The Richard C. Davis Story
The son of Clint, a USMC World War II Veteran of Iwo Jima, and Mildred, Richard C. Davis is the original inventor of Soft Concealable Body Armor (Patent #3783449), also known as the modern day bullet proof vest.
“Did you guys order a pizza?”
During the late 1960’s Richard was the proud owner of three pizza stores in Detroit, Michigan known as RC’s Pizza. On the evening of June 17, 1969, Richard was attacked during a pizza delivery run. As he pulled up to the house he noticed all the lights were off. He crossed the sidewalk he asked out the now famous phrase “Did you guys order a pizza?” He heard a voice reply “Yeah, bring it around back.” Calmly, he pulled out a .22 revolver from his waistband and concealed it beneath the pizza boxes. He walked around the side of the dark house to find three men standing in a “V” formation. The man in the center was pointing a nickel plated automatic right at his face. Richard’s eyes fixated on the man’s hand. As it tightened around the trigger, Richard fired the first shot from under the pizza boxes striking the assailant in the jaw. A shoot out ensued and Richard emerged victorious with four hits out of six shots. Richard jokes that he beat two men in a gun fight— unfortunately he was fighting three at the time. Two of the three assailants were shot and badly injured while Richard took two shots: one penetrated deep in the back of his thigh, the other glanced off the bow of his glasses and lodged just above his temple.
Out of ammo, Richard rushed back to his car and sped off to Mt. Carmel Hospital where he was treated for his gunshot wounds. That night lying in bed, Richard became consumed with thoughts of police officers who faced being shot every day. He reasoned that if they could wear something concealed under their uniform shirt that was light, flexible and would stop bullets, not only could they survive shooting attacks, but they would also be able to stay in the fight.
“If this works it could save a thousand men in the next ten years. If it doesn’t, they will die as I will.”
After the incident Richard began researching different materials and found high tenacity nylon (aka ballistic nylon) which was used in flak jackets during the Vietnam era. Flak jackets were never designed to stop direct fire from handguns. Instead, they were used to mitigate the deadly effects of shrapnel from hand grenades and explosions. Flak jackets often included the use of steel plates which were sewn into the garments making them too heavy for everyday wear.
But in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s cops weren’t dying from shrapnel, they were dying primarily from low cost, readily available, small caliber handguns known as Saturday Night Specials. With this realization, Richard set out to see if ballistic nylon would be effective against these lower caliber threats. To his great satisfaction, it worked. He found that the right fabric and layer count was very successful in stopping .22s, .25s, .32s, .38s and even the deadly .357 magnum. The design of his first vests were basic. They consisted of two rectangular panels covering the front and back torso with straps to go over the shoulders and around the sides.
His next challenge was convincing law enforcement to accept the product. He began visiting local departments to show them his product. Would-be customers were quick to reject the idea from disbelief or machismo. He took the skeptics to the range and shot the armor in front of them. Yes, it stopped the bullet, but the dent left in the clay block caused them to think that their hearts would explode or that their ribs would shatter sending bone fragments into their lungs. He realized that the only way to truly prove the effectiveness of his invention would be to put a vest on and shoot himself in the chest.
During the spring of 1972, Richard performed the ultimate test at the Walled Lake, Michigan Police Department shooting range. He crouched down to his knees, donned the vest, pointed a loaded .38 revolver at his chest and said “If this works it could save a thousand men in the next ten years. If it doesn’t, they will die as I will.” Bang! The slug drove into the vest as his chest absorbed all of the trauma just over the left ventricle of his heart. Demonstrating his lack of incapacitation he jumped to his feet and shot the three bowling pins that were set up on the nearby table. In that one moment, Richard proved to the world that his bullet resistant vest was viable.
He launched the Second Chance™ Body Armor Company and began to perform live fire demonstrations all across the county in order to convince Police Officers to wear body armor. Richard became an industry legend and has received numerous awards and accolades for his relentless dedication to police officer safety. Under his tenure, Second Chance saved the lives of over 1,000 American police officers. In 2004 Richard retired from the body armor industry as his 32 year old company faced a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing as a result of the industry-wide Zylon® body armor recall. In 2005 his son, Matt Davis, started Armor Express® in order to restore his family’s name in the industry and bring jobs back to Central Lake. Today Armor Express is an industry leader with roughly 20% of national law enforcement market share. The company also boasts several prestigious military and federal law enforcement contracts including the Department of Homeland Security. Armor Express employs over 160 people in Central Lake and has saved the lives of numerous police officers from death or serious injury.
“Timers ready, guns on the rail, shooters ready…” Bang!
Jumping back to 1975, in a hotel room in Reno, Richard was with two knowledgeable gun enthusiasts. They were discussing the new phenomena of “falling plates” which was rapidly gaining traction over traditional paper targets. Richard thought it would be fun to shoot something that could be knocked off a table. He thought back to his first live fire demo and the random bowling pins that just happened to be laying around the range that day. He liked the idea of pins because they were readily available and did not require expensive equipment. He thought pin shooting would be great based on the theory that any military private or patrol officer could compete with their standard issue service pistols. Pins also have the shape of a human silhouette and a narrow knock out zone. The idea was born! He started by passing out a few flyers around the Detroit Police Department’s range. About 25 competitors showed up for the first ever bowling pin shoot. The event lasted two days and Richard gave away a .45 caliber handgun for first prize as well as several other guns and prizes. Demand for the event grew. The following year 125 people attended. Over the years attendance steadily climbed, the match grew to eight full days and included several optional events. Participants came to know and love the popular start signal “Timers ready, guns on the rail, shooters ready…” Bang! Attendance reached its peak at about 500 registered shooters with over 200 guns given away as prizes. A total of 24 pin shoots were held from 1975 – 1998.
The rebirth of the Pin Shoot in 2017 will mark the 25th such event after the 18 year hiatus. More important than the competition and the prizes are the many lifelong friendships that will be formed.