there? Yep!
Step three select good quality armor manufactured from reputable companies that stop the threats you have deemed valid for what you may face. Make sure those plates are NIJ certified for those threats. Keep in mind the current NIJ standards do not recognize 5.56 as a threat.
If armor is or will be something sitting in your closet for “SHTF” and you will not train with it regularly, you might as well save that money and invest in something useful- like training or new tires on your car. Do not put fantasy spending ahead of real-life issues and needs. With current supply issues and costs of basic everyday items going up- would some form of self-sustainment (food, water, power) or food storage be a more logical investment?
I personally do not put on plates to investigate a bump in the night. I might put on plates if I respond to an agitated suicidal domestic abuser armed with a rifle where innocents are involved. Work on maintaining realistic expectations of what you might face.
A stand-up battle against Russians, terminators, zombies, aliens, or the government is less likely to happen compared to the likelihood of encountering violence in public- for example: at a mall. A coordinated battle where you are working with others, using radios, and move to contact methods is even less likely (unless you are already regularly training with a group).
There is nothing wrong with being prepared. There is nothing wrong with owning armor. Armor should not be a restricted item anywhere. Just be realistic with your threat assessments and expectations of those threats. The odds of someone needing a firearm for self-defense are quite low – many of us still carry daily because the stakes are more impactful than the odds. The odds of armor use are even more miniscule compared to using a firearm defensively.