At the Shot Show this year, I was working away in the media room and 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 thousands 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 officers’ hands (and on their chests and backs) that he offered to let them pay for it on an installment plan consisting of five post dated checks . . .
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’s 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. His search for an effective defense and the invention of Kevlar fiber resulted in lightweight, soft and flexible body armor.
Various types of soft body armor had been tried before. Some were effective, but expensive, not very flexible, and almost invariably uncomfortable. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination is said to have set off World War One, was wearing a bullet-proof vest made of silk when he was shot. The shot hit his neck, above the armor. The vest cost $800 at the time, the equivalent of 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.
According to Davis, body armor failure is when a police officer could have been saved by body armor, but died because he failed to wear it. He gave an example of the Miami FBI shootout in which the FBI agents weren’t wearing their body armor because it was so uncomfortable. He said that even though vests aren’t rated for rifle rounds such as the .223 used that day by Michael Platt, if a round hit intervening material, such as glass or a car door, the armor would have 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 included 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.”
At 71 Davis seems happy, active and pleased that fame has passed him by. He sold the Second Chance name for $45 million, bought a yacht and has been enjoying himself ever since.
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. A few years later, 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.
The above vest will stop .44 magnum ammunition out of a six-inch barreled revolver. The vests he was showing 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.
Richard Davis 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.