By Salvatore DeGennaro
Every so often we hear about one of those incidents that makes us, as concealed carriers, cringe. Usually they happen to law enforcement officers. Such incidents tend to happen when some lunatic decides to go rodeo on a poor patrol officer during a traffic stop or other routine interaction. The scary part: when the officer barley survives to tell the tale after pelting the assailant with staggering amounts of gunfire to bring an end to the rampage . . .
The Peter Soulis event comes to mind. In 1997 Jacksonville Florida, police officer Soulis faced an adversary who took 22 rounds of .40 Smith & Wesson before ceasing hostilities. This is just one of a surprising number of such incidents. Another that comes to mind happened long before the Soulis ordeal, the Grand Concourse shootout in the Bronx in 1986, in which a drug dealer took 18 rounds of handgun fire and did not stop until hit with a shotgun slug though the chest. And a third, also taking place in 1986, the infamous Miami shootout in which bank robber Michael Platt killed two FBI agents and wounded several others after taking numerous rounds himself.
So, as history shows us, these incidents happen. They may be rare compared to the norm, but they happen. The reality remains that handguns are very limited in power. You don’t have to witness one of these horrible failures to stop to accept that.
Think about it. Many of you reading this probably hunt. Consider how many white tail deer you have shot with high powered rifles. How many of them were difficult to find because you pulled that shot just a bit and didn’t get a perfect hit through the vitals? That 150-pound deer may have run hundreds of yards after taking that shot.
Granted, deer are typically more resilient than humans, but the point is that, unless we place a perfect shot with a hunting rifle, that 150-pound organism won’t come down, at least not quickly. That rifle, which may be generating eight times the ballistic energy of a service caliber handgun, is no guarantee.
How can we expect our handguns to end hostilities quickly? We can’t, unless we hit something extremely vital within the body, which is much easier said than done under the dynamic circumstances of a deadly encounter.
Most of the time, in most lethal force incidents, the way in which an adversary stops attacking has more to do with that individual’s mental state than anything else. The horror stories of failures to stop such as those mentioned above occur more often with law enforcement-involved shootings than civilian self-defense scenarios. This isn’t really surprising if you think about it. Why? Because the way a bad guy reacts to gunfire is primarily a result of that person’s mindset at the time of the incident.
One of the most valuable things an individual concerned with self-defense can do is to become acquainted with how criminal attacks tend to transpire. If you watch surveillance footage of actual incidents, you’ll notice that things happen fast, they happen violently, and they usually take the victim by surprise. Another thing you will notice is this: when the intended victim retaliates with gunfire, the perpetrator(s) most often haul ass for the nearest exit. They usually run like the Devil himself is chasing them with a whip of fire. Why is that? It is simply an issue of the criminal mindset.
In these scenarios (where armed people defend themselves), the predators stumbled upon the exact opposite of what they are expecting. They are anticipated compliant victims. After all, if they are career criminals, and that’s probably the only thing they’ve ever seen. They are used to victims freezing in terror and following commands. They aren’t used to seeing an intended victim pull a gun and start shooting.
Most criminals, despite our perception of them, actually value their own lives, at least to some extent. When they look down the barrel of a gun, their primary instinct is to save their own ass and get out the door with the same number of holes as when they walked in. Many — if not most — civilian self-defense incidents end with this news bulletin: “The perpetrator was later arrested after checking into the hospital for treatment of a gunshot wound.”
There’s something else of note with a lot of these incidents. Notice that, despite the gunshot wound(s) the perpetrator often drives himself, or even runs on foot, to the hospital. So, ask yourself, what if that criminal — the one who was obviously still capable of great physical activity like running out the door and getting to the hospital after being shot — decided to keep fighting? If that was the decision made, we might end up with another incident like those mentioned above. As we can see, these super-threats that occasionally materialize are mainly the result of a mental state, an attitude…not unusual physical resilience.
So, if we look at the odds, we are more likely to encounter the guy who is going to take off and check himself into the hospital after encountering armed resistance. However, should we bank on that? After all, as students of self-defense we don’t worry about the odds, we worry about what’s at stake.
What if we are the exceedingly unfortunate citizen who encounters the exceedingly rare criminal with that different mindset? We need to train for that. We need to accept the ballistic limitations of our handgun and program ourselves to be able to neutralize the threat regardless of what it takes to do so.
I have seen several surveillance tapes of actual incidents that show an armed citizen take a single shot at their attacker, then lower the gun and gawk to see the effect. This is the result of a lack of training combined with a misunderstanding of the actual ballistic capabilities of handguns. Naturally, we can blame Hollywood in part for this, as people who do not educate themselves believe that handguns send bodies flying through the air and result in instantaneous death. As any hunter knows, even high powered rifles don’t do that. So expecting instant results with a single handgun round? Not likely.
The reason law enforcement officers encounter these seemingly super-human threats more often than civilians is due to the potential mental state of the criminals they are forced to deal with. The average criminal threat that preys on civilian victims is conditioned to dealing with compliant people who offer no resistance. As mentioned, when there is resistance they are taken by surprise and their instinct is to save themselves.
The anomalies that we see of very determined attackers show up more often when a criminal is essentially trapped in a situation where they flip a mental switch in which they decide to fight with everything they have. They make the decision that they have nothing left to lose.
The classic example of this lethal mentality would be the previously mentioned bank robber Michael Platt. This particular nutjob took many handgun rounds during the fight including a non-survivable wound that he received early in the encounter. The problem: despite the fact that he was bleeding to death on his feet, bleeding out takes too long when facing a man like Michael Platt. He obviously had no intention of being taken into custody. He was in an all-or-nothing position and he knew it.
Platt may have made the conscious decision to take as many of those FBI agents as possible with him and he acted with deadly determination. Would a criminal like Michael Platt run for the door under different circumstances, such as a robbery gone wrong with a resisting armed citizen? Possibly, but we’ll never know for sure. And we shouldn’t base our defensive training on that hope.
So, in conclusion, I promote that all citizens with a carry permit educate themselves about the criminal element and come to terms with what you may have to face should the worst come to pass. We should hope for the best. Hopefully we’re never in a position where we face violence of any kind. And if we are unfortunate, we can hope to face the kind that runs out the door as soon as we offer any resistance.
But in case we face the unthinkable, we need to train to keep shooting until we hit the off switch. That resolve on your part may be the only thing that saves your life and possibly the lives of others.