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.

Gun Watch

 

12 Responses to Richard Davis, Inventor of Soft Body Armor, at the SHOT Show

  1. If the vest does not do much to stop blunt force trauma, it may keep the round from penetrating your body, but the shock damage done when the bullet strikes it is likely to do a number on you. I seriously doubt that a person wearing the thin vest pictured here would really survive a chest hit from a 300 grain .44 Hornady bullet moving at about 1400 fps.

    It might not kill them immediately, but internal injuries suffered from the sledgehammer to the ribs would likely be a factor.

    all that said, my hat’s still off to Richard. He’s saved a lot of lives.

    • Just like a gun or a helmet, the one you have on is much better than the one in the closet.

      I have no idea of the relative merits, but I assume I’d go for the best thing I’d wear.

      But, I am the sort of person who would wear shorts in the summer, so that I wouldn’t be tempted to not wear my fully riding suit on my motorcycle home in the hot afternoon.

      Informed choice is a good thing.

    • If I remember correctly, the NIJ standards require that the deformation of the clay behind the vest not be deformed beyond a certain point. The choice of clay did not accurately model the reaction of a real body (too soft) , emphasizing blunt force trauma over bullet stopping ability.

  2. Wonderful story about Mr. Davis that I didn’t know. I am very glad that he is enjoying life, and thinking of the lives he has helped save, must bring him a lot of inner peace and happiness.

  3. I’ve worn a second chance. I’ve never had to test it and hope never to be in that position but I’m very, very happy to have it if I need it!

  4. Davis did not invent soft body armor not even close….It was invented at R&D Design in Worcester. Mass. by a man named Frank DiStefano, owner of the company.
    They were working on a contract from Natick Labs for the Army for bullet proof vests and as part of that because of Duponts gov’t contracts an interesting material that they were going to use in tires was sent to DiStefano to check out its possibilities. He found it so superior that he made vests out of it that were able to be worn under shirts. He made liners for trench coats worn by the Secret Service and actual 3 piece suit vests worn by other agencies.
    Frank DiStefano now retired, Head Engineer for on board devices for the Space Station, space suit design team for the space shuttle, Head of space suit design David Clark and co., designed and fitted the suits for the Mercury capsule. first suit to space walk worn by McDivott, USMC fighter pilot.
    He is my cousin and he has accomplished a lot….Davis marketed but did not design…..you would think some research was in order by the author.

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