Sunday, January 25, 2015

Richard Davis, Inventor of Soft Body Armor, at the Shot Show

Richard Davis, in short sleeves, at the Shot Show, Las Vegas, 2015

At the Shot Show this year, I was working away in the media room.  Media are given a room and special access at the Shot Show, as they are most places.   A guard at the door insures that only the privileged are allowed inside.  (The management also provides free food.)  I was chatting with Destinee of FateofDestinee fame when I got the call.   Richard Davis was at the shot Show and willing to talk! 

Richard Davis is legendary to gun culture people born before 1960.   He has done more to save police officer's lives than thousands of administrators and hundreds of doctors.  He invented modern soft body armor.   Armor so light weight and comfortable, that officers would routinely wear it.   Armor that defeated the most common projectiles.   He was so driven to get it into officer's hands and on their chests and backs, that he offered an 'installment plan' consisting of five post dated checks.  

You sent him the checks, he would send you the body armor and cash the checks when they became valid.   His ground breaking bullet resistant vests sold for about $75 in 1978.  

Richard lived up to his reputation as a natural raconteur, bon vivant, and salesman.  He was constantly cracking jokes, chatting up a young lady present, and was willing to offer up many interesting anecdotes, though some were off the record.  

According to Davis, he was at John Ross' house when Ross was writing 'Unintended Consequences'.  The novel went on to become an iconic story of resistance to a distopian government hostile to the second amendment.  Davis clearly is in the book, thinly veiled as Davis Richards.   

Richard got into the business of making soft body armor after he was shot with a pistol while delivering pizza in 1969.  He searched for an effective defense.   His search and the invention of Kevlar fiber resulted in lightweight, flexible body armor, soft body armor.  

Various  types of soft body armor had been tried before.  Some were effective, but expensive, not very flexible, and uncomfortable.   Archduke Ferdinand, whose assassination is said to have set off WWI, was wearing a bullet proof vest made of silk when he was shot.   The shot hit his neck, not the armor.   The vest cost $800 at the time, about $20,000 today. 

We talked about the Sikh Temple shooting in Wisconsin, where body armor saved the life of Lt. Brian Murphy.  Murphy was shot 15 times but survived.   Davis said that 30 more women and children were inside, and that the murderer had plenty of ammunition when he was stopped.

Richard Davis gave his definition of body armor failure.   According to Davis, body armor failure is when a police officer could have been saved by wearing body armor, but failed to wear it, and was shot and killed because they did not wear it. 

He gave an example of the Miami FBI shootout where the FBI was not wearing their body armor because it was so uncomfortable.  He said that even though vests are not rated for rifle rounds such as the .223 used by Michael Platt, if a round hit intervening material, such as glass or a car door, the armor had a good chance of stopping it.

He also gave a list of people who were assassinated who could have been saved if they wore soft body armor.  He listed:   President Garfield, President McKinley, President Teddy Roosevelt (wounded), George Wallace, and Malcolm X.  I added Lee Harvey Oswald.  

He said that his body armor saved two heads of state, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan (the bullet was stopped by a guard's armor, but would have penetrated him and her, but for the armor) and the Prime Minister of Sierra Leone, who after being shot, said to the crowd "I am the son of God, and I cannot die."

Davis, at 71 seemed happy, active and pleased that fame has passed him by.   He sold the Second Chance name for $45 million, bought a yacht (great deal, used) and has been enjoying himself. 

The National Institute of Justice had been investigating the use of Kevlar for bulletproof vests before Davis, but as with the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, private industry got the patent and brought vests to the market before the government did.   In a few years, NIJ came up with standards for the production of vests.  

The NIJ standards for vests that once again made them less comfortable and less likely to be worn, mostly because the standards require very little 'blunt force trauma'.  Departments were reluctant to buy vests that were not 'approved' by the government's voluntary standards.   Vests made to NIJ specifications have to be thicker and stiffer.

Davis was at a booth when my brother discovered him.  My Brother said "this body armor reminds me of the ultra-thin vests that Second Chance produced."   Richard Davis was standing in front of him, and said.   "That was me.  I invented modern soft body armor.

The above vest will stop .44 magnum ammunition out of a six inch barreled revolver.

Davis sold his armor by touring the country and shooting himself while wearing a vest.   He has shot himself over 200 times.  The marketing was very effective.  He sold lots of vests, documented over 1,000 lives saved, became rich and enjoyed life.

The vests at the booth were incredibly thin and light, and were said to be able to stop standard .44 magnum loads from a six inch barrel.

They do not meet NIJ standards, but they stop most threats, and police wear them.  Numerous individuals buy non NIJ vests, and some departments as well, according to Davis.

I hope that Richard Davis has a long and happy life.  He is an exemplar of the American success story.   Invent a useful product.   Save and improve numerous lives.   Become rich, live long, and prosper.

©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included. Link to Gun Watch


Anonymous said...

Great blog! What body armor is shown in the picture?

Unknown said...

Great to see Richard still alive and kicking! I purchased one of his vests back in 1977 and became the first constable on my department (York Regional Police Force) to wear a concealable vest at a time when such a thing was considered outrageous in Canadian police circles.

I also became the first Canadian to attend his Second Chance Combat Shoot in 1977 - Richard was a great guy and one who I fondly remember.

Dave Hughes