On September 13, James Ray Palmer rode his motorcycle to the Crawford County courthouse in Van Buren, Arkansas. He carried three semi-automatic handguns with him, along with an AR-15 style rifle. He wore a tactical vest holding several magazines full of ammunition for his various firearms, with everything apparently concealed under a long duster coat.  All reports indicate that Palmer went to the courthouse that day to kill Judge Gary Cottrell, who presided over Palmer’s divorce case and subsequent child custody hearing . . .

The judge wasn’t in, so Palmer ranged over the second and first floors of the courthouse, shooting into every door with a sign that read “judge.” Fortunately, Palmer managed to wound only one person, Judge Cottrell’s secretary. She was hit in the leg; the wound was not life-threatening. Palmer then exited the courthouse, and fought a gun battle with local law enforcement until they managed to shoot him twice, in the lower abdomen and in the head.

During most elections, I vote early (but not often) at the Crawford County courthouse. Every year, my wife winds up going to this same courthouse to once again clarify our property taxes–our property was bought by the previous owner in three different chunks, so we usually get three separate tax bills with different amounts instead of just one.

I cannot count how many times in the last 11 years I have visited this place, parked near it, or walked along the sidewalks bordering the courthouse lawn. In fact, this very morning, I drove through the same intersection you see at the beginning of the video, only I turned left to cross the Arkansas River bridge, instead of continuing straight ahead to the courthouse.

Here are some things that I get out of the dashcam video, along with the various news reports.

Violence can happen at any time and at any place. No place is exempt. This is a courthouse, frequented by armed police. Who would ever think that a man would choose to commit a public shooting at a court house that is literally right across the street from the county sheriff’s department? You can see the sheriff’s department building in the video as the officer’s car barrels down the street, just as he pauses to let the SUV go by, before he pulls into his final parking spot. Inside Crawford County, you cannot find any location with more armed police officers in such close proximity.

James Ray Palmer deliberately chose to attack this location so that officers would kill him. He texted a relative to say he was going to kill himself that day, and tried to burn his own house down with incendiary devices timed to go off after he’d left his driveway on his bike. Only some of  his devices didn’t work, and the house was only partially damaged, not destroyed by fire. But the man came to this place on purpose so that he would die.

The situation is very rapid and very fluid. Even though you can’t see much in the video, listen to the sound of shots fired at and actually striking the patrol car. Listen to how many shots are fired. Listen for the urgency but clarity in the officers’ voices as they communicate over the radio.

The thing that gets to me the most are the silences in the recording. What is happening during the silences between the bursts of shots? Who is maneuvering to where? Who is taking cover behind what? You can hear one officer telling somebody else to get down behind the car.

How much ammo is enough? You cannot know this in advance, but more is always better. Palmer fired between 70 and 90 total shots inside and outside the courthouse. If you listen to the recording, at the 1:57 mark, you can hear one officer say, “All I got is one mag.” You can hear the trepidation in his voice, as he realizes that just one magazine of ammunition might not be enough for this nightmarish scenario.

When bad things happen, lots of folks will have no clue what’s going down. Even though the angle of the camera doesn’t show the actual shooting, it shows something else that blows my mind.

At the 2:28 mark, right in the middle of the gun battle on the courthouse lawn, a dark minivan drives down Main Street, right to left, directly in front of the courthouse. I wonder who was in it, and did they happen to actually notice the gunfight going on less than 50 yards away?

As soon as I got a text message from my brother about the shooting I called my wife who was out and about town, to make sure she wasn’t anywhere near the courthouse. I didn’t want her to drive upon the scene with our son in the car, unaware that a gun battle was raging on the courthouse lawn.

I try to be aware of my surroundings at all times. But now, every time I vote in an election, or go see about my property taxes, I’ll have a whole other set of images and sounds in my mind as I pull up to the county courthouse.

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33 Responses to James Ray Palmer and the Truth About Gunfights

  1. I constantly hear people say they don’t carry because they feel safe, they are in a low threat area, there is no crime where they are, they only carry at night, they only carry when they go “downtown”..blah, blah, blah. Crime happens everywhere, at every hour.

  2. True Rabbi. I live in a very safe place with very little crime. I really need to worry more about critters than people. But just like insurance which I rarely need, I want to be prepared as much as possible to defend myself and my family.

    Lots of folks in that area will have some tough emotional times coping with the loss of the illusion of state sponsored safety.

    Glad to hear your wife and son didn’t have to risk being exposed to the fight or its aftermath.

  3. Crime happens everywhere, at every hour.

    Absolutely, and people are especially vulnerable in the numerous target rich environments all over the country where self-defense is illegal. Like courthouses.

  4. Too bad cops everywhere don’t wear body camera like theyre starting to in select jurisdictions. It would be interesting to see what happened for their perspective.

  5. I have slowly watch crime increase in my city, Napa, CA. You would not t a n upper classy community would see such an i but, as the man said,”Crime happens everywhere, every hour!” That is why I never lea without my Roscoe and 3 magazines.

    I am glad you and the wife were not near the incident.

  6. Today I bought a Diamondback DB9 because my .40 Compact M&P was inconvenient to carry. I call it my “First Rule” gun – First rule of a gunfight is bring a gun. I decided I needed to carry as a habit, and while the .40 Smith is a magnificent working pistol, it was hard to manage with the way I dress and work.

    For what it is worth, this thing is a small as a .380 and looks like a mini Glock.

  7. Note that this wasn’t a guy going to shoot the courthouse over drugs or because he’s a leftwing lunatic like Amy Bishop, Laughner, James Lee, or Oswald. It was a guy who’d been financially and personally raped by a anti-male divorce system. He probably lost custody of his kids and his financial freedom while his ex-wife falsely accused him abuse to get custody.

    • Maybe. Maybe not.

      While situations such as you describe clearly do occur, you have not provided any information that would indicate the facts of this case resemble your description. In other words you are, at best speculating.

      What is known is that this man was clearly willing to direct his violence at people who had done him no harm. People he may not have even known. Hell, there could have been children behind those closed doors he blindly fired through.

      Many men have been victimized by the current state of family law, we do not need this sort of person as our poster child.

    • Imagine you’re the judge of a child-custody case. No evidence is presented to you whatsoever; you don’t even know the number of kids we’re talking about. The only thing you know is that the father is the sort of guy who responds to disappointment by trying to kill as many people as possible.

      Do you really need to hear any more evidence before you rule in favor of the mother? That’s not “anti-male,” that’s “anti-having-little-kids-raised-by-homicidal-maniacs.”

  8. The DB9 looks like a fine choice. I like my old single-stack S&W39 9mm a lot. But if you’re a civilian, and need the gun purely for defense (and don’t intent to move in and fight the original shooter, for a number of legal and practical reasons, such as avoiding having the police shoot you by mistake), then even a less-capable gun, such as a J-frame .38 or Charter Arms Undercover (5-shot .38) or a .380, will serve the purpose of fending off the attacker, at low expense and inconvenience for daily carry.

  9. I was in a church service in Maryville, IL the day a man walked in and shot and killed our pastor, so I can vouch for much of what you’re saying here. The whole ordeal lasted about 30 seconds, and it was completely surreal, from not believing it was actually happening, to the absolute quiet in the sanctuary other than the shots and the sounds of struggle afterwards. It’s been 2 and a half years and I still get frustrated with myself for not acting quicker to help. I learned a new level of respect for law enforcement and military folks on that day, being trained to think clearly and act in those situations rather than wasting time convincing yourself that you really are in this situation and need to act.

    And yet, here I still live in a state where it’s against the law to conceal and carry. The day that is lifted, I will be getting my permit.

    • I don’t see how you can beat yourself up over this. Unlike cops and military you have a right of society to prove to yourself what is truly happening. You can’t just blaze away without truly understanding and knowing what is happening and who is the bad guy.

  10. What kind of motorcycle was it? And who got the bike after the mutt was killed? It might have had some good parts on it.

  11. This is why people not only carry, but also sometimes have “trunk guns”; inexpensive rifles that can be kept in the back of your vehicle.

  12. When government gets out of the business of licensing and regulating marriage – and stops punishing partners in a failed marriage – we might see less of this sort of thing.

    Yes, I know. Government’s done so very well at licensing and regulating everything else, it *should* be allowed to license and regulate *everything*…and we shouldn’t complain when it’s doing such a wonderful job.

    • The woman in the white knit hat clearly knew exactly what worse case scenario could happen with an angry man with a gun. She did not hesitate, as soon as she saw the gun, she left. The hipster idiots throwing the snowballs were luckier than they realize.

  13. “All I got is one mag”.

    True, but 14-17 shots is still plenty to deal with one attacker, so long as you use them correctly.

    More to the point, if you’re unwilling to engage a shooter with 15 bullets in your gun, are you really going to be willing to engage him if you had 15 more in a magazine strapped on your belt?

    Realistically, probably not.

    • You only need one bullet. The first one. The rest are probably just wasted effort. One .45 slug from a 1911A1 will put an end to the situation. If you don’t have the nerve, don’t carry. Infantry Viet Nam vet.

  14. I was amazed at how many drivers are used to get out of the police vehicle’s way and the SUV that drove between the police car and the shooting. What were these people thinking?

  15. I remember during the early-mid 90’s when my wife & I lived in Fairbanks. We read in our local paper about a gunfight up in Central (about 120 miles N.E.). Two dirt-bag families who were growing pot got into some kind of disagreement. This apparently was brewing for a few months when one day both groups happened to be in town (such as it is). A gun fight erutped outside of the local watering hole & restaurant. A bus load of tourists happened to be there too. Unbeknownst to them that this was the real thing, they all walked out onto the porch to get a better view, thinking that this was being staged for their entertainment. That is until they saw wood splintering off of the wood posts, etc. Then screams, panic and everyone hit the deck. Fortunately, the only one hurt was one of the dirt bags who was shot in the leg. I was there a few months later and having lunch in the very same establishment and you could see where the bullets hit the building. It was a miracle nobody was killed or seriously hurt. It was also mind blowing how utterly oblivious people can be when something happens completely out of context.

  16. What I never understood about these nutty shooters is their penchant for bringing an arsenal with them. Granted, that is likely an indication of what psychological morons they are, but wouldn’t it make more sense (assuming “sense” has anything to do with such scenarios), to bring one handgun with several clips, and maybe a long arm of some kind with the same clip provisions? Just asking.

  17. Always carry where and when “legal.” Unless you’re blessed with the paranormal ability of seeing into the future, crime can happen anywhere at anytime. Flash mobs, civil unrest, criminals and crazies. Just like the old American Express card commercials, never leave home without it!

  18. If I leave the house it’s on the passenger seat. If I get out of the car it’s in my pocket. Normal carry is ten plus one, with fifteen more in a spare mag. I shoot about two hundred rounds (with my carry gun) every other month for practice at the range. You couldn’t pay me to cover or plug up my ears anywhere except the range or the racetrack, and I have what’s often called a “rubberneck”.
    Please God, may I never need to shoot, but if I do, I’m ready.

  19. Once again the failure of the “No Gun Zones”. I know that the only people aloud to have a firearm in a government building are the LE, Judges, and DA’s. Everyone else is left to engage a crazed gunman with nothing. That secretary was extremely lucky. I bet she was not aloud to have a firearm with her legally, for any reason. It looks like the only people that were able to have a firearm in the building were at lunch. Big help they were. Everyone of the people that were in the building are so lucky that all he was interested in was to harm the Judge that worked on his divorce, and himself. If he had the intent on mass murder everyone in the building would have been killed or mortally wounded. “When seconds mean life or death the Police are minutes away.”

  20. I will credit Obama with this: He has thoroughly armed conservative America. I live in Texas, and every other senior citizen packs heat. And for good reason. When America was basically a Christian nation, we didn’t lock our doors at night. Even non-Christians benefitted, though they’ll never admit it. Now that we are basically a “progressive” nation, we are raising up generations of arrogant, conscienceless monsters.

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