Eve Flanigan 06.17.22
“What kind of person carries body armor in their car?” It’s one of the memorable quotes from the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse over his multiple acts of self-defense with a rifle that occurred on the same evening in 2020. If you’re anything like me, that uninformed quote gives rise to a hearty laugh among like-minded friends. Along with the armor in my vehicle, as well as the cars and trucks of many friends, is a trusty rifle. For some of us who need or want to maintain a high state of readiness* that gear – along with medical emergency kits – are within quick reach in case they’re needed. Along with this cargo comes the responsibility to safeguard these investments, one of which can wreak serious damage in the wrong hands. For me and my kind, there’s Gray Man Tactical (spelled the British way). They’re specialists in helping civilian and uniformed defenders carry gear in a way that’s ready, secure, and tidy. Customizable storage panels for seat-back use, or for organizing gear in safes and other confined spaces is their specialty.
In the last couple years, my usual vigilant citizen/instructor existence has expanded to include work as an armed security guard and instructor of armed guards. I use my personal vehicle on duty more often than a marked unit. Along with that change came the urge to have a more secure, professional storage system for my AR15, medical kit, and armor. While the firearms in my car are not visible to the public, and while I am conscientious about locking my vehicle, it’s hard to be too secure when preventing unauthorized access to one’s firearms. So, I was excited to see that Gray Man Tactical had, late last winter, released a pre-assembled version of their seat-back carriers that seemed to have everything. I’ve had the opportunity to try them, and discovered some valuable and unexpected insights about the setup. I’ll detail them here in an attempt to help potential buyers know what to consider in advance of purchasing.
The Dual Seat Back Locking RMP Package is a descriptive title for the largest package Gray Man Tactical offers. Its components can be purchased piecemeal, but this set offers pretty much all the basics a defender wants and needs in a vehicle setup for self or family.
At the foundation of the package are 15.25 x 25-inch RMPX panels that serve as the skeleton. Made of coated aluminum, the panels sport MOLLE-compatible cut-outs all over. Though just 0.19 inches thick, they weigh 46 ounces each and are extremely sturdy. It’s so unique that Gray Man Tactical has the designs trademarked. RMP, for Rigid Molle Panel, is the name of their original fiberglass-reinforced nylon panels. The same design is followed with the RMPX panels, but with aluminum.
What follows is a description of each component, followed by my personal experience and lessons learned upon installing the kit.
Attached to the body armor-carrier side is, of course, a hanger for a carrier vest. This centerpiece component arrived extremely well-anchored to the RMPX. Its hanger ends are upswept to keep shoulder straps from sliding off. It’s made like a tank, just like the RMP, and the attachment point is secured at multiple places and rock-solid.
Also included for the plate carrier side is a portable (but larger than wearable for all-day) LTC Responder first aid kit, well-stocked with supplies for massive-hemorrhage emergencies, including a Gen 7 Combat Application Tourniquet. This can be secured to the headrest back with supplied Velcro straps, or reserve that space for the included helmet hook and strap it to the RMPX panel.
On the long gun RMPX, AKA passenger side panel as I set up the kit, the most prominent feature is the locking rifle mount. This device closes like an oversized single handcuff around the forend or barrel. A medium-size key lock is included, or for faster and easier unlocking, plug the attached cord into a vehicle power outlet and unlock it using the lighted, inline switch. That little red light is an advantage for use in dim light and can be turned off when the vehicle is not in use to avoid battery draining and unwanted attention. Intelligent design abounds with this lock, which loosens, but doesn’t completely release the gun when the unlock switch is activated. This keeps the gun in place for deployment. If the user changes his/her mind and doesn’t remove the gun in about 10 seconds, the lock re-secures itself.
At the bottom end of the panel (or wherever height the user decides to place it) is a buttstock cup in which to rest the butt of the gun. Two sizes are offered. In addition to the forend lock, a Master brand cable lock is included so the panel can be secured to a seat attachment point or other solid part of the vehicle interior.
Also included on the long gun side is a large, zippered utility pouch, which could easily be used on either panel. Two each of Scorpion’s excellent universal rifle and pistol mag pouches are attached, too, making the carry of extra ammo super-convenient and ready to go as long as it’s already in mags.
Common to both panels is a long webbing belt with squeeze buckle that secures the bottom of each panel to the seat back. Both include a black, full-length, elasticized plastic cover that creates a bouffant covering over each panel, completely shielding its wares from view. They’re super-easy to pop off for quick access to what’s underneath.
Lesson learned: Installation will go smoothly if one arranges the components with your goods on the floor or propped against a wall before installing the RMPX panels in the vehicle. This should include the gun. The pre-installed forend lock looked fine at first, but I had to move it higher to a place where the optic doesn’t keep it from closing – a job harder than it needed to be once the panel was on the seat back. Incidentally, Gray Man Tactical includes the Allen wrenches needed to move components and install the headrest clamps. Longer plate carriers will naturally require a certain minimum height to clear the floor, but putting the hanger as low as possible also eliminates floor cargo space. The same is critical for long gun placement. Ceiling height of the vehicle, window visibility for the driver, and preferred method of deploying the rifle or shotgun will determine the right height. For long guns with a butt that won’t fit in the bottom brace, removing the brace to allow the butt to ride on the floor would work, but expose optics to vibration and occasional impacts transferred through the floorboard.
More lessons: Before testing this kit, I wasn’t aware that cigarette lighter plug-ins come in different diameters as they taper down to a standard size. The socket in my 4Runner is too small for the electric lock’s 12-volt plug-in. It does fit my 23-year-old Dodge pickup’s socket, but unfortunately the lack of headrest posts is a deal-breaker. Buttstocks don’t have to be very much larger than the traditional A2 style to be too big to fit in the cup. Anything much bigger, including the Blackhawk buttstock on my Savage MSR Recon, needs the large cup. I’ve decided that, although it sacrifices a bit of floorspace, the RMPX forend lock offers the best security, and the butt of my rifle does best resting on the floor. The butt cup is surely an advantage in vehicles with generous headroom, but not in a Toyota 4Runner and not with a 16-inch or longer barrel.
If I were ordering this kit today, I’d ask that the headrest attachments be replaced with the less costly webbing ones shown on the Gray Man Tactical website and on the handful of video demos available regarding the RMP/RMPX panels. Webbing would allow the panels to be snugged up tight to the seat back. By comparison, the rigid headrest mounting clamp and the spacer that was required on my installation so that the clamp could reach the headrest post holes created a near 3″ gap between the top of the seat back and the RMPX. This not only diminishes space in the backseat area, it makes it a strain to deploy the rifle by placing it farther rearward than it has to be. There is a nominal security advantage to the rigid clamps as compared to the webbing with a buckle; simply removing the headrest would render the clamps unattached. The dual locks cover that job well enough.
On the armor hanger side, the hanger is a standard design, but unfortunately doesn’t accept narrow plate carriers such as mine. (I’m not that small; a male co-worker’s armor won’t fit either). The hanger is overbuilt for soft armor. Though my everyday vest does fit, it’s hard to justify the bulk compared to a regular hanger. The easy-access medical kit is great on the panel, but could easily be attached to the back of the headrest, which is where mine will go, using the mini-RMP panel less the included helmet holder, an accessory that really is useful for keeping a helmet handy and out of the way in the backseat.
The braces that secure the panel to headrest posts are something I recommend replacing with Gray Man Tactical’s webbing attachments. The security they offer is duplicated by using the included under-seat cable lock. A 2015 Ford Explorer is the only vehicle of the three tested that didn’t require the extension piece and for which there was no wasted space and less handy access from the front seat created as a result of using that extension.
Any of the components named here can be ordered separately, though as far as I can tell the stand-alone panels will be made of fiberglass/nylon instead of aluminum. The price for the package shown is $2,000. Gray Man Tactical has run generous discount events in the past. As of this writing, most components and the seat back package are out of stock, but company reps are working hard to refill a warehouse depleted thanks to their most recent sale and the same sluggish supply chain nearly everyone seems to be struggling with. The Gray Man Tactical Dual Seat Back is a sure way to be prepared for a variety of emergencies while on the road, while applying a heavy measure of prevention against theft or unauthorized use of a “truck gun.”
“Ready” does not imply “Reckless”
Never leave a firearm in an unlocked vehicle. Never leave a firearm visible inside an unattended vehicle. Never stow a long gun with a loaded chamber. Stow with the bolt in the forward position unless the chamber is blocked with some device like a chamber flag. A long gun’s chance of unintended discharge or unintended loading due to concussion (ie, hitting a big pothole) even with the safety on, is too high to be considered acceptable by any reasonable person. Used correctly, the Gray Man Tactical Vehicle Seat Back Locking RMP Package covers the basics of responsibly securing a firearm.