Category Archives: The Ayoob Files

Barricaded: The Elfego Baca Story


A heavily-armed lynch mob has you surrounded and under fire. You’re armed with two revolvers and whatever ammunition you had on your person when trouble started.


Cover and concealment can make up for a defender’s lack of firepower, but the day may come when you need more ammo than you thought. Remember “citizen’s arrest” can have unintended consequences.

The little village of Reserve, N.M., population 200 or so, was called Frisco in the latter 19th century. It sits a little over 60 miles west of Socorro. On December 1, 1884, it was the scene of a gun battle so epic in scope, three quarters of a century later, it would capture the imagination of Walt Disney. Like many of you, I was one of the millions of little boys who watched raptly when the Disney TV show ran its series romanticizing the life of Davy Crockett. (Yes, as a matter of fact, I did whine until my parents bought me a coonskin cap.) Realizing he was onto something, Walt Disney decided to do a couple more mini-series — this time based on real heroes of the “Wild West” cowboy epoch.

One focused on Texas Ranger and sheriff John Horton Slaughter. As I recall, it took some typical Hollywood liberties with actual history. The theme song for each episode ran, “Texas John Slaughter made ’em do what they ought ’ter ’cause if they didn’t, they died.”

The other series was The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca, and it had its own catchy theme song. My generation remembers the refrain, “… and the legend was, like El Gato the cat, nine lives had Elfego Baca.” Most memorable was the opening episode, in which he held out in a little sod shack against a big gang of gringo cowboys who riddled it with 4,000 bullets without hitting him or a plaster statue of a saint, which stood inside, as if to watch over him. He, however, racks up a significant body count of dead or wounded cowboys. At one point in the episode, Robert Loggia (playing Baca) looks at the unmarked statue and whispers in awe, “… a miracle.” He’s charged with multiple murders, acquitted and promptly becomes sheriff. Even as a kid I was rolling my eyes over this one.

I grew up, and got into history and stuff … and whaddaya know? Disney pretty much had it right.

Prelude To A Gunfight

Armed citizens in America have heard a lot in the last three years about “self-appointed wannabe cops.” It’s wrong to throw this appellation at a duly-elected captain of a neighborhood watch, but 130-some years ago, it pretty well fit Elfego Baca.

When Elfego Baca found himself in Frisco at age 19, he realized he was swimming with sharks. There was an outlaw element there which would have been called “ruffians” in the past and today would be characterized as, well, “scumbags.” Shortly before Baca’s own involvement, local bullies had gone over the top at an establishment called Milligan’s Saloon, castrating a young Mexican man in front of horrified onlookers. When one of those onlookers tried to defend the victim, according to one account, “the drunken cowboys tied him to a post and used him for target practice.” This part of the backstory, needless to say, didn’t make it to Disney’s show.

The clique involved seems to have been comprised mostly of Texans, and eventually, one of them picked on the wrong Mexican. A fella named Charles McCarthy decided to shoot up a Frisco saloon while young Baca was present, and after five bullets whistled past his general location, Elfego decided it was time to take matters in hand; according to one account, a round from McCarthy’s gun had shot Baca’s hat off. He disarmed McCarthy and arrested him — under dubious authority, it was believed then and now, but we’ll discuss this a little bit later.

The situation snowballed. McCarthy’s compadres attempted to reclaim McCarthy, Baca refused and shots were fired. (In the Disney version, it is Baca who opens fire, with warning shots.) In the ensuing melee, a horse fell upon one of the stockmen, crushing him to death. Some accounts have the horse shying from the gunfire, while at least one historian believes Baca shot the horse, which then fell on its rider.

In their 2003 article “Elfego Baca Lived More Than Nine Lives,” writers David Santana, Melissa Ann Villela, Rosalynn Torres and Michael Telles pick up the story: “After a brief trial where McCarthy was charged and fined for drunk and disorderly conduct, Baca made himself scarce. He eased through a crowd of cowboys, concealing his identity by lowering his hat over his eyes. Soon members of the angry mob sought out Baca and discovered he was hiding in a jacal, or shack.”

The stage had been set. Western history and folklore alike were about to be born.

The Shootout

The jacal was constructed of wooden poles and sod, with a wooden door. It would keep out the elements. It would not keep out bullets. The shooting began when one of the cowboy clique, rifle-wielding William Hearne, attempted to kick down the door and make entry on Baca. Baca fired two revolver bullets through the door and Hearne fell back, mortally wounded. Carrying their dying friend, the cowboys retreated to available cover and began shooting at the jacal. The siege was on. What was probably the highest volume gunfight in the history of the Old West had begun.

Round Counts

A majority of historical accounts agree the mob howling for the blood of Elfego Baca numbered 80 men or more. They were “area aiming” at the building itself, hoping to hit the hidden man inside. This man occasionally, sparingly, shot back.

As for the guns of the Baca shootout, which some historians called “The Battle of Frisco,” historical accounts are not as specific as we would like. The cowboys no doubt employed revolvers. Rifles also seem to have played a huge part: Historians refer to “Winchesters” emptied again and again at the jacal by the cowboy contingent.

It’s believed Elfego Baca was armed with two revolvers. One historian refers to his two Colts, and another to the 250-gr. lead bullets he fired through the door to kill William Hearne, which would place the caliber as .45 Colt. While the Disney version begins with Baca wearing twin Colt Single Action Army revolvers with 4.75″ barrels in matching holsters on a Buscadero belt, we know such gear was not likely to be found on the New Mexico frontier in 1884.

According to most accounts, Baca started out with his own revolver and the one he had taken from Charles McCarthy when he took him into custody. Indeed, his refusal to return the gun in court after McCarthy had been convicted of “drunk and disorderly conduct” and assessed a small fine was apparently one of the things to add fuel to the anger of McCarthy’s friends.

It’s unlikely Elfego Baca found ammunition compatible with his guns in the little shack he commandeered; the only cartridges he would have likely had would have been those on his person when he entered. I’ve found no historian who even implied Baca saw a siege coming and filled his pockets with additional ammunition. Given most wise handgunners of the Old West carried their six-shooters with only five rounds and the hammer down on an empty chamber, Baca might have had as few as 10 cartridges when the stand-off began, and only eight after shooting Hearne through the door of the jacal.

Some Westerners did carry six rounds in their SA revolvers, either with the firing pin of the hammer at rest between two cartridge rims, or just trusting to luck, since the half-cock notch was a weak thing if the gun was dropped with a round under the hammer. Some would load the sixth round only if they saw trouble coming, which would certainly “fit the profile” of Elfego Baca’s situation. So, we can say, perhaps 12 rounds.

Some Westerners did wear “cartridge belts” routinely in those days. If we give the benefit of the doubt to Walt Disney’s researchers — and it looks as if they did indeed do their homework — we can look at Disney’s recreation and see the Baca character’s Buscadero belt has 20 to 24 cartridge loops along the back. This, with two fully-loaded sixguns, would still have left Elfego Baca with a maximum of 36 handgun cartridges to hold off 80 antagonists, many if not most armed with rifles, and able to send some of their company “back behind the lines” for more ammunition.

On the cowboy side, the disparity of firepower was awesome. The lowest estimate of bullets unleashed at Elfego Baca during the siege in Frisco is 400, and this may have been a typographical error with a dropped zero.

The majority of historical accounts agree some 4,000 bullets were fired in hopes of hitting Elfego Baca. In his subsequent trial, the door of the jacal was brought into the courtroom as evidence, and it alone had somewhere between 367 and 400 bullet strikes visible.

Body Counts

What did those assorted bullets do? Well, historians agree no bullet ever hit Elfego Baca. Baca, on the other hand, is claimed generally to have killed four of his antagonists during the shootout, including Hearne at the outset, and to have wounded 13. One source claims he killed only one, and the four previously-cited historians note “he was charged with the death of Hearne,” and not for shooting anyone else.

Not being a statistics major, I’ll let all y’all do the math on this, but one thing is indisputably clear. In the end, against overwhelming odds, Elfego Baca decisively won the gunfight.

Back to the Shootout

Early on, at least one friend of Elfego Baca rode out to Socorro to summon duly-constituted law enforcement, but 60 miles takes time on horseback. The guys with the stars on their shirts responded as fast as transportation of the day allowed … which wasn’t very fast.

The shooting lasted throughout the first day. In his book The Shooters, historian Leon Metz wrote, “The cowboys tossed torches on the roof, but the dirt prevented a fire from starting. They hurled dynamite, and it went off with a shattering roar, collapsing part of the roof.” Night fell, and the gunfire tapered off. Some historians say the mob ran out of ammunition, or at least ran low, and sent some of its members to fetch more cartridges. Others believe the mob was collectively convinced Baca must be dead, but they wanted to wait until dawn to approach and make sure.

The sun rose again. Smoke was seen coming from the shack. Smells of cooking food wafted toward the surrounding contingent of the lynch mob. They realized Elfego Baca wasn’t just up and running — he was making himself some breakfast with food and cooking utensils he had found inside the jacal. I have to say — when I saw this as a kid in the late 1950’s I called BS. It turns out historians agree 100 percent it actually happened. Talk about “the last great act of defiance”…

On this day — somewhere between 30 and 36 hours after the shooting had begun, 33 hours by the majority of accounts — officially constituted law enforcement arrived at last in the form of Deputy Sheriff Frank Rose. The ring of cowboys was convinced to put up their guns, and Elfego Baca offered to surrender and stand trial … but only if he was allowed to keep his guns.

Incredibly to us today, it was agreed upon. Apparently still armed (and presumably still with some live ammo left) Elfego Baca was transported to Socorro, where he was disarmed, jailed and charged with murder. He remained in jail until August of 1885, when he was found not guilty.


Elfego Baca was, indeed, later elected Sheriff of Socorro County, largely as a result of this incident. He had become a hero, not only in the Mexican community, but also among those who believed in standing up for law and order. He later become an attorney, and would claim at the end of his life he had defended 30 clients on homicide charges, and won acquittals for all but one.

Baca would win various other elected offices. He also wasn’t done with shooting men to death. During the FDR administration, when WPA researchers were doing oral histories of Americans, he said of one chase of two shooting suspects, “We rode after them and I shot one of them about 300 yards away. The other got away — too many cottonwood trees in the way.” He also told the researchers to ask the then-current sheriff of Socorro County “to show you the records. You might see the place on the way down where they buried a cowboy I shot. It’s a little way off the main road though.”

Researchers Santana, Vellela, Torres and Telles report, “On January 31, 1915, Baca gunned down Celestino Otero on an El Paso street. He claimed Otero fired first, but the prosecution claimed Baca had purchased the gun from an El Paso pawnshop and placed it in Otero’s hand once he fell dead.” However, they add, an “all-white jury” tried Baca for the killing, and found him not guilty. Historian Metz claimed the shooting was indeed justified, beginning when Otero shot Baca in the groin, and Baca responded by shooting Otero twice in the heart.

Elfego Baca died peacefully in 1945 at the age of 80. In 1993, famed New Mexican Bill Richardson said of him, “The story of Elfego Baca demonstrates a man’s will to preserve justice in a land and time of rampant corruption and bullying. Baca’s bravery instilled hope to the native New Mexican people who upheld the laws of the land and refused to succumb to racial injustice.”


The first lesson is, in the 21st century, “Don’t be a self-appointed lawman.” Baca’s trial for the Frisco shootout might have turned out far differently today. The previously cited quad of historians claim Baca was “carrying a mail-order badge and a stolen gun” when he made the arrest of Charlie McCarthy, triggering the cataclysm which followed. Some others say he was deputized.

Baca himself told a WPA researcher, “In those days I was a self-made deputy. I had a badge I made for myself, and if they didn’t believe I was a deputy, they’d better believe it, because I made ’em believe it.” Suffice to say today, “If you can’t document you are official, don’t presume you are.” In modern times, there’s no such thing as a self-made deputy.

The second lesson, from the tactical side, is best phrased in a quote from officer survival expert Evan Marshall: “Be a lover of cover.” How could Baca evade as many as 4,000 rounds? The floor of the jacal was below the visible foundation and door by as much as 18″. What the building could not stop, the earth did. The lynch mob was hitting too high; Baca is believed to have spent most of the shootout in a protected prone position.

And, by the way, I can find no historical information to contradict the legend none of those many, many bullets hit the plaster statue of the saint inside the jacal. Make of it what you will.

Finally, thanks to the American Handgunner reader who suggested a story on Elfego Baca. Yes, we do listen to your input.

By Massad Ayoob


Order Your Printed Copy Of The American Handgunner July/August 2015 Issue Today!

Download A PDF Of The American Handgunner July/August 2015 Issue Now!

Flight To Fight: The Gutierrez Shooting


The subject suddenly escalates a routine consensual contact by police, attempts to eviscerate a cop and is shot. Issues ensue.


In the wake of a fatal shooting, more than the pulling of the trigger may need to be explained, and motives other than justice may drive the inquiry.

It’s April 30, 2009, a routine day for the three members of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department Gang Unit who are driving through Woodland, Calif., in an unmarked Ford sedan. They’re not undercover in the sense of maintaining false identities, but are dressed to “blend in.” Each is wearing jeans and an untucked T-shirt large enough to conceal their handcuffs, magazine pouches and the paddle-holstered Glocks riding on their right hips behind sheriff’s stars clipped to their belts.

The department issues Glock .40’s, giving individual deputies a choice of the full-size Glock 22 or the compact G23, with options for personal preference. All three are represented. Detective Hector Bautista, driving, is a big man who can comfortably conceal the full-size, 16-shot issue G22. In the shotgun seat, Sergeant Dale Johnson is carrying a privately-owned, department-approved Glock 36 subcompact .45 ACP with +1 magazines. In the right rear seat, Detective Hernan Oviedo has chosen the smaller department option, the G23.

Coming across an overpass, they observe a man walking down the sidewalk on the other side. His garb and shaven head fit the “gang dress code profile” of local members of the Sureños and Norteños. The man looks familiar to one of the officers, who says, “I think he’s on parole.”

The decision is made to pull to the curb and initiate a conversation, what is called in the profession a “consensual contact.”

In seconds, everyone’s day will cease to be routine.

The Incident

The pedestrian is Luis Gutierrez-Navarro, 26. The unmarked car glides to a stop abreast of him. Bautista remains at the wheel, his foot on the brake; Oviedo opens the right rear door and puts one foot on the pavement and Johnson steps out of the car. Johnson identifies himself verbally and asks if they can talk. As he does so, he raises his T-shirt to reveal the sheriff’s badge and gun, something the gang unit always does as part of the self-identification process when they’re not in uniform.

Gutierrez gives him a startled look. His eyes dart down to the badge, then back up to Sergeant Johnson’s face and suddenly, explosively, he turns and runs, back in the direction from which he came. Johnson sprints after him, and in an instant, Oviedo is out of the car and running behind both. Gutierrez-Navarro runs into the street, ignoring several moving vehicles in the roadway. Bautista wheels the car into a hard U-turn to follow as soon as traffic allows.

Gutierrez’s right hand dives into his front pants pocket. It’s a movement any experienced cop would associate with either reaching for a weapon or trying to grab evidence to throw away, and they have to assume the former. Both lawmen draw their Glocks, still running, still shouting their identity.

Gutierrez’s hand comes out empty. Johnson manages to holster his Glock 36 while still running. An athletic man, he is closing the gap. When he’s close enough, he reaches out and tries to grab the fleeing man’s shoulders. They have reached a point almost completely across the street at the edge of the bridge.

Gutierrez-Navarro ducks under the sergeant’s reaching arm, and suddenly, there is an open knife blade in his right hand. He slashes at Johnson, belly high, and the Sergeant “hollows out,” arching his lower back rearward and pulling his abdomen in, to barely evade being eviscerated.

Now Johnson has the Glock .45 in his hand, he is pointing rather than aiming, and firing, moving at the same time, trying to stay out of reach of the flashing blade. Running toward them, without breaking stride, Oviedo sees it happen and brings his own Glock up to eye-level and fires once, twice.

Gutierrez-Navarro suddenly goes rigid. He throws the locked-open knife deliberately away from him, and it lands in the dirt at the side of the road. Slowly, he crumples to the pavement.

The officers radio in for an ambulance and assistance and apply first aid themselves. Bautista, who has pulled in behind the shooting scene, strips off his own T-shirt to use as a hemorrhage-controlling, field-expedient wound dressing. While he’s doing so, Johnson disregards the personal danger of blood-borne pathogens and uses his bare hand to apply direct pressure, trying desperately to save the life of the man who just tried to disembowel him.
Paramedics arrive quickly. But Luis Gutierrez-Navarro, who has never spoken a word to any of the officers, including the one he tried to kill, doesn’t survive. The incident began and ended in seconds.

The aftermath will take much longer.

Criminal Investigation

The investigation of this incident was intensive and multi-layered. The Woodland Police Department did a thorough investigation. A parallel investigation was done by the lawmen’s employing agency, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department. The District Attorney’s Office did its own investigation.

According to the toxicology report, Luis Gutierrez-Navarro had a substantial amount of methamphetamine in his system — a level commonly associated with irrational and violent behavior.

All the investigations came to the same conclusion: The death of Luis Gutierrez-Navarro was a justifiable homicide in the line of duty.

The local Latino community became enraged. There were demonstrations and an unofficial “commission” was formed, including some influential citizens “demanding action” and chaired by a former member of the California Supreme Court. As a result, the California Attorney General’s Office reviewed the investigation in its entirety. It endorsed the findings of the District Attorney: justifiable homicide. This did not allay the furor. The FBI and the Department of Justice under Eric Holder were called in. They came to the same conclusion: justifiable homicide.

But none of this was enough to prevent the grieving family of the deceased from making a Federal case out of it. It was filed under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging the officers had conspired under color of law to violate the civil rights of the deceased. The case of Gutierrez v. Yolo County, et. al., went to trial in Federal court in Sacramento in September 2012.

Civil Issues

There are lessons any peace officer, indeed anyone who carries a gun, can learn from this case. The lawyers for the dead man’s parents, the plaintiffs, alleged the cops had racially profiled Gutierrez and stopped him for no reason, had no right to chase him when he ran and they failed to ID themselves. Poor Gutierrez probably thought they were gang-bangers come to hurt him and when they realized they had shot an innocent man for nothing, they planted a knife on him.

In cases like this, those involved for the defense feel like the sailors in the Walt Disney movie of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea — they are submariners in the clutches of a giant squid and have to chop off the clutching tentacles one by one, destroying the other side’s case issue by issue.

Justification issues go back to before the trigger is pulled. I was asked by plaintiff’s counsel in pre-trial deposition what right the officers had to stop the man in the first place, let alone chase him when he fled. I replied under California State Supreme Court case law in People v. Souza from 1994, as well as the Supreme Court’s decision in Illinois v. Wardlow, when a man runs from identifiable police, there’s enough probable cause to sustain “investigative detention.” This means cops are allowed to chase him, detain him and determine what’s going on.

SCOTUS wrote in Wardlow, “Headlong flight — wherever it occurs — is the consummate act of evasion: It’s not necessarily indicative of wrongdoing, but it is certainly suggestive of such.” To a lay person, “indicative” vis-à-vis “suggestive” may sound like legal doubletalk, but the highest court’s statement can be translated to: “Running away may not be proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but it’s a damn good clue.”

I didn’t have to testify to this at trial. By the time, veteran police defense lawyer Bruce Kilday and his brilliant protégé, co-counsel Amie McTavish, had established through testimony of the officers if Gutierrez had said “No, I don’t want to talk to you” or had even just silently walked away, it would’ve ended there. What I did testify to in court was once he ran and his hand went into his pocket in a movement consistent with going for a weapon, they were justified in drawing their guns. Moreover, his running into traffic showed a disregard for his own life and the lives of others: cops who could have been run over, other pedestrians who could have been killed by cars trying to avoid hitting him and motorists crashing for the same reason. Such disregard for life is another clear warning signal you may be dealing with someone desperate and dangerous.

Explaining Intent

Yes, people can be justifiably shot in the back. The bullet that killed Gutierrez was fired from behind him by Oviedo. The 180-gr. Winchester JHP entered the upper right rear quadrant of his shoulder and coursed through his neck, severing the jugular vein, before it exited through his left lower jaw. Oviedo had seen Gutierrez attempt to disembowel his brother officer (and, from his vantage point, reasonably feared he had succeeded), and saw the knife was poised for another strike as he fired the fatal shot. The jury “got it.” Oviedo wasn’t shooting in self-defense, he was shooting to save the life of a brother officer, and his angle to the man trying to kill the cop simply didn’t matter.

Point out evidence at the scene: When responding officers and paramedics arrived at the shooting scene, the involved officers pointed out where Gutierrez’s knife had landed, and evidence technicians meticulously photographed it in situ (where it was found) and preserved it for testing. It was a cheap copy of a tactical folder marked “Firefighter” with a serrated blade. Plaintiffs’ counsel alleged it was a “drop knife” planted by the officers to cover up the wrongful shooting of an innocent, unarmed man, and to support the allegation brought in a retired undersheriff from Placer County as an expert to testify cops often carried such knives.

Physical Evidence

The well-preserved evidence knife didn’t have fingerprints, which was to be expected with its textured grasping surface. However, there was DNA. The DNA testing came into evidence before I got there, thanks to the California Department of Justice and defense team member Kevin Dehoff, so I was able to refer to it when I testified. The testing absolutely excluded any of the three officers, but tied to a very high degree of certainty to Luis Gutierrez-Navarro. Altogether, Kilday and McTavish had driven a wooden stake directly through the heart of the allegation of a planted “drop knife.”

Remember this the next time someone tells you “Don’t say anything to the cops after you shoot someone in self-defense.” I’ve seen departments where the chief was throwing cops to the wolves in such cases, where the union told the officers “Don’t say nothin’!” Had this advice been followed here, the critical evidence showing the knife had been in the dead man’s hand when he was shot might have been lost and couldn’t have been used to help exonerate the defendants.

Don’t expect the other guy’s “bad guy status” to be introduced to help your case. Gutierrez’s fingers sported “dot tattoos” indicating the number 13, a gangbanger symbol of “M,” the 13th letter of the alphabet — which in gang argot, stands variously for murder and/or marijuana. A warrant search of his home found gangbanger music, and he had a history of associating with a certain gang. However, none of this was known to any of the officers (there wasn’t time in the first few seconds to see the inconspicuous dots tattooed on his fingers), and Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) holds prior bad acts or associations, unknown to the shooter at the time of the shooting, can’t be used to defend the shooter’s actions. The standard is: what would a reasonable and prudent person (or, for cops under the SCOTUS standard of Graham v. Connor, a reasonable, prudent, trained and experienced police officer) have done in the same situation, knowing what the defendant knew at the time.

I didn’t expect this evidence to come in, and it didn’t. The trial judge was Lawrence Karlton. I had testified in his court before, and knew him to be very strict, but very strict with both sides, and therefore very fair. I can always live with that. However, the exclusion required the defense team to show the jury some other answer to the question, “Why the hell would he try to rip a cop’s guts out?”

The jury needs to know why! The evidence was allowed in — because it was scientific evidence and part of the autopsy and its attendant toxicology screen — included the fact the dead man had a large quantity of methamphetamines in his system at time of death.

Emphasize Impossibilities

Be able to explain why adverse witnesses couldn’t have seen what they said they saw. At trial, the plaintiffs put forth two young Hispanic women who claimed to have seen the shooting, and swore Gutierrez never had a knife when he was shot. While some on the cops’ side felt it was racially motivated false testimony, neither the Kilday/McTavish defense team nor I were convinced of it. Their testimony was destroyed much more cleanly, without playing the race card.

Kilday, while questioning the officers, showed the jury Johnson and Oviedo were watching Gutierrez’ hands, as they were trained to do, and were the closest to him when it all went down. Ms. McTavish, delicately but expertly cross-examining the adverse witnesses, got them to admit they weren’t watching the hands of Gutierrez, they were tunneled in on the cops who, after all, had guns in their hands and drew their attention. The defense finished this line with my direct testimony, where I explained of course you wouldn’t see something you aren’t looking for.

McTavish had also established one of the women was confused as to which side of the street it even happened on, and the other was driving at 40 MPH trying to watch it in a rear-view mirror which reduced the size of the reflected images and couldn’t have seen a knife if she was looking for it.

Identifiability is important. Plaintiffs’ theory, supported by their expert witness, was Gutierrez didn’t speak English, saw only the gun instead of the badge and assumed gangbangers instead of plainclothes cops were attacking him. Kilday and McTavish established Gutierrez did indeed speak English, and fortunately, investigators had photographed the officers in detail immediately after the shooting to document their appearance at the time. I showed those photos to the jury, who could clearly see the big gold sheriff’s star in front of Johnson’s weapon was far more obviously visible than the black holster with the dark gray Glock.

Understand not everyone on the plaintiffs’ side is malicious. Yes, there are cases where the man you have to kill is of a second- or third-generation crime family, and his relatives know he needed killing but they see a lawsuit against you as a lottery ticket. I honestly don’t think this was the case in the Gutierrez suit. I saw his parents in court, and I believe they were truly stricken and grieving. I suspect they believed what the people with agendas told them — jackbooted thugs killed their son simply for being Hispanic. Ask yourself: when you were young, did you ever do stupid things you went to great lengths to conceal from your parents? I believe this is what happened here, and I believe it happens a lot.

Don’t play the race card! An hour or two on Google reading what’s available from a search for Gutierrez v. Yolo County, et. al. will show the incredible amount of propaganda race-baiters applied to this trial. As you read all those allegations of “cops kill Latino out of racial hatred and police brutality,” consider these simple facts: Two Hispanic officers and one mixed-race officer (Japanese-American, Johnson) engaged a Hispanic man who attempted to murder the mixed-race officer and was killed by a Hispanic officer, who worked for a Hispanic sheriff named Ed Prieto. The defense ignored the invisible elephant in the courtroom, and focused simply on the indisputable facts in evidence. Which is one reason why the defense prevailed.


On October 24, 2012, the Federal Court jury returned a “complete defense verdict,” which totally exonerated the cops from any wrongdoing. The Sacramento Bee newspaper reported, “The parents of Luis Gutierrez have only their son to blame for his death at the hands of a Yolo County sheriff’s deputy, a federal court jury in Sacramento decided Tuesday.” The long ordeal was over at last.

The involved officers have all continued their careers, some of them receiving promotions. Their sheriff, Ed Prieto, stood strong for them throughout. Yes, life goes on after these things. But the odyssey of this case reminds us all of the foolishness of the saying, “A good shoot is a good shoot.”

By Massad Ayoob

Read More The Ayoob Files Articles


Order Your Printed Copy Of The American Handgunner May/June 2015 Issue Today!

Download A PDF Of The American Handgunner May/June 2015 Issue Now!

Ayoob Files Archive

Purchase The Entire Ayoob Files Collection Available Here!
For nearly three decades, the Ayoob Files have provided American Handgunner readers a look inside the scenarios and reactions of individuals involved in deadly confrontation.

Renowned author, trainer and expert witness Massad Ayoob has examined and shared detailed information from hundreds of incidents since 1985. The lessons learned make an invaluable resource for anybody interested in self-defense.

Now you can add the entire collection to your digital reference library in conveniently assembled two-year sets of downloadable .pdf files. Purchase and immediately download any of the 13 sets of Ayoob Files for just $5 each or the entire 27-year collection for $35.

Follow the links below to view the contents and order any of the Ayoob Files Digital Collections:

Ayoob Files
Full Digital Collection 1985-2011
Ayoob Files 1985-1987
Ayoob Files 1988-1989
Ayoob Files 1990-1991
Ayoob Files 1992-1993

Ayoob Files 1994-1995
Ayoob Files 1996-1997
Ayoob Files 1998-1999
Ayoob Files 2000-2001

Ayoob Files 2002-2003
Ayoob Files 2004-2005
Ayoob Files 2006-2007
Ayoob Files 2008-2009

Ayoob Files 2010-2011

The False Hope Of Gun-Free Zones


In a classic case of unintended consequences, supposedly “safe” gun-free zones become slaughter pens for the helpless innocent — at the hands of human monsters.


History and common sense show NRA’s Wayne LaPierre was absolutely correct when he said, “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

On September 27, 2014, I was asked to address the Gun Rights Policy Conference in Chicago on the subject of gun-free zones. I’ll say here what I said there: Gun-free zones have become hunting preserves for psychopathic murderers.

This was the unintended consequence of a well-intended idea, but outlawing gun possession among the law-abiding in hopes of thwarting lawbreakers was so clearly hopeless it should have been seen sooner. Lawbreakers, by their very definition, break the law — they’ve literally made it their job description. Only the most childish naiveté could lead an honest person to believe someone who would break the most stringent laws somehow wouldn’t break a much less important one with a much less serious penalty.

On December 16, 2012, John Fund wrote an article titled, “The Facts About Mass Shootings” in National Review Online. Fund said, “Gun-free zones have been the most popular response to previous mass killings. But many law enforcement officials say they’re actually counterproductive. ‘Guns are already banned in schools. This is why shootings happen in schools. A school is a helpless-victim zone,’ says Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff.

“‘Preventing any adult at a school from having access to a firearm eliminates any chance the killer can be stopped in time to prevent a rampage,’ Jim Kouri, the public information officer of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, told me earlier this year at the time of the Aurora, Colo., theatre shooting.”

Fund continues, “Economists John Lott and William Landes conducted a groundbreaking study in 1999, and found a common theme of mass shootings is they occur in places where guns are banned and killers know everyone will be unarmed, such as shopping malls and schools. I spoke with Lott after the Newtown shooting, and he confirmed nothing has changed to alter his findings.”

In Their Own Words And Actions

How do we know the murderers think like this? Sometimes, they admit it. On August 10, 1999, Buford Furrow — a member of the white supremacist group Aryan Nations — walked into the North Valley Jewish Community Center in the Grenada Hills section of Los Angeles. He fired 70-some shots and fled, wounding a teenage female volunteer, an adult worker at the daycare center and three 5- and 6-year-old children. A few miles away, Furrow paused in his flight to murder an unarmed postal worker of Filipino descent. After his later surrender, he stated his motive in shooting up the daycare center was his hatred of Jewish people; he killed the postal worker because he was a man of color and an employee of the Federal government.

A particularly telling point was found in his confession. According to the Wikipedia entry on this atrocity, “Furrow considered attacking three Jewish institutions: the Skirball Cultural Center, American Jewish University and Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, but security measures presented too much of a problem.”

Sometimes, it’s too obvious to connect the coincidence. On July 20, 2012, James Holmes opened fire in the Cinemark Century Theater in Aurora, Colo., during a late-night preview of the then-new Batman movie. He killed 12 and wounded 70. Professor John Lott was one of the first to point out Holmes likely chose this particular target expressly because it was a gun-free zone.

“Most movie theaters allow permit holders carrying guns. But the Cinemark movie theater was the only one with a sign posted at the theater’s entrance prohibiting guns,” Lott wrote for Fox News. He continued, “There were seven movie theaters showing The Dark Knight Rises within 20 minutes of the killer’s apartment. At 4 miles and an 8-minute car ride away, the Cinemark’s Century Theater wasn’t the closest.

“Another theater was only 1.2 miles (3 minutes) away. There was also one just slightly further at 10 minutes away. It’s the ‘home of Colorado’s largest auditorium,’ according to the movie hotline welcome message. The potentially huge audience ought to have been attractive to someone trying to kill as many people as possible. But, all of those theaters allowed permitted concealed handguns.”

Lott concluded, “So why would a mass shooter pick a place that bans guns? The answer should be obvious, though it apparently isn’t clear to the media: disarming law-abiding citizens leaves them sitting ducks.”

Armed Citizens Fight Back
Arguments against gun-free zones beg the question: “So, what happens in the real world when an armed citizen fights back against one of these mass murderers?” Fortunately, it’s easy to answer. A while back on an anti-gun TV show, Diane Sawyer claimed she couldn’t find a case where an armed citizen had stopped such a death orgy. I submit she either didn’t look very hard, or her agenda overrode her journalistic approach. There are so many cases I didn’t have time to list them all when speaking at the GRPC, and don’t even have time to list them all in the pages I’m allotted here.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook horror, the media excoriated NRA Executive VP Wayne LaPierre for famously saying, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.” Yet his statement was absolutely true. Sometimes the good guy (or gal) is a uniformed cop, an off-duty officer or an ordinary private citizen legally carrying a gun. In the big picture, it doesn’t matter whether the celluloid card in the hero’s pocket is a police ID or a CCW permit.
Historically, when mass murderers encounter armed resistance — in the US or abroad — the slaughter of the innocent ends immediately or very soon after. Sometimes, they surrender at virtually the first sight of an armed Good Guy — like Holmes meekly did when responding officers confronted him outside the “gun-free” theater. In Norway, Anders Breivik gave himself up to the first armed LEOs to arrive on the “gun-free” island where he massacred 77 helpless victims and wounded 319 on July 22, 2011.
Sometimes, these murderers commit suicide as soon as serious, armed resistance confronts them. Cho, the mass murderer of Virginia Tech in 2011, did so. The same happened with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine High School in 1999. Ditto for Adam Lanza when the Newtown police, with good response time, pulled up outside Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Case Studies
On July 25, 1993, The Church of St. James in Cape Town, South Africa, becomes the target of a massacre by four members of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army. Wielding fully automatic military AR’s and lobbing hand grenades, the terrorists kill 11 helpless victims and wound 58. However, among the intended victims is missionary Charl van Wyk. He always carried a 5-shot, snub-nose .38 Special revolver … and now, he deploys it. His return fire wounds one of the attackers, and all of them break off the assault and flee the scene. Against all odds, his snub-nose .38 has turned the tide of battle against four killers with explosives and machine guns.
On June 20, 1994, at Fairchild Air Force base near Spokane, Wash., disgruntled ex-Airman Dean Mellberg has been released from the USAF due to bizarre behavior. He returns to the base with an AK clone and an extended-capacity drum magazine. He opens fire at the base hospital, killing a psychologist, psychiatrist, military wife, an 8-year-old girl and the unborn child of one of the 22 people he wounds. The rampage ends with the first armed person he encounters on this base.
Air Force Security Police Officer Andy Brown, on bicycle patrol and the first to arrive, comes under fire from the killer. With no cover, Brown kneels and returns fire with his issue Beretta M9, killing Mellberg with a 9mm bullet between the eyes at 70 yards. Awarded a medal for his courage, Brown will never know how many more lives were saved by his skillful and decisive action.
In Pearl, Miss., on October 1, 1997, 16-year-old Luke Woodham has stabbed his mother to death to gain access to the gun cabinet and his estranged father’s Marlin .30-30 hunting rifle. He takes the gun and lots of ammo to school, opening fire in the “commons” area. He murders two young women, one a former girlfriend, and wounds seven more of his schoolmates. Vice principal Joel Myrick sprints to the parking lot and retrieves his loaded Colt .45 auto from his truck. He interdicts Woodham, who’s about to drive away — with the rifle and plenty of remaining rounds — in the direction of the local junior high.
As soon as Myrick takes the young murderer at gunpoint, the latter throws himself to the ground in surrender and wails, “The world has wronged me, Mr. Myrick!” The vice principal’s quick action saved countless lives. It will never be known how much suffering could’ve been prevented if the school itself, a gun-free zone, would have allowed staff to be armed inside. In theory, this might have allowed Myrick to stop the carnage much sooner.
Disgruntled by a divorce proceeding, David Arroyo shows up at the Tyler, Texas, county courthouse wearing body armor and carrying an AK-47 clone on February 4, 2005. He opens fire on the courthouse steps, killing his ex-wife and wounding his own son. LEO’s open fire on him with handguns, but he has the position of advantage and the rifle. He drives them back, wounding three lawmen. But concealed carry instructor Mark Alan Wilson has rushed to the scene, and with his Colt .45 auto shoots down Arroyo.
However, he doesn’t realize his bullets have been stopped by the killer’s concealed armor, and tragically, Arroyo shoots and kills him. Nonetheless, the armed citizens discombobulated the gunman’s plans, and he flees without inflicting further carnage. Police pursue, and Tyler Police Sergeant Rusty Jacks kills Arroyo in the subsequent gunfight. The martyred armed citizen is hailed as a hero whose actions prevented countless deaths. Today, a large plaque erected to Mark Wilson’s memory stands prominently in downtown Tyler.
Further Case Studies
I wasn’t kidding when I said there are a lot of these cases — let’s look at a few more. On February 12, 2007 in Salt Lake City, Sulejman Talovic shows up at the Trolley Square Mall with a 12-ga. pump gun, .38-caliber handgun and a backpack full of ammo. He opens fire, randomly shooting nine innocent victims and killing five of them before he’s stopped. His murder spree is stalled when off-duty Ogden police officer Ken Hammond, eating with his wife in a mall restaurant, hears the shooting and “runs to the sound of the guns.” Hammond is armed only with a subcompact .45 loaded with six rounds, but his return fire pins down the killer long enough for SLCPD to arrive, and the killer dies in front of their MP-5 and AR-15 fire.
Having earlier attacked a religious center in Arvada, Colo., which left two dead and two wounded, Matthew Murray resurfaces at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs on December 9, 2007. He opens fire, killing another two and injuring three. But this time, there’s an armed citizen who literally runs to the sound of the guns. A former cop, with a carry permit and working volunteer church security, Jeanne Assam draws her Beretta 9mm and rushes the heavily-armed killer, firing as she moves. He falls, riddled with her bullets, with only enough strength left to pull the trigger one last time to finish himself off. Jeanne Assam is hailed as a hero who saved countless lives with her courage and skill.
On April 22, 2012, three months before the infamous theatre massacre in Aurora, a man with a grudge and a gun shows up a the New Destiny Christian Center and shoots the pastor’s mother to death. Before Kiarron Parker, a 29-year-old with a substantial criminal record, can claim any more victims, an off-duty cop attending the church draws his own handgun and shoots the assailant dead. An estimated 30 other members of the congregation present may have been saved from a criminal’s murderous intent because a Good Guy With A Gun was immediately present.
Just days after the horror in Newtown, a mass murder is thwarted at a movie theatre and Chinese restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. Jesus Manuel Garcia opens fire at the movie theatre from the parking lot, causing people to flee in panic. He also takes shots at a police car before off-duty deputy Lisa Castellano, working a second job, ends the matter by shooting him four times. In this case, there was no loss of innocent life. It’s not a gun-free zone: Someone was able to shoot back and end the deadly danger before it could become another infamous mass murder.
Crazed narcissist Eliot Rodger goes on a long-planned rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., on May 23, 2014. He uses knife and hammer to kill three young men, and then races his car through the community on a deadly spree, shooting people and running them over. Three more victims die from his bullets, eight are wounded, and he strikes four more with his vehicle. As soon as armed police confronts him, however, he almost immediately kills himself. The media will virtually ignore the non-gun deaths he inflicted, focusing on the three he accomplished with gunfire. The media will also ignore the fact carry permits are all but impossible to get in this part of California, which in effect rendered the entire community a “gun-free zone” for any spree killer who chose to commit his murders in public.
A crazy man comes to the right place, but does the wrong thing in Upper Darby, Pa., on July 24, 2014. Richard Plotts shoots and kills a female caseworker at a mental health office, and wounds psychiatrist Lee Silverman. But Dr. Silverman has a small pistol within reach and returns fire. Three gunshot wounds later, the killer is down and out of action — though he’ll survive his wounds. There was talk of punitive action against Dr. Silverman for having the pistol in a gun-free zone, but after police publicly announce he undoubtedly saved many lives, the doctor suffers no punishment.

In Moore, Okla., on September 26, 2014, a recently fired employee returns to the workplace and attacks with a knife, beheading one woman and stabbing a second. The boss, whose office is apparently not a gun-free zone, grabs his firearm and rushes to the scene, shooting the killer down and stopping the carnage.


If you want to know why the public doesn’t know, take the two shootings three months apart in Aurora. The atrocity at the theater lit up worldwide news for days and remains a cause célèbre; the thwarting of the killer at the church barely and briefly flickered across even Colorado media — and never made the mainstream at all. Part of it, certainly, is an inherent anti-gun bias, which the mainstream media has long made clear. But part of it’s simply because a killer being cut down as soon as he claims his first victim isn’t as “newsworthy” as a horrendous massacre of the helpless.

When a home burns down in your community, it probably makes front-page news in the local paper. When a homeowner uses a fire extinguisher to put out a kitchen blaze before it spreads, it may not make the news at all. An incident prevented isn’t seen as an incident. This is why, when the topic of gun-free zones comes up, we need to write letters to the editor and call in to the radio talk shows to spread the truth.

Many of the cases mentioned above were reported in detail here in the Ayoob Files. A complete archive is available online at www.americanhandgunner.
. An excellent account of the Tyler incident appears in my friend Chris Bird’s book, Thank God I Had a Gun, available at www.

The unequipped and unprepared are helpless. Bring your business to places where you can legally carry and do carry. Even a subcompact can suffice. Van Wyk drove off four terrorists with his 5-shot .38. But consider something bigger and easier to shoot well under stress … and always have spare ammunition. Officer Hammond, who had only three cartridges left at the end of the Trolley Square Mall gun battle, urged other officers to always carry off-duty, and to carry spare ammunition as well. Jeanne Assam’s familiarity and skill with her 15-shot Beretta saved lives in Colorado Springs.

The lessons of history are clear. The facts are stark and can be easily found by someone who doesn’t have a personal agenda. It’s not about political correctness; in the end, it’s about the protection of the innocent from evil.


By Massad Ayoob

Read More The Ayoob Files Articles


Order Your Printed Copy Of The American Handgunner March/April 2015 Issue Today!

Download A PDF Of The American Handgunner March/April 2015 Issue Now!

Disarming Mass Murderers


Some gun grabbers seek magazine capacity limits, citing the theory it’ll force mass murderers to reload sooner — allowing them to be disarmed by citizens and thus reducing potential death toll.


There are faster ways to stop mass murderers; disarming is a risky strategy at best. In most cases, mass murderers and spree killers carry multiple guns — and they’re not going to give them up to unarmed citizens.

When legislation is introduced to ban or criminalize so-called “high-capacity magazines,” one argument always cited by gun grabbers is it will force mass-murderers to reload sooner — creating a window of opportunity in which some heroic citizen can disarm them and stop the killing. There are, of course, several things wrong with this hypothesis. One is the unrealistic assumption someone who’s willing to commit mass murder won’t be willing to access and use an illegal magazine.

Tactically, how likely is it there will be someone close enough to jump a gunman caught at slide-lock without the rescuer already (being in such close proximity to the murderer) shot before he could even make the disarming attempt? To find the answer, we have to look deeply into the history of such incidents.

Disarms During Reloading … or Not?

Two incidents seem to be most often cited by those who demand reduced magazine capacity. One is the capture of Jared Loughner after the murder spree in Tucson in which he killed six people and wounded a dozen more, including US Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The other is the capture of Colin Ferguson, which ended the Long Island Railroad train massacre, which claimed six lives and left 19 more people wounded.
In each case, multiple people were able to overpower the killer at a point when his weapon was no longer shootable. It should be noted, however, accounts of how it happened seem to differ among the witnesses. In the case of Loughner, we know Patricia Maisch ended up holding one of his magazines. Some of Ms. Maisch’s accounts make it sound as if she ripped it from his hand, while in others, she seems to say he dropped it and she picked it up.

However, Loughner was carrying multiple magazines, and at least one witness insists he had already reloaded a fresh magazine — but had somehow jammed the Glock 19 while attempting to complete the reload. In the Long Island Railroad massacre, Ferguson reloaded at least once and sustained fire. His Ruger P89 had apparently run dry at the time he was rushed and overpowered by unarmed citizens. Accounts differ as to whether Ferguson was attempting to reload a third full magazine at this time, or had shot all his magazines empty and was trying to insert loose cartridges into one of the empty mags.

Thus, it remains possible Loughner was successfully disarmed, not because he was reloading per se, but because he had jammed his already-reloaded gun. If in fact Ferguson had run out of loaded magazines, he was de facto more “out of ammunition” than he was “reloading” at the time he was overpowered and disarmed. Details, details …

There have been successful disarms in public shootings; let’s take a look.

Successful Disarms

In Moses Lake, Wash., 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis opened fire at the middle school he attended. Armed with a .30-30 rifle, .357 Magnum revolver, .25 auto and 78 rounds of ammunition, he killed three victims and wounded a fourth before a gym coach was able to wrestle the rifle away from him and hold him down. Note: the courageous gym teacher didn’t let the murderer keep shooting and killing until he ran empty — he got the .30-30 away from the young murderer while it was still loaded. If you’re going to attempt a disarm, this strategy would seem likely to save the most lives.

In June 2014, Aaron Ybarra, 26, opened fire at Seattle Pacific University. He killed one and injured three, and was then pepper-sprayed and overpowered by student monitor Jon Meis. According to one report, the killer’s weapon was a double-barrel shotgun, in poor repair and capable of firing only one barrel — for all practical intents and purposes, a single-shot weapon. While this in no way detracts from the courage displayed by the heroic Jon Meis, it’s not common for mass murderers to use single-shot weapons.

Another young hero to emerge from a mass murder atrocity is Jacob Ryker. Kip Kinkel, 15, murdered his parents and gained control of a Ruger 10/22 rifle, Ruger MK II .22 pistol and 9mm Glock 19. He took them to his school in Springfield, Ore., with an ample supply of ammunition and opened fire. His barrage had killed four people and wounded 25 more when one of those wounded students, young Mr. Ryker, jumped him as the killer reloaded the rifle.

However, Kinkel had armed himself with multiple weapons. During the struggle, he drew the 9mm and fired, wounding Ryker again and also another student. Then according to accounts, Ryker, now joined by six other students, was able to finally disarm him and gain physical control. By then, Kinkel had fired a total of 51 rounds, 37 of which struck human targets.

When It Goes Wrong

Getting a gun away from a killer isn’t easy. Good people have died in the attempt. In the Luby’s Cafeteria massacre in Killeen, Texas, George Hennard drove his pickup truck through the plate glass window of the restaurant and stepped out with a Ruger P89 and a Glock 17. He shot 43 people, 23 fatally. In the midst of the slaughter, Al Hupp attempted to disarm the madman.

He wasn’t successful. Hennard shot him in the chest with one of the pistols, mortally wounding him. As Hupp’s wife cradled her dying husband, Hennard shot her dead too. When police arrived and he tasted return fire, Hennard killed himself.

This atrocity occurred before the passage of shall-issue concealed carry in Texas. Suzanna Gratia-Hupp, the murdered couple’s daughter, had left her S&W .38 in her parked vehicle according to Texas law. She was certain she could have neutralized Hennard early in the encounter had her gun been within reach. Instead, she endured the horror of watching her parents murdered. Ever since, Suzanna Gratia-Hupp has been one of our most eloquent and poignant spokespersons for armed citizens and lawful concealed carry.

Perhaps the most glaringly conspicuous failure to disarm occurred during the mass murder that most tore at America’s heart: Sandy Hook. The first to die was petite school principal Dawn Hochsprung. As quintessential loser Adam Lanza blasted his way through the locked door of the school, she ran at him in what could only be construed as an attempt to disarm and restrain.

She apparently never got within touching distance before he shot her down. Later, with 20 helpless children and six brave but helpless adults dead at his hands, he blew his brains out as soon as police arrived.

In Colebrook, N.H., a bitter old man named Carl Drega went on a murder rampage, assassinating two state troopers and a female judge he hated. As he left the latter murder scene, newspaper editor Dennis Joos attempted to get his rifle away from him. Drega reportedly snarled, “Mind your own f—ing business,” threw Joos to the sidewalk, and killed him with multiple gunshots. After a manhunt in which multiple lawmen were wounded, Drega was shot and killed by police.

What about verbally convincing the gunman to just put down the gun? This strategy doesn’t have a promising history. In 2013, a 12-year-old boy came to school with a gun in Sparks, Nev. Teacher Michael Landsberry tried to “talk him down.” The boy shot and killed the teacher, and then committed suicide.

Physical Mismatches

If you’re close enough to grab the offender as soon as he starts shooting — and actually know how to do it — you have a reasonable chance of succeeding. Unfortunately if you’re close, you’ll very likely be one of the first victims of his criminal gunfire, perhaps before you can act. There is also the matter of relative physical strength. In the Loukaitis incident, an adult male gym teacher was able to overpower a 14-year-old boy who, judging by his photos, was physically unintimidating.

In the Drega murders, Dennis Joos wasn’t a physically large or especially strong man, and was up against a rugged, muscular killer who stood over 6’ tall and weighed well over 200 pounds. This disparity made Joos all the more a hero in his last moments, but at the end, a dead hero.
And let’s not forget, the opponent may have multiple guns; it’s going to be awfully hard to disarm him if he’s not in surrender mode. Though most accounts of the Drega murders have him killing Joos with the same .223 he used on his first three victims, the Wikipedia story on the case as of this summer states, “During the struggle Drega shot and killed Joos with a second firearm.” And we recall Jacob Ryker was wounded in the Kinkel incident when the punk he was disarming drew a second gun and shot him and another boy.

Multiple Guns

Ron Borsch is a retired career lawman and SWAT cop, whose second career was as head of the Southeast Area Law Enforcement Academy in Bedford, Ohio. A pioneer in the concept of lone-officer response to active mass murder incidents, he’s one of the nation’s leading authorities on this sort of terrible event. When he and I were both instructing at the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) conference earlier this year, I asked him how many of the mass killers he studied had been armed with multiple guns. “Well over half,” he answered.

This isn’t new. One of the worst mass murderers in American history goes back to Civil War times, “Bloody Bill” Anderson, a senior officer in Quantrill’s Raiders. The trademark of these guerrillas was carrying multiple revolvers, usually .36-caliber Navy Colts. When he was killed in a shootout with Union troops, an eyewitness to Anderson’s death said, “Bloody Bill had four revolvers buckled around him and two very large ones across the saddle.”

In 1966, Charles Whitman ascended the Texas Tower in Austin with so many guns and ammunition he had them in a footlocker, which he rolled into the elevator on a dolly. He murdered 17 people and wounded 32 more from his lofty perch immune to .38-caliber revolver fire and 12-ga. buckshot from police, until rifle fire from armed citizens on the ground pinned him down. Another armed citizen led police to his sniper’s nest atop the tower, where they killed him.

The term “going postal” came in large part from Patrick Sherrill’s death orgy in the Edmond, Okla., Post Office (14 dead, six wounded, perpetrator took own life). Sherrill was armed with two 1911 .45’s he had been issued by the National Guard, and a .22 target pistol of his own.

The list goes on. James Holmes in the Aurora, Colo., theater: AR-15 with high-capacity magazine which jammed early on, 12-ga. Remington 870 and two Glock 22 pistols, one on his person and one in his car. He surrendered as soon as police confronted him. By then, he had shot 82 helpless people in his chosen “Gun-Free Zone,” a dozen of them fatally. He, like the other multiple-armed perpetrators discussed here, would have been tough to disarm.

A Better Strategy

When a monster with a lethal weapon attempts wholesale murder of the innocent, what’s a better strategy than expecting untrained potential victims to grapple with them?

Quite simply, have a trained, armed person in place to suppress them.

A few months before the Aurora theater atrocity, another incident happened in the same city, which the national media chose to virtually ignore. On April 22, 2012, Kiarron Parker opened fire outside a church in Aurora, killing the pastor’s mother. Instantly, one member of the congregation — an off-duty Denver Police officer named Antonio Milow — drew his own handgun and shot and killed Kiarron before he could wreak any more mayhem.

In 2007, also in Colorado, psycho loser Matthew Murray shot multiple people at one church then went to another, where he opened fire and shot more victims. Then, Jeanne Assam — a former cop, working as volunteer church security — ran at him with a Beretta 92 in her hands, firing as she went. She hit him with bullet after 124-gr. 9mm JHP bullet, and he went down with just enough life force left to shoot himself. The pastor of the church later credited Assam with saving 100 or more lives. A detailed account of this incident can be found in the Ayoob Files archives here at American Handgunner.

Luke Woodham, 16, stabbed and bludgeoned his mother to death to get the keys to his estranged father’s gun cabinet, where he took a Marlin .30-30 rifle and headed to his high school in Pearl, Miss. He shot nine of his teenage schoolmates, killing two.

As he drove out of the parking lot — on course to a nearby junior high school, and still armed with the rifle and more ammunition — Woodham was taken at gunpoint by Vice Principal Joel Myrick, who had sprinted to the parking lot to retrieve a Colt .45 auto from his truck. The killer stopped his car, exited and went to the ground in front of the armed teacher squealing, “The world has wronged me, Mr. Myrick!” A detailed account of this event is also in the Ayoob Files archives.


Waiting for the gunman to run empty and then jumping him for the gun, no matter how many rounds it was loaded with, is simply not as viable of a strategy as it sounds. History teaches us another strategy works much better.

This strategy is born in reality: In almost every one of these highly-publicized mass murder/killing spree incidents, as soon as the gunman is met with return fire he ceases shooting innocent people and either is killed, kills himself or surrenders soon thereafter. Unarmed, untrained people attempting disarms sometimes actually prevailed, but oftentimes were hurt or killed in the attempt.

Those who would commit the most rigidly prohibited crimes in the history of civilization are certainly not likely to be deterred by a law limiting magazine capacity. The only people who can be realistically expected to obey such laws are, by definition, the law-abiding and not the law-breakers.

When in the wake of the Sandy Hook atrocity, NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre said the only thing capable of stopping a bad guy with a gun was a good guy with a gun, he was shouted down and excoriated by the mass media. Yet, history and reality combine to show he spoke the absolute truth.

After the Ma’alot Massacre, Israel put armed good guys into their schools; many of them school personnel and student family members who volunteered to be trained for the job by Mishmar Ezrachi, the Israeli civil guard. Terrorist attacks on schoolchildren plummeted.

Here in the US, intended mass school shootings have been short-circuited by armed SRO’s, school resource officers from local law enforcement agencies. An increasing number of school systems are, to the horror of the gun grabbers, quietly arming and training volunteer personnel to perform the same function as the Israeli model. Discreet arming of church volunteers for the protection of the congregation seems to have become even more widespread.

We can only wonder what might have happened if the courageous principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, Dawn Hochsprung, had been armed and capable of dealing with Adam Lanza on that terrible day in December 2012. She died courageously, trying to defend the little children and the adult staff for whom she was responsible. Her empty hands rendered her brave spirit futile, and we all know what happened next.
If instead those empty hands had held Jeanne Assam’s Beretta 92 with the same skill. If …

“I Didn’t Want to Get Involved”: the Lessons of the Murder of Kitty Genovese


A young woman is stabbed to death in the course of a long and brutal attack. Some people see it … more people hear it … and most of them do absolutely nothing.


Human monsters exist. Apologists cover for apathy. The helpless cannot stop violence. In situations like this, armed people can save lives when unarmed people can’t.

The year 2014 marked the half-century anniversary of a crime that shocked our nation to the depths of its soul. A little after 3:00 AM, a 28-year-old woman named Kitty Genovese was returning from the bar she managed to her home in Kew Gardens — a Queens, N.Y., suburb considered quiet, upscale and relatively crime-free. She was targeted by a monster who had set out to rape and murder whatever young woman appeared in his sights. She screamed when he came at her with his knife.

People heard. Some looked and saw what was happening. One man opened his window and roared, “Get away from that girl!” The monster scuttled away. The young woman slowly, clumsily got to her feet and staggered away. Some who watched from their windows thought it was a fight between lovers. Others thought she might be drunk.

Lights went back out. People went back to bed. No one called the police.

And the monster realized that. He put on a different hat, and proceeded to track his victim again. By now she had made her way around the back of the apartment building, and inside.

He followed her. Found her. Stabbed her some more. One witness opened his apartment door, looked out and saw the monster savaging the girl in the hallway. He went back inside. The monster went back to work.

He plunged his knife into Kitty Genovese’s neck to silence her screams, cut her clothes open, had his orgasm on top of her body and left her to die from more than a dozen knife wounds. In his subsequent confession he said he finished by shoving his knife into her vagina. Her ordeal had lasted for half an hour or more.

At last, someone called the NYPD. Arriving police found her soaked in blood and cradled in the arms of her friend, Sophie Farrar. By then, the monster was long gone. Kitty Genovese died in the ambulance.

When police asked the man who had looked out, watched, and ducked back in behind a closed door why he hadn’t done something then, he replied, “I didn’t want to get involved.”

Those words became a catch phrase that would forever more describe a sick apathy in the culture of urban America.

A Scar In A Nation’s Soul

At first, the death of Catherine Genovese was just another statistic in a violent city. But then Abraham Rosenthal, editor of the New York Times, had lunch with then-Commissioner of NYPD Michael Murphy. They were discussing another matter when Murphy mentioned the murder in Kew Gardens, and how sickened he was by the fact some 38 witnesses had been aware of what was going on, and had done nothing. The autopsy listed Kitty’s death as bilateral pneumothorax: the puncture wounds in her back and chest from a serrated-blade hunting knife had violated the thoracic vacuum, and air pressure had slowly shut down her lungs. Had help been summoned in a timely manner, she would have most likely survived. But reconstruction showed the half an hour or more between the first thrust of the knife into her upper back and the arrival of the ambulance precluded her survival.

Rosenthal assigned Martin Gansberg to do the investigative reporting. What Gansberg uncovered exploded the case and forced it into the face of the nation and the world. It made Americans in general, and New Yorkers in particular, ask What is wrong with us? How could good people let this happen?

About 18 months after the killing, running for Mayor of New York City, John Lindsay gave a speech in Kew Gardens near the murder scene. He said, “What the Kitty Genovese story tells us is something has gone out of the heart and soul of New York. And who’s to blame? It’s people who say, ‘What’s the use?’ It’s people who say, ‘Why get involved?’” Lindsay won the election and became the new mayor of New York.

Change came from this national self-examination. Some believe that the 911 emergency call system, introduced in 1968, was born in the murder of Kitty Genovese. If so, it was about time. Police in Canada had been using a similar concept, their 999 emergency number, since 1956.

Curtis Sliwa was nine years old when it happened. He would say later the Genovese incident was what inspired the dream he later made real, the formation of a group of martial arts-trained citizen community watch members who became famous as the Guardian Angels.

Covering Up

From the beginning, there were people who did not want to believe 38 ordinary Americans could let something like this happen. Apologists followed quickly on the heels of the accusers. By the 20th century, people emerged who were the equivalent of Holocaust deniers: “This couldn’t have really happened,” they said. “It didn’t happen that way.”

One man, some 40 years afterward, emerged to insist his father had called the police and they hadn’t come. But there seems to be no concrete evidence of that.

Some people want to be the amateur detective who solves the case, and proves the authorities to be bungling fools. And there are those who insist anything too painful for them to believe — particularly if they might have to believe it about themselves — must be an “urban myth.” Sure enough, there emerged those who claimed the entire story of a young woman murdered because her neighbors heard her screams and did nothing, had to be an urban myth.
“There weren’t 38 people who actually saw him stab her,” they said, as if they had performed a “gotcha” on the NYPD and the Times.

In 2014, two heavily-researched books about this incident appeared. One is Kitty Genovese: the Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America by Kevin Cook, published by W.W. Norton & Co. The other is Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and its Private Consequences by Catherine Pelonero, from Skyhorse Publishing. One reviewer suggested Cook was an apologist who supports the “it was an urban myth” view, while Pelonero was an apologist for the NYPD and the Times who supports the original narrative. In fact, a careful reading of both books shows neither author was so simplistic in their approach.

The Witnesses

Known as “the gray lady,” the New York Times was one of the world’s most respected newspapers in the mid-20th century. Rosenthal was a highly regarded editor. Gansberg was known among his colleagues as a dogged seeker of truth, who had given up a high-level supervisory position at the Times to go back on the street and pursue his first professional love, investigative reporting.

The urban myth meme comes from people who belatedly realized the oft-quoted number of witnesses, 38, was questionable in some ways. The first major story on the case in the Times, datelined March 27, 1964, was under a headline reading, “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police.” The story, however, spoke of 38 witnesses. The reason for that discrepancy was clear: one of those 38 witnesses, at the very end, finally did make the call to NYPD, leaving 37 who never did.

The headline itself, however, was incorrect. Nowhere near 37 or 38 actually saw the murder per se. According to the current Wikipedia entry on the murder, “Only one witness, Joseph Fink, was aware she was stabbed in the first attack, and only Karl Ross was aware of it in the second attack.” Does this mean there were only two witnesses, not the purported 38?

No. More witnesses than that saw her battered to the ground, they just didn’t see the knife enter her body. Moreover, there are eyewitnesses, and there are earwitnesses. There were far more of the latter. Kitty Genovese’s screams echoed throughout the quiet neighborhood.

“‘Oh, God, he stabbed me! Help me,’ she screamed. Her shouts were loud enough to wake people on both sides of the street.” (Cook, hardcover edition, page 1.) Some witnesses said they thought it was spouses or lovers fighting, as if that made everything just fine.

How many people heard her screaming, and knew or reasonably should have known she was in terrible danger? Charles Skoller was second chair prosecutor in the case against Kitty’s murderer. Writes Cook on page 107 of his book, “By Skoller’s count, no more than five or six neighbors saw and heard enough to know Kitty was in mortal danger.” But Cook also says on the same page, “The prosecutors believed there may have been 40 or 50 neighbors who heard Kitty’s cries that night. But how many were half asleep? How many rolled over and forgot what they heard? How many went to their windows but couldn’t be sure what they were seeing? How many paced their apartments, wondering what to do, and then returned to their windows and saw nothing but an empty street?”

Author Pelonero sees things differently. At Location 2956 in the Kindle edition of her book, she writes, “(Times reporter Martin) Gansberg had not included persons in his witness count who had heard Kitty’s screams but had not seen anything. This would have made the count much higher: the police reports show 62 people who heard the screams.” At Location 2967 she adds, “Gansberg’s story can also be compared against existing DD5’s (NYPD reports) from the police investigation. Police reports obtained via the Freedom of Information Act have redactions. A few pages are entirely or almost entirely blacked out. On others, most of the names of those interviewed are blacked out, but their statements of what they saw and heard remain. These reports show a total of thirty-three persons who saw part of the crime: either Kitty and her attacker on the street together, Kitty struggling away after the first attack, and, in some cases, the foregoing plus (the killer’s) return to hunt for her. All of these 33 had of course heard her screams. Gansberg’s count of thirty-eight witnesses is remarkably close to what appears in the police reports. It is impossible to say with certainty whether the heavily redacted pages of the police reports would reveal five more witnesses, therefore matching Gansberg’s count of 38. It seems unlikely, given Gansberg’s professional standing and background and how close the numbers are, that he would have invented five phantom witnesses.”

In an NPR interview, Kevin Cook said, “Over the course of many months of research, I wound up finding a document that was a collection of the first interviews. Oddly enough, there were 49 witnesses. I was puzzled by that until I added up the entries themselves.” (“NPR Books,” 3/3/14.)

And there we have it. “Urban myth”? No. “Oh God, he stabbed me! Help me!” More than three dozen people heard the screams. One, after dithering interminably, called another neighbor and asked her to call the police … altogether too little, too late.

The Monster

Winston Moseley, married with two children, was also 28. Most of America, focusing on the “bad Samaritans” who failed to help, saw Moseley as a faceless demon. He was a married father of two small children, gainfully employed. He was also a serial burglar, a serial rapist and a serial murderer. Once in custody, he confessed to many rapes in which he used a knife or a screwdriver to intimidate his victims. He also confessed to two prior murders. One was a 15-year-old girl named Barbara Kralik whom he claimed to have stabbed to death. The other was a young mother named Annie May Johnson whom he shot six times with a single-shot .22 rifle, pausing to casually reload between shots. He then raped her corpse and set her genitals on fire.

When expressly asked if he had any remorse for what he had done, Moseley replied that he didn’t. Why did he prey on women? They were “easier” and “didn’t fight back.” Why did he flee from the initial attack when he heard the stern command “Leave that girl alone!” from witness Robert Mozer? Because he didn’t want to be hurt or captured. Why did he return and attack Kitty Genovese again? Because he saw the lights that came on go back out, and after no cops arrived, he realized no one had called them.

Moseley was tried, convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Kitty Genovese. The trial judge, famous for his opposition to the death penalty, refused to allow a psychiatrist to testify for the defense during the penalty phase. Many legal observers felt this was a “poison pill” dispensed deliberately by the judge, who knew that higher courts would overturn the death sentence for this reason. That is exactly what happened, and Walter Moseley at this writing is, at 79, the oldest inmate of Attica State Penitentiary, having been turned down for parole some 13 times.

In 1968, Moseley escaped from prison, having shoved a meat can up his rectum so he’d be taken to the hospital. The guard he overpowered there fired one shot as Moseley ran away. It had no effect; Cook considers it a warning shot, and Pelonero says simply, “He missed.” Stealing cars and a gun, Moseley embarked on a spree of home invasion, kidnapping and multiple rapes. Finally confronted by a brave FBI agent named Neil Welch, he meekly surrendered his stolen gun and was returned to confinement.

A Better Outcome

Countless psychological and sociological studies were born in the Genovese incident. Most concluded there was a herd mentality at work, and people who would normally intervene in such an atrocity if they were the only possible rescuer would sit back and “let George do it” if there were other people around upon whom they could shirk off the responsibility.

Most of the media blatantly ignored another huge factor: Unarmed people are largely helpless to stop violent armed criminals, and they know it.

Catherine Pelonero found a very similar case on the same street in Kew Gardens occurring only five weeks before the Genovese murder, reported belatedly in the 3/29/64 edition of the New York Journal-American. Beginning at Location 3109 in the Kindle edition of Pelonero’s book, that case involved a 17-year-old woman terrorized at knife-point inside an apartment building by a man who molested her until an elevator operator saw her plight. He pounded on the door of an attorney’s apartment for help, and then went to her aid barehanded. Quotes Pelonero, “The elevator operator began battling with the assailant out on the street in the snow … The lawyer came out with his shotgun but the assailant fled.”

In that incident, the young woman survived with relatively minor knife injuries.
Someone did get involved.

And then an armed citizen with a shotgun got involved.

And then it was over, and the victim was saved.

Amid all the countless words and the many studies of urban angst and social anomie the Kitty Genovese murder triggered, there is a lesson there. A lesson which has been sadly lost, for far too long.

By Massad Ayoob

Read More Ayoob Files Articles


Order Your Printed Copy Of The American Handgunner Nov/Dec 2014 Issue Today!

Download A PDF Of The American Handgunner Nov/Dec 2014 Issue Now!

Unintended Shot: The Santibanes Incident


A well-trained, experienced and gun-savvy cop experiences an unintended discharge — resulting in a severe injury and massive lawsuit.


Demanding circumstances sometimes collide with our standard rules of gun safety … “accidental” vs. “negligent” isn’t as clear-cut as you’d think. Light trigger pulls are for target guns, not duty and defense weapons.

You’re a veteran police sergeant and firearms instructor, chasing two suspects in a stolen pickup truck. You see them squiggling around in their front seat, as if reaching for weapons — and suddenly, the driver slams on the brakes.

You’re on high-level alert now. Your Ford CVPI (Crown Victoria Police Interceptor) has long since become an extension of yourself. You manage to avoid rear-ending the stolen vehicle, and pull up alongside, where the side of your vehicle may at least block the driver from making an escape on foot. You know you have to get your vehicle into Park before exiting, and you have to get out of your patrol car swiftly. You also know the two felony suspects may already have armed themselves with deadly weapons.

And … you have to deal with all these things simultaneously.

Your brain does what survival instinct has wired it to do. You go into automatic pilot, trying to do everything needing to be done. Your eyes are on the threat — the two dangerous felony suspects are parallel to you on your immediate right. Your world seems to go into slow motion and like a majority of people in such a situation, your brain is gathering and processing information much faster than usual and it seems time has slowed to a crawl.
And, in achingly slow motion, you suddenly see the glass of the passenger side window you’re looking through frost over in a haze of cracks, and then fall away in a crystalline shower. You can hear the glass break, strangely enough, but you never hear the gunshot inside the closed automobile, and you realize you have reflexively drawn your Glock .45 from its Level I thumbbreak holster … and it discharged through the window.

You’re out of the patrol car now, rounding the front. Your own dashcam will show you holding your service pistol properly, your trigger finger “in register” extended along the frame, completely clear of the triggerguard area. The driver surrenders at gunpoint, and you take him into custody. In the right front seat, bleeding from his head, the other suspect has slumped to his left, unconscious.

The driver cries, “Why did you shoot my friend?”

And you hear yourself answer, “It was an accident.”

The Whole Picture

You’re no Barney Fife. You’re Sgt. Jeff Williams, a cop of 17 years — now almost 13 years in your current job. You serve the city of Tomball, Texas, a Houston suburb with some 12,000 residents and a day population of more than 70,000, due to the strong presence of medical and oil industries. You are a firearms and tactics instructor for the 45 sworn officers of your department, a certified Glock armorer and a highly-trained gun expert by any standard.
The wounded man, Eddie Santibanes, was found next to a sheath knife he had taken from the glove compartment during the moments you observed him furtively moving. He had been struck in the left side of the head by a 230-gr.

Winchester SXT .45 ACP JHP bullet. He would survive, but with profound physical disabilities due to brain damage: a colostomy bag for life, and cognitive impairment similar to a severe stroke victim. Described by cops who knew him as a “wannabe gang member,” he’d later find ways to commit misdemeanors despite his handicap. He would also become the plaintiff in a massive lawsuit against the involved department, Santibanes v. Tomball, Texas.

How did it all occur? Judge Kenneth Holt, who reviewed the evidence when considering whether to dismiss the suit on a motion for summary judgment, determined the facts to be as follows:

Sergeant Williams is a police officer employed by the City of Tomball (“the City”). In the late afternoon hours of March 31, 2006, while on duty in an area near Highway 249, he was alerted via police dispatch to be on the lookout for a green, short-wheel base, GMC-model truck with dark-tinted windows, which had recently been reported as stolen. The dispatcher provided the location and time of the theft, as well as the truck’s license plate number.

Responding, Sergeant Williams positioned his marked patrol vehicle along Highway 249 to observe passing vehicles.
After several minutes, he spotted a vehicle traveling southbound matching the description of the stolen truck. Sergeant Williams proceeded onto the thoroughfare, and positioned himself some distance behind the truck. He confirmed the truck’s license plate number matched the stolen truck. He didn’t activate his emergency overhead lights at this time. Instead, he proceeded to follow as the truck turned onto Boudreaux Drive.

Sergeant Williams alleges by this time, he could observe two occupants in the truck. He also asserts the occupants engaged in furtive movements, suggesting to him they were indeed aware of his presence. Once on Boudreaux Drive, he activated his patrol vehicle’s dashboard video camera.

As Sergeant Williams continued to follow, the truck turned left onto Berry Hill Drive. At this point, Sergeant Williams activated his overhead lights. The truck slowed in response and proceeded toward the right shoulder of the roadway. As the truck came to a complete stop, Sergeant Williams hurriedly maneuvered his patrol vehicle to a position near parallel to the driver’s side of the truck. In the course of making this move — and before his own patrol vehicle had come to a complete stop — Sergeant Williams had unholstered his firearm and pointed it in the direction of the truck’s occupants.

Immediately after commanding one or both of the occupants to “get your hands up,” a single round discharged from his Glock, shattering the patrol vehicle’s passenger side window, and striking the plaintiff, who was a passenger in the truck. Police backup units hadn’t yet arrived, as approximately 10 seconds elapsed from the time the vehicles turned onto Berry Hill Drive and the time of the shooting. Sergeant Williams immediately reported the shooting and requested EMT’s and Paramedics. He then proceeded to take the driver into custody. As a result of the discharge from Sergeant Williams’ weapon, the plaintiff sustained a non-fatal gun shot injury to his head.


Reconstruction indicated, without realizing it, Sgt. Williams had been reaching over his steering wheel with his left hand to put the Crown Vic in Park, something he’d never done before. Apparently his subconscious — knowing it was imperative to bring the vehicle to a solid halt — had decided this at the same time he was reflexively drawing his service pistol against the great danger which now existed on his immediate right.

Long ago, the noted physiologist Dr. Roger Enoka determined unintended discharges like this tended to involve spasmodic movements associated with loss of balance, startle response or interlimb response. The latter is a sympathetic grip: when one hand closes forcefully on something (as the sergeant’s left hand did with the unaccustomed movement of the gearshift lever), the other hand sympathetically closes, as the fingers of his dominant right hand including the trigger finger did on his Glock 21.

Cops are taught not to do two things at once with a gun in their hand for just this reason. After the NYPD experienced several accidental discharges, some even with double-action revolvers, when a patrol car came to a sudden halt while a gun was drawn inside, they emphasized officers shouldn’t draw until they were out of the vehicle. Unfortunately, the actions of the suspects in this case forced Sergeant Williams into what is called an exigent circumstance, an immediate and extreme life-threatening emergency.

What the Common Law calls the doctrine of competing harms — also known as the doctrine of necessity or the doctrine of two evils — allows a cop (or, a law-abiding citizen for that matter) to break a rule if, within the totality of the circumstances, it’s clear following the rule would cause more injury to innocent people than breaking it.
The law enforcement entities and the DA’s Office who investigated this shooting understood this, clearing Sergeant Williams of any wrongdoing in the shooting of Eddie Santibanes. However, given the civil lawsuit standard of proof of preponderance of evidence is much less than the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal case prosecution, this exoneration was no bar to the lawsuit. What happened next, in the civil court arena, is a lesson for us all, police or “civilian.”

The defense, the lawyers for Williams and Tomball PD, requested a motion for summary judgment to excuse them from liability and kill the case. Judge Holt, who was quoted above, determined while there were many good reasons to dismiss, he couldn’t do so for two reasons. One was some of the Sergeant’s testimony was at odds with the facts. The other element, which turned out to be huge, was Sgt. Williams had retrofitted his privately-owned, department-approved Gen3 Glock 21 pistol with a 31/2-pound connector.

Conflicting Statements

Immediately after the shooting, Williams told investigating officers he thought his left foot was on the ground outside the car, and his left hand on the steering wheel, when the single shot was fired. It turned out his hand had actually been on the gearshift lever, and his foot hit the pavement a moment later. Police psychologists and veteran homicide investigators know human memory sometimes recalls things out of sequence after particularly high-stress events, but some plaintiffs’ lawyers either don’t know or ignore it.

One of the first questions investigators asked Williams was if he had “modified” his Glock 21. He answered he hadn’t. It turns out he retrofitted the gun with a steel recoil spring guide, an oversize slide stop lever … and the 31/2-pound connector from another Glock he owned, a Tactical/Practical model.

Later, in deposition (pre-trial testimony under oath) Williams explained the misunderstanding. To him, “modifying the gun” meant cutting springs, or something which would radically alter the gun’s function from what its designers intended. The oversize slide stop lever is standard on many Glock pistols, and is ordered on every one of the 10,000 or so Glocks issued by the FBI. The metal spring guide rod was simply a more expensive aftermarket part intended to assure reliability and longevity, and could in no way impair function or cause an unintended discharge. Plaintiff’s counsel understood all those things, and wisely did not harp on them.

The lighter trigger pull, however, was another story. What makes the gun easier to shoot intentionally makes it easier to shoot unintentionally, and it would be foolish to think the other side in a legal case wouldn’t jump on this.
Glock came out with the 31/2-pound connector in the late 1980’s with their first “target pistol,” the 17L. It has since been standard (for shipment to gun shops, not police departments), on their 5.3″ barrel Tactical/Practical models, the G34 and G35. Geared for tactical matches and practical shooting matches, the 9mm G34 became the dominant pistol at the IDPA Nationals and the .40 caliber G35 became hugely popular in USPSA competition.

However, what many people missed, including Sgt. Williams, was these guns were listed in the Glock catalog and website under “sport” — not “duty” or “self-defense.” It has always been Glock’s policy when police departments order these guns, they’ll be shipped with the standard 51/2-pound connector.

In reviewing Sgt. Williams’ deposition by an aggressive plaintiff’s lawyer, I couldn’t help but notice the plaintiff’s attorney always called it “31/2 pounds,” the original designation, which it did in fact measure on earlier models when measurement was taken from the toe, or bottom, of the pivoting trigger. Sgt. Williams, correctly I think, always called it “41/2 pounds,” which is what it measures from the center of the trigger, where the finger actually lies. It’s a leverage thing: both are technically correct. However, while Glock later changed the designation from 31/2 to 41/2, it’s the exact same part, and still forbidden by Glock for duty/self-defense pistols.

Williams doesn’t recall being given this warning in a Glock armorer’s class. I have no reason to doubt him. While most Glock armorers do remember it, some I’ve talked to don’t. It may be their particular instructor/trainer simply left it out, or it may be what adult education teachers tell us: We only remember a small percentage of what we hear in a class, as opposed to what we feel and experience. The 51/2-pound minimum pull weight for duty/defense Glocks remains nonetheless in company policy, and the policy carries incredibly powerful weight in court when opposing counsel is trying to show that you are negligent.

The Camel’s Back

A review of Judge Holt’s ruling, which can be found online at, makes it clear the “hair trigger” issue raised by plaintiff’s counsel was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and led to the ruling that instead of being dismissed, this case would have to go to trial. Some $200,000 in legal fees had already been accrued by the defense, according to Tomball Police Chief Rob Hauck, and defense lawyers estimated it would run another $200K before trial began.

Having spent more than 20 years on LAPD, much of it in charge of the elite Metro Unit and SWAT team and seeing where civil lawsuits arising out of shootings could go, Hauck signed off on a $250,000 settlement to end the matter. He undoubtedly saved his community a great deal of money in doing so.

At the end of the day, one might say switching a 31/2-pound Glock connector out of a Tactical/Practical and into a G21 cost nothing. But, in this case, it cost almost half a million dollars, and could have cost a great deal more.


The law doesn’t recognize any such thing as a “justifiable accident.” An unintended discharge is, at most, “excusable,” meaning it shouldn’t have happened, but it could have happened to any reasonable, prudent person in the same situation, knowing what he or she knew. This was, in essence, the finding of the criminal justice system after Jeff Williams unintentionally shot Eddie Santibanes. The felonious actions of Santibanes and his accomplice at the wheel were the true proximate cause of the injury Santibanes suffered.

Williams is proof you can come back from a disaster like this. Today, he is the lead firearms instructor and rangemaster for his department. He could have lied and said he fired intentionally based on the furtive movements inside the stolen car, but he didn’t, and his honesty earned him much. A good cop remains on the street, training what are now 50 other good cops — all of whom carry Glocks.

Sgt. Jeff Williams and Chief Rob Hauck will be the first to tell you: they all have standard factory-installed 51/2-pound triggers.

The philosopher George Santayana said, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The history on point here is Santibanes v. Tomball, Texas.
By Massad Ayoob

Read More The Ayoob Files Articles


Order Your Printed Copy Of American Handgunner Sept/Oct 2014 Issue Today

Download A PDF Of The American Handgunner Sept/Oct 2014 Issue Now!

Lessons of the Northfield, Minn., Bank Raid


You, a citizen, hear gunfire and learn a bank is being robbed and innocent people are in danger. Police haven’t yet arrived on-scene … and you have a gun at hand.


A danger ignored is a danger unleashed. Rifles are better than handguns for gunfights. Defensive firearms must be easily accessible and ready to go. And, yes, determined armed citizens absolutely can beat murderous criminals at their own game.

The “Great Northfield, Minn., Bank Robbery” of 1876 ranks among the most spectacular of armed citizens’ triumphs against violent criminals in the history of the US. On Thursday, September 7 of that year, eight men rode into Northfield, wearing calf-length duster coats to conceal the heavy handguns in their belt holsters — while mounted on fine thoroughbreds. By contrast, most Northfield residents used horse-drawn wagons and buggies for transportation, and dusters weren’t common local garb. Long after, one researcher would comment it was rather like a band of Hell’s Angels roaring into a quiet town on choppers, wearing their colors and expecting to go unnoticed.

It turned out they were noticed by townsfolk, but largely ignored. They had filtered in days before. As early as the previous Saturday, a townsman had recognized one of them as the notorious bank robber and killer, Jesse James. He tried to warn others. No one, apparently, took him seriously.

Shortly after 2:00 p.m., the robbery went down. Three men entered the First National Bank. Historians may debate this, but the general consensus is the three men were: Jesse’s brother Frank James, his cousin Bob Younger and Charlie Pitts. Cole Younger and Clell Miller followed this initial entry team, according to Carl Breihan, the historian and former police commissioner who wrote The Escapades of Frank and Jesse James. Other researchers believe they stood guard outside the bank’s front door. Waiting farther away as “outriders” — perimeter guards of the primary robbery team ­— were Bill Chadwell, Jim Younger and possibly Jesse James, though some believe he was with the gang’s “entry team.”
What happened next would take place on two battlefronts — inside the bank and on the streets outside it.

Inside The Bank

As the entry team burst into the bank, nickel-plated revolvers drawn, some of the employees initially thought it was a joke. The bandit later identified as Frank James clarified the situation for them by yelling, “Throw up your hands, for we intend to rob this bank, and if you holler we will blow your God-damned brains out!”

The employees stalled for time. When James insisted the cashier identify himself, acting cashier Joseph Heywood blurted, “He’s not in.” The robbers took time to give the bank employees a cursory pat down for weapons, and only found a jackknife in the pocket of assistant bookkeeper Frank Wilcox, which they ignored.

Frank James held his revolver inches from Heywood’s face and demanded he give them access to the money, but Heywood replied coolly there was a time lock on the safe he couldn’t open. This was a bluff: The safe door was unlocked and only a handle-turn away from being opened. It was at about this point the inside robbery team heard a commotion on the street outside, and then gunfire.

This predictably aggravated the mood of the criminals inside. Charlie Pitts drew a knife, put it to Heywood’s neck, and threatened to slash his throat if he didn’t get them the cash immediately. The cashier managed to break away from him and run toward the door, shouting “Murder! Murder! Murder!” Frank James furiously pistol-whipped Heywood to the floor.

Another bank employee thought about taking action. In his excellent book on the Northfield incident, Shot All to Hell, Mark Lee Gardner writes, “During the commotion with Heywood, (bank teller Alonzo) Bunker slowly edged over toward a shelf below the teller’s window — his eyes on a loaded .32-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver he could see there. But Younger saw the teller’s movement and also spotted the revolver. The outlaw snatched the pistol from the shelf. ‘You needn’t try to get hold of that,’ Younger said as he slipped the revolver into a pocket. ‘You couldn’t do anything with that little derringer anyway.’”

James fired a shot near Heywood, presumably to intimidate him. Bunker took advantage of the distraction to run to the back door. Charlie Pitts chased him and managed to put a bullet through his shoulder, but the teller escaped.

Roughly at this point, Cole Younger rode his horse up to the front door of the bank and screamed to his henchmen inside, “For God’s sake, come out! They are shooting us all to pieces.” Bob Younger and Charlie Pitts ran outside. Enraged, Frank James fired a shot at Heywood, missed, then walked up to him and shot him in the head point-blank — killing Heywood instantly — before he followed the others out.

In The Street

The robbery had blown up in the James-Younger gang’s face almost immediately. Two townsmen, J.S. Allen and Henry Wheeler, were among the first witnesses to spot what was going on. Gang member Clell Miller grabbed Allen and drew his gun, shoving it in the man’s face and snarling, “You son of a bitch, don’t you holler!” But Allen was able to pull away and run. As he did so, Wheeler shouted, “Robbery! They are robbing the bank!” The frustrated Miller fired at him, but missed. Wheeler sprinted around a corner and out of the line of fire as he raised a cry that would be remembered word-for-word forever after …“Get your guns, boys! They’re robbing the bank!”

The boys did exactly that.

Allen owned a hardware store nearby, and began handing out guns and ammo to all who were willing to fight. The first to get into the action was a farmer named Elias Stacy, grabbing a shotgun from Allen. Seeing Clell Miller mount his thoroughbred, Stacy cut loose with the shotgun. Witnesses said Miller appeared to be blown off his horse by the blast.

However, he was back on his feet momentarily: In the haste of the moment, the ammunition shoved into the shotgun had been birdshot instead of buck or ball. The tiny pellets hit Miller in the face, painfully disorienting him, but none penetrated through the skull or reached the eye sockets.
Up the street was another hardware store, owned by one Ansel Manning. He snatched a Remington rolling block single-shot rifle in one hand and a fistful of cartridges, stuffing one into the chamber on the run. Emerging onto the street, he and two of the robbers saw each other simultaneously. The gang members ducked down behind their horses.
Thinking quickly, Manning deprived one outlaw of cover by simply shooting the horse with a .45-70 bullet. As the animal collapsed, Manning took cover to reload, but found his rifle had jammed.

At this point, author Gardner recounts, “(Pharmacist George) Bates, positioned in the front door of a clothing store, had secured a shotgun and aimed it at the bandits. But try as he might, he could not get the gun to go off. Disgusted, he tossed the shotgun away and grabbed a fine revolver — only to discover it was unloaded. Still, whenever a rider came close, he pointed the empty revolver at him from the doorway, shouting ‘Now I’ve got you.’ Each time, the robber spun his horse and fired at the druggist, who ducked inside amid showers of glass and wood splinters.”

The Fight Continues

Henry Wheeler, who had shouted the call to arms, finally got one himself at a nearby hotel, the Dampier House. It was a Civil War-vintage Smith percussion carbine and the clerk only had four paper cartridges and caps for it. Quickly loading the rifle and running upstairs to a higher vantage point, he fired from a window at Jim Younger but missed both him and his horse. By the time he reloaded, his best target was Clell Miller, who was also mounted.

Bracing the fore-end on a windowsill, Wheeler squeezed off his second shot and Miller toppled off his horse. The gunman attempted to rise, but then collapsed. The .50 caliber slug from the old cap n’ ball had torn through his shoulder and transected the subclavian artery. Miller, out of the fight, quickly hemorrhaged to death.

Cole Younger dismounted, and seeing his friend was dying, stripped him of his guns. At this moment, he was hit in the hip: Ansel Manning had gotten his .45-70 back up and running. Gardner writes, “Cole was lucky the shot had not done more damage than it did, as Manning’s bullet first struck one of the stairway’s balusters, taking some of the energy off the lead bullet, as well as deflecting its path.” It was at this point Cole Younger began yelling to his cohorts inside the bank to come out and abandon the mission.
Manning reloaded the Remington again, and his next target of opportunity came in the form of Bill Chadwell. Firing offhand — from 80 yards, according to historian Breihan — he center-punched Chadwell, who moments later slumped off his horse and died in the dusty street. Another of the gang ran up to him and stripped his corpse of his revolvers, too. (“If you die, we get to split up your gear” may not be as new a meme as some think.)

Cole Younger — clearly enraged at the way things were going — took aim at a man in the street and fired. Nicolaus Gustavson, hit in the head, collapsed instantly. He would die some time later of cerebral edema induced by the wound. A new immigrant from Scandinavia, he most likely couldn’t speak English and therefore didn’t understand the warnings being shouted up and down the street.

By now, the “inside team” was emerging from the bank. Bob Younger, finding his horse dead, aimed at Manning. Gardner relates, “As Bob swung his revolver up to shoot Manning, the hardware dealer leveled his rifle at (the) outlaw, who promptly darted behind a box beneath the stairs. Bob kept his revolver up, its hammer at full cock, waiting for a chance to fire. For a few seconds, the two weaved back and forth in a deadly game of peek-a-boo, until Cole yelled at Bob to shoot through the stairs. Manning retreated behind the stone corner as Bob’s bullets popped jagged wooden splinters off the staircase.”

Meanwhile, Wheeler had reloaded his Civil War relic, and came to Manning’s rescue with a shot shattering Bob Younger’s right elbow. Younger gamely grabbed his revolver with his left hand and kept shooting, but to no avail.

By now, most of the gang was in the saddle. Bob Younger, one arm dangling and his horse dead, cried out “My God, boys, you’re not going to leave — I’m shot!” His brother Cole grabbed Bob by his good arm and swung him up behind him onto his own horse … and the gang galloped out of town.

The Pursuit

According to most researchers, what followed next was the biggest manhunt in American history at the time. Many in the ragtag posse were citizens who had taken up arms to pursue the thieving murderers. Though the fantasy would persist the James’s and the Younger’s were Robin Hoods who only stole from the rich — bank deposits weren’t insured in those days and the citizens knew the money the gang tried to steal was their own lifesavings.

The pursuit was far too involved to relate here, and I’d strongly encourage readers to peruse All Shot To Hell by Mark Lee Gardner, a book I’ve mentioned already. This work appears to encompass the most detailed research into this incident ever compiled.

The hunt lasted a week; most of the unseasonable, constant and chilling rain made it difficult for the fugitives with no shelter and little food. The James Brothers struck off on their own, abandoning their three cousins, the Youngers — two of whom were seriously wounded — and Charlie Pitt.

The posse caught up with Pitt and the Youngers on September 14 near the little village of Madelia, Minn., at the Watonwan River. They refused an order to surrender, and chose to shoot it out. If Cole Younger thought they were being shot to pieces in Northfield, he “hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Watonwan County Sheriff James Glispin faced off with Charlie Pitts, five yards apart in a stand of willows. They fired simultaneously. Pitts, with a revolver, missed. The sheriff, with a single-shot rifle, didn’t. His bullet centered Pitts high in the sternum, dropping him instantly and fatally.

As the firefight continued, the posse outgunned the outlaws. Jim Younger was the first of the brothers to drop, rendered unconscious by a bullet shattering his jaw, lodging in his palate. Brawny Cole Younger went down next; hit multiple times including a bullet in the head, barely missing the brain. Bob Younger, his gun empty and wounded again, finally declared surrender. All had been shot multiple times. It was over at last.


The Younger brothers survived to go to prison. Bob died there of TB in 1889. Jim and Cole were paroled in 1901, Jim committing suicide a year later. Cole Younger made a living writing about his life and doing a Wild West show with Frank James. Cole died from natural causes in 1916. The James brothers escaped. Jesse formed a new gang and member Robert Ford later murdered him in 1882. Frank James surrendered to the Governor of Missouri with a sweetheart deal to keep him from facing trial for the Northfield raid. Tried and acquitted for two lesser crimes, he lived as a free man for decades, dying of natural causes in 1915 at age 72.

Chadwell and Pitts had been known to go by other aliases, creating confusion as to the names of the non-related gang members. Today’s historians generally agree it was Chadwell who died in Northfield, and Pitts, in Madelia. Henry Wheeler, one of the courageous armed citizens, was a medical student and reportedly ended up with at least one of the dead criminals’ bodies for study purposes.
The gang left the bank with only $26.70.


When you hear gun prohibitionists claim armed citizens will have no chance against criminals, consider this: The armed citizens of Northfield blasted half of the 8-man gang, killing two and wounding two. None of those armed citizens were so much as wounded. The two innocents slain, and the bank man who was wounded, were unarmed and helpless to fight back against the murderers. Beyond those injuries were only cuts and minor graze wounds on the good guys’ side.

According to some accounts, the citizens inflicted even more damage. In Jesse James, Legendary Outlaw, Roger Bruns writes on September 17, 1876, the still-fleeing James brothers forced Dr. Sidney Moshier to “treat Frank James’ wounds. His left leg had been badly shot up at Northfield.” Another account has Jesse slightly wounded also, meaning the armed citizens may have shot as many as six of the eight bandits.

Danger ignored can quickly become danger unleashed. There had been ample warning, and ample time to call in authorities. It didn’t happen in Northfield. When a resident mentioned the ominous strangers to former Police Chief Elias Hobbs, Hobbs blew him off as being “too suspicious.” Hobbs, unarmed, had wound up impotently screaming at people to throw rocks at the robbers as the gun battle went down in the street.

Decrepit, obsolete weapons one must run to retrieve and load will terribly slow down response to criminals who strike heavily armed, with their guns loaded and in hand. Birdshot is not the munition of choice for dealing with homicidal criminals. You want a gun sighted-in for you. Manning wisely chose the one gun in his inventory he had personally fired, and knew where it hit: His Remington allowed him to shoot Chadwell out of his saddle at 80 yards.

It appears none of the good people were carrying their own concealed handguns that day. If they had been, the odds might have quickly evened on the street outside the bank when Clell Miller started the shooting there.

Inside the bank, the murderous robbers ruled. The one staged gun teller Bunker was hoping to reach wasn’t where he could easily access it before he was “under the gun” himself. Had the employees been trained and equipped to quickly draw and open fire when the trio initially burst in, the outcome inside the bank might have been vastly different.
On the hardware side, note the armed citizens with long guns prevailed against murderers with handguns. In an abstract from a paper presented at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Conference in 2008, James A. Bailey, Ph.D., stated: “The attempted Northfield bank robbery led to the demise of the infamous James-Younger Gang. The bank robbers armed with revolvers were no match for the citizens armed with rifles and a shotgun.”

A tip of the Handgunner cap to Mark Lee Gardner, whose recent book Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West’s Greatest Escape is the “authoritative text” on this incident.
By Massad Ayoob

Read More Ayoob File Articles


Order Your Printed Copy Of American Handgunner July/August 2014 Issue Today!

Download A PDF Of The American Handgunner July/August 2014 Issue Now!

The Gun Fights Of Bass Reeves


A black lawman fights prejudice and bad guys for more than three decades, filling several graves along the way while leaving a distinguished legacy.


Marksmanship enhances survival ­and the advantages of the “patrol rifle” aren’t a new discovery. There’s more to the survival mindset than a willingness to pull the trigger.

Last October I was in Fort Smith, Ark., once the bailiwick of “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker’s court. History painted Parker as a cross between Torquemada and Roy Bean, but the man presided over a vast and lawless area spanning several Indian nations and what is now Oklahoma. Trying more than 13,000 cases gave him extraordinary experience, and he was nominated by President Grant as chief justice of the Supreme Court in the Utah Territory. One of Parker’s deputies was Bass Reeves, the first black man sworn in to the post.

While in Fort Smith, I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Dunn, a retired lawyer who is now heading up a project to build a museum there dedicated to the U.S. Marshal’s Service. He mentioned the museum owns a Colt single action, which once belonged to Reeves. Afterward, I realized I was long overdue to write about the long-dead lawman.

Bass Reeves was born a slave in Texas somewhere between 1824 and 1840 — birth records were not kept for people who were viewed as property in those sad days. His descendants peg his birth year at about 1839. Reeves grew up to be a favorite of his master, a man named Stewart, serving as his valet, bodyguard and companion from age 13.

The day came when he suddenly fled — some say it was because he had struck his master, which in those days could have cost him his life. The escape path to freedom led him to Indian Country and then to the Civil War. Ultimately, he ended up with the United States Marshals, which he joined in 1875. Reeves was one of the few black men in America wearing a badge at the time. In the following decades, he would make thousands of arrests … and kill 14 men in the line of duty.

The First Kill

The following account of Reeves’ first justifiable homicide in the line of duty comes from the very detailed biography written by his great-nephew, Judge Paul Brady. Reeves was in the process of arresting a bootlegger and his conspicuously armed bodyguard who had been selling whiskey from a horse-drawn wagon.

Brady writes, “The peddler immediately raised his hands, but the gunman began cursing. ‘A Black badge don’t mean a damned thing to me!’ He swung the rifle towards Bass; in mid-swing, Bass fired two bullets into his chest. He was dead before he fell from the driver’s seat. Bass never forgot that first killing.”

This incident apparently inspired Brady to title his biography The Black Badge. It wouldn’t be the only time a white man’s refusal to accept the authority of a black man lead to trouble in Reeves’ career. Years later, he was one of several deputy marshals transporting a gaggle of Federal prisoners — some of them white — to a penitentiary.

One particular white man observing this loudly took exception to a black man with a gun issuing orders to white folks. A local police officer took up the complainer’s side. Guns were drawn. Only the timely intervention of a senior deputy marshal prevented what might be called today a “blue-on-blue” shooting.

The Guns of Bass Reeves

The Colt Single Action Army revolver was Reeves’ preferred sidearm. In his book Black, Red and Deadly, historian Art Burton points out, “Reeves was an expert with the old cap and ball guns, but favored the Colt .45 and .38-40 pistols with his Winchester rifle chambered for the same cartridge. Reeves was also known to sometimes carry a double-barreled shotgun in his arsenal. He wore two pistols, handle butts forward for a quick draw.”

The SAA in the Marshals’ Museum, Mr. Dunn advised me, is a .32-20. It passed from Reeves to his daughter Alice, then to his favorite nephew and finally to Judge Brady who donated it to the museum. Colt historians track it back to 1890’s production, shipped to a hardware store in St. Louis. Dunn believes there are two reasons why Reeves kept it as a souvenir from one of the countless felons he arrested.

First, the big deputy marshal normally carried .38-40, .44-40 or .45 Colt sixguns, and the .32-20 would have been light for his tastes. But, second, the revolver in question has six notches on the handle … and Dunn’s research has determined Bass Reeves never “notched” any of his own firearms.

Another gun Colt shipped to a St. Louis hardware store, this one in 1902, also has an origin tracking to Bass Reeves. Chambered for .45 Colt and wearing a 4¾” barrel, this well-worn Single Action Army bears serial number 233872 and was sold by Reeves’ daughter to collector Tom Odom of Alabama in the 1960’s.

An Adept Marksman

Reeves had a reputation of being one of the best marksmen on the frontier, and his path to becoming so was an unusual one. He was taught to shoot by the same master, Stewart, who didn’t allow him to read.

Judge Brady observed, “Demonstrating the contradictions of the times and his indulgence, Stewart did, however, allow his trusted slave the use of his guns for hunting. To Stewart, knowledge was a far more powerful and dangerous thing than a firearm. Stewart’s decision regarding reading had a profound effect on Bass’ life. He never learned to read or write, but the use of his master’s guns would prove to be closely tied to his destiny… It was soon apparent the young slave had a good eye and quick hands.

“This talent gave Bass a sense of self-confidence. He became an excellent marksman, easily surpassing his master who was himself a poor shot. Stewart was not concerned or intimidated with Bass’ prowess with a gun. On the contrary, the amused master took pride in Bass’ growing reputation as a marksman, and entered him in turkey shoots and other trials by firearms.”

Bass Reeves’ biographers are unanimous in stating he quickly became so unbeatable in these matches he was banned from competing. Skill in such events was something he had in common with a contemporary he probably never met, Wyatt Earp, and such famous lawman/gunfighters of later periods as Jelly Bryce, Col. Charles Askins and multiple members of the NYPD Stakeout Squad.

Having mastered the long gun in his teens, he did not reach the same level with handguns until he carried one for a living, tutored by a marshal named Arch Landon. According to Brady, “Though Bass was a crack shot with a rifle and shotgun, he was limited with a handgun. Landon offered to help his new friend hone his handgun skills. Bass readily accepted. Landon taught Bass the key to handling a gun was to quickly get it into action and fire accurately.

“True to form, Bass spent almost every day practicing. His diligence again paid off. His prowess with a handgun soon rivaled his ability with the long guns. D.C. Gideon later noted, ‘Bass handled a revolver with the ease and grace acquired only after years of practice.’”
This practice would save Reeves’ life on more than one occasion during his long career. Some of his shootings would sound like scriptwriter fiction from a cowboy movie — if they weren’t firmly lodged as historical fact.

The Dozier Shooting

According to his daughter Alice Reeves Spahn, Bass Reeves felt the high point of his career came in bringing to justice one Bob Dozier. Dozier was a skillful professional robber — and a serial killer and torturer. Reeves caught up with him in 1891, while leading his posse down a steep, thickly wooded ravine during a raging thunderstorm. Historian Art Burton tells the story in his biography of Reeves, Black Gun, Silver Star.

Burton writes, “The instant they reached the bottom of the ravine, the blast of a gunshot greeted them, and a slug whined past Bass’ head. Bass and his posse left their horses in a hurry for the cover of the trees, expecting more shots from the hidden ambushers. After a few minutes, Bass saw the dim shadow of a man slipping from tree to tree. He waited until the shadow was caught between two trees and fired two quick shots. The shadow dropped and fell.

“This eliminated one of the men but his two shots had given away his position to a second man who immediately opened fire. Bass jerked upright, took a reeling step away from the protective shield of the trees, and fell full length to the ground facing his attacker. He waited with his gun cocked and ready in his hand.

“For several minutes the ravine was relatively quiet, only the rain and the crack of lightning could be heard. Bass lay waiting in the mud and rain, fully exposed. Finally, a man stepped from behind a tree laughing aloud, convinced Bass was dead and his posse had run away. Bass smiled to himself as the lighting lit up the man’s face. The long trail was over. He was facing Bob Dozier.

“Bass waited until Dozier was only a few yards away before he raised up and ordered him to stop and drop his gun. Dozier stopped laughing, his eyes wide with surprise. He hesitated for a moment, then dropped into a crouch and attempted to shoot once again as Bass lay stretched out ready and waiting in the mud before him. Before he could level his gun, Bass shot first, hitting him in the neck and killing him instantly.”

The Brunter Brothers

Bass Reeves was a huge man for his time, described as standing 6′ to 6’2″ tall, and weighing about 200 pounds. He was as famous in his jurisdiction for his physical strength as for his marksmanship. On a day in 1884, he had reason to be grateful for both attributes. The big deputy marshal was surprised at gunpoint by three brothers named Brunter. He calmly told them he had warrants for their arrest. They burst out laughing … at which time he made his move.

Grabbing the barrel of the nearest man’s gun in a vise-like grip and holding the muzzle away from himself, Reeves drew one of his Colts with his other hand and opened fire, quickly dropping the other two brothers. By now, the first man had desperately launched three harmless shots from the diverted barrel of his revolver.

Reeves smashed his Colt .45 into the man’s head, ending the fight. By all accounts, Reeves’ bullets proved fatal to the two men he shot that day. Historians differ as to the fate of the third brother. In Judge Brady’s account of the incident, it appears the two who were shot died immediately, but the third is not said to have died. Describing the same incident, however, Burton writes, “Reeves proceeded to hit this outlaw in the head with his pistol and killed him instantly.”

Reeves’ ability to fight with his hands and his gun would save him another time, against a man with which he had two gunfights.

The Jim Webb Incidents

Jim Webb was a Texas ranch foreman gone bad, a bully who accelerated to arson and murder. The big deputy went after him with posse-man Floyd Wilson and caught up with him in a ranch house in their jurisdiction. Confronted by a loaded revolver in Webb’s hand, Reeves smacked the gun away and grabbed him in a chokehold with his left hand, while drawing with his right and shoving his gun into the man’s face.

Gasping for breath, the fugitive surrendered. But Webb’s partner Frank Smith fired two shots at Reeves, both missing. Judge Brady writes, “With Webb completely controlled by his left hand, Bass fired one shot. Smith fell to the ground, the fight burned out of him by a .45 slug in his abdomen. Still gripping Webb’s throat, Bass instructed Wilson to handcuff Webb, then mapped plans to return his prisoners to the court in Paris, Texas.”

Smith died en route from Reeves’ bullet; Reeves turned Webb over to the proper authorities and went on his way. Time passed — in that time the Dozier shooting occurred — and Reeves learned Webb had posted bail after he had been in jail for many months. Reeves went on the man’s trail again.

The trail ended in a rifle duel, with Webb firing the first four shots at Reeves, who was on horseback. Those bullets reportedly clipped the brim of the deputy marshal’s hat, grazed his saddle horn, cut a button off his coat and shot the reins out of his hands. His horse shied, and Reeves dove to the ground with his rifle and returned fire. Jim Webb fell to the ground. According to biographer Brady, “It was later discovered all three bullets had hit Webb’s body within a hand’s width of each other.”

The deputy approached the downed outlaw, as did eyewitnesses John Cantrell and Jim Bywaters. The latter wrote down the dying gunman’s last words on the back of a freight receipt. He said Webb called Reeves “a brave, brave man” and he wanted Reeves to have his revolver and holster. His last words, according to Bywaters, were “I have killed 11 men, four of them in Indian territory, and I expected you to make the 12th.”
Brady, perhaps significantly, doesn’t mention the distances involved in the Webb killing. However, historian Art Burton reveals Reeves’ account, “(I) shot twice. He dropped and when I picked him up, I found my two bullets had struck within a 1/2″ of each other. He shot four times, and every shot he kept running up closer to me. He was 500 yards away from me when I killed him.”

Braggadocio? Maybe. It’s “a far piece” for a pistol-caliber Winchester with iron sights. However, Burton also records another of Bass Reeves’ shootings in which he supposedly killed a fleeing felon from a quarter-mile away with a single shot from his Winchester.

Fast Draw Contests

At least two of Bass Reeves’ fatal shootings were fast draw contests right out of the cowboy movies. Dr. Jesse Mooney reported treating him for a gunshot wound of the left thigh, a few feet away from a corpse on the floor — still holding a gun in its hand. He said Reeves told him the other man had drawn on him, and “He was real fast, but like a lot of them, they couldn’t shoot both fast and straight.” One of Reeves’ most famous gunfights was the 1889 killing of outlaw Tom Story, who went for his own revolver while the marshal’s Colts were still holstered. Bass Reeves drew and killed him before he could fire.

Grim Times

For much of his career, Reeves preferred to carry revolvers and rifles of the same caliber. It wasn’t just about ammo logistics for him — it was also about hard experience. Next to a campfire in 1884, he discovered he had mistakenly loaded a .45 Colt revolver cartridge into his .44-40 Winchester. Trying to pry the jammed round out of the magazine with his pocketknife, he accidentally discharged the rifle. The bullet struck his cook in the neck, mortally wounding him. Reeves was subsequently tried for murder. Though acquitted at trial, his substantial legal expenses depleted his life savings and left him financially hurting for the rest of his life. Some things just don’t change over the centuries …
A time came when Reeves’ son shot and killed his own adulterous wife. A grieving Bass Reeves arrested him and personally brought him in. His son was convicted and served hard time.

After more than 30 years, Bass Reeves left the Marshals. He was in his 70’s when he worked for two years as a Muskogee, Okla., police officer — walking with a cane but still carrying one revolver on the hip and another in a shoulder holster. He died of natural causes (Bright’s Disease) in January 1910. According to legend, he was so feared by then no crime was ever committed on his beat in Muskogee.


Remembered for killing 14 men in gunfights, those who knew him said Bass Reeves was most proud of the thousands he had arrested without having to harm them. Famous for clever subterfuge, he used more disguises than Sherlock Holmes to successfully serve his warrants. Ashamed of his own illiteracy, he made sure his children were well educated, and he memorized Bible passages he had learned from his devout mother to preach to his prisoners on the long ride to Judge Parker’s court.

Reeves believed in justice so strongly he arrested his own son. He left a legacy to the future showing how well-armed, well-prepared good people could develop the skill and alertness which allowed him to survive extreme criminal violence — which surely would have killed lesser men — and how good people could victoriously survive mindless prejudice.

The US Marshal’s Museum is still a work in progress, accepting contributions at I hope to visit one day and take a look at the planned Bass Reeves exhibit. For now, I’ll make do with my long look at the statue on the grounds of Judge Parker’s historic courthouse.

Astride a horse 19 hands high is a proud Bass Reeves, Winchester in hand, Colt on hip and double-barrel shotgun in saddle scabbard — as immovably resolute in bronze as he was in life.
By Massad Ayoob

Read More Ayoob Files Articles


Order Your Printed Copy Of American Handgunner May/June 2014 Issue Today!

Download A PDF Of The American Handgunner May/June 2014 Issue Now!

Lessons From Kevin Davis


Several police officers use necessary deadly force in the line of duty … and unwarranted legal actions are lodged against them.


Veteran street cop, SWAT Team member, police trainer and expert witness Kevin Davis offers life-saving and career-saving tips in a new book on how to investigate, analyze and most importantly, understand, such cases.

Police work has often been described as boiling down to “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” In southern New England, a wife abuser stabs his spouse and when she falls, stomps on her head and neck in front of a police officer. The cop leaves his gun in his holster when he could have drawn, fired and stopped him. When the horribly crippled woman sues the police department, she wins a seven-figure judgment. Frankly, I have no problem with this.

Down the eastern seaboard, another man with a knife takes a woman hostage. The cop involved in this case takes a carefully aimed shot and drops him with a well-placed .45 slug from his HK service pistol, saving her life. She sues him and the police department for the trauma of it all. I have a problem with her.

And, please, don’t think if you’re not a cop, you can’t be put in the same position.

Less than a week before writing this, I spoke with a young man who was working in a high-risk retail establishment when an armed robber came in with a drawn gun. When it became apparent the gunman was endangering one of his female coworkers, the young man simultaneously pulled her down out of the line of fire with one hand and drew his own legal carry pistol with the other — and shot the armed criminal dead.

Yes, you guessed it: she filed a lawsuit against him for — in essence — saving her life in too much of a violent and scary fashion.

Cops have more experience dealing with this sort of aftermath than “civilians,” and therefore can offer some valuable lessons to armed private citizens. At the annual International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers (ILEETA) conference, I have the privilege of running the panel discussion of experts on firearms and deadly force training. Of late, I’ve made sure one of the panelists is Kevin Davis.

Davis is a contributor to Law Officer, which describes him as a full-time officer with more than 25 years in law enforcement. His previous assignments include patrol, corrections and plainclothes narcotics investigations. He’s a former SWAT member, team leader and instructor — currently assigned to the training bureau where he specializes in use of force, suspect control and firearms training.

Kevin has a new book, Use Of Force Investigations: A Manual For Law Enforcement. It’s available in print or for download from Amazon. I recently finished reading it, and whether the reader is a law enforcement officer, a security professional or a law-abiding armed citizen, there is much we can learn from it.

Kevin goes to court, you see, as one of those police trainers serving as an expert witness for other cops who are falsely accused — whether criminally or civilly — of having wrongfully used force. He’s “been there, done that.” The lessons he’s learned are applicable to anyone who keeps or carries a defensive firearm.

Lessons Learned

“The worst report of investigation in a use of force case is — no report whatsoever,” writes Kevin Davis. “Quite honestly, if your people did the right thing, they, and you, need to properly document it.”

Lesson: There is an old axiom, which holds, “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.” He who waits until he’s in court to explain his use of force is open to the accusation he is making up late excuses, and if what he’s saying were true, he would have said it earlier. Kevin warns us this is particularly the case if we’ve been injured in the incident, and obviously can’t draft a report while receiving medical treatment.

He writes, “Officers who are unable to complete a report due to injury, for instance, should still be interviewed by a supervisor and make an official statement. On one case I worked, the officer’s statement was never taken in the months after the incident and he was subsequently charged with criminal offenses. If the investigating supervisor had interviewed the officer (who went to the hospital that night with his injuries) he would have found the officer had a perfectly sound explanation for his actions.”

Kevin writes about another case, in which he was hired by the Fraternal Order of Police as an expert witness on behalf of a cop who stood accused in criminal court of wrongfully shooting an “unarmed man.” The original report, poorly worded, simply described the officer struggling with a guy who had snatched some bills out of an open cash register. Does this sound like a situation to justify shooting someone? It apparently didn’t seem like it to the prosecutor’s office, either.

But, when Kevin dug into the facts, it turned out the incident went far beyond a simple description. The cash-snatcher turned out to be a crack monster stoked on rock cocaine, a substance known to infuse its users with what most of us would consider superhuman strength. The cop, a man of substantial size, later said the suspect threw him around like Hulk Hogan.

Moreover, the suspect had been trying to snatch the officer’s service pistol from its duty holster. Physically overpowered by the suspect, the cop was certain he was about to be disarmed and shot by a man he could not control — who then might use his service pistol to murder citizens. The trained policeman came to the logical conclusion the only way to end the deadly danger this man posed to him and the public was to shoot him. (Lesson: a man going for your gun is … a man going for a gun!)

It made all the difference, and the case against the officer went away — but not without another teachable moment. Kevin Davis relates: “I’ll cut to the chase and tell you we were, after interviewing the officer and examining the video evidence used to indict him, able to have the case successfully dismissed. Sadly, his elderly father had passed away prior to the dismissal and went to his grave without seeing his son vindicated.

“This type of result can occur when an ill-informed agency either: develops and maintains a poor policy; fails to train its supervisors in use of force investigations; fails to train its officers in use of force and proper reporting or fails to implement all of these things in an actual incident.”

And therein lies another lesson: we can pull the knife out of the back of someone who was stabbed, but the wound still remains. It’s true in the physical sense, and in the greater macrocosm of Life.

Supreme Court Decisions

Speaking of lessons: Know the rules. Davis reminds us we need to know the laws encompassing what we do, and we need to understand them as well as or better than those who judge us.

Davis relates, “I once testified as an expert in defense of a police sergeant who was charged with Felonious Assault in a use of force incident … The prosecutor, on cross-examination, handed me the Graham v. Connor decision and asked something like, ‘Well Mr. Expert Witness, here’s the Supreme Court decision in Graham v. Connor. Can you show me where it says (what you just testified)?’

“Reviewing the Graham paperwork he handed me, I found this section and quoted it to the jury. The prosecutor quickly grabbed the case paperwork away from me and said, ‘This isn’t what it means …’ I looked at the jury and asked, ‘Do you want me to read it again?’ The officer was acquitted. In the Graham decision, the court stated the test of reasonableness is, ‘not capable of precise definition or mechanical application.’ This means there is no single answer to a use of force examination.”

The bottom line was, Davis understood the SCOTUS decision better than the lawyer. This well served both Davis and the officer who benefited from his testimony.

Graham v. Connor is a guidepost in law enforcement. Among other things, this landmark decision held “reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”

In addition, “The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments — in tense, uncertain and rapidly-evolving circumstances — about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.”

Garrity Issues

Most people are familiar with the Miranda rule, the warning that anything said to the interviewer can be used against the speaker in court, and the speaker has the right to remain silent. Police, unlike armed citizens, do not get this right. They get different warnings, which, like Miranda, come from decisions made by the Supreme Court. These come from Garrity v. New Jersey and Kalkines v. United States and are known generically as “Garrity Warnings.”

Such a warning sounds like, “You are being questioned as part of an internal and/or administrative investigation. You will be asked a number of specific questions concerning your official duties, and you must answer these questions to the best of your ability. Failure to answer completely and truthfully may result in disciplinary action, including dismissal. Your answers and any information derived from them may be used against you in administrative proceedings. However, neither your answers nor any information derived from them may be used against you in criminal proceedings, except if you knowingly and willfully make false statements.”

Kevin Davis writes, “Want to see a perfect example of this? Read 13 Minutes by R. Blaine Jorg. An officer was abandoned by his agency, charged and tried for involuntary manslaughter in the in-custody death of a suspect. He was subsequently acquitted in a jury trial.

“I strongly recommend the book for a realistic look at the politics of force at its worst. I have worked on numerous cases where officers did the right thing, operated within agency policy and used an objective, reasonable amount of force, only to be charged with crimes by their own agency. This is most often the result of inept investigators and flawed or political investigations.”

The book discusses the subtleties of Garrity issues, with lots of valuable insight. For example, Kevin points out an investigator from an outside agency cannot compel a statement from an involved officer via Garrity. Instead, it would take a supervisor from within the officer’s agency to make it happen.

Investigation Scars

The real-life OIS (officer-involved shooting) is far removed from what the entertainment industry has conditioned the public to believe. TV and movie cops seem to shoot people as a routine part of their workday, never so much as write a report and at the end, ride off into the sunset like a cowboy in a Western movie. When police shootings happen in reality, however, the sunset for the officer is far, far away.

Here’s the reality from Kevin Davis: “An officer is locked in a suspect holding room (cell without bars) at the station waiting for investigators to interview him after he was forced to shoot an armed robber. He then is forced to sit in the same room as the Chief of Police and Union President stand toe-to-toe and yell at each other about procedure and protocol.

“After a shooting on the nightshift, the involved officers are forced to stay at the station for hours until they are finally interviewed by detectives. When they are finally allowed to leave, they’ve been up for over 24 hours without sleep. Officers who’ve just fought and won a fight for their very lives have to endure these circumstances, conditions and treatment by their own agencies.”

Kevin points out, in the US, police officers kill less than 500 people a year — and in most years, it’s fewer than 400.
He writes, “For most agencies, serious uses of force as well as shootings are infrequent. Some agencies never experience an officer-involved shooting. It’s a bad thing as well — agencies do not have a ‘system,’ protocol or fluid policy and are forced to ‘wing it’ which can damage the process and the officers involved.”

Finding A Balance

The rights of the officer who fired must be balanced against the safety of the public. Kevin presents an example of a supervisor’s warning attributed to the LAPD.

It reads as follows: “Officer, I am ordering you to give me a public safety statement. Due to the immediate need to take action, you do not have the right to wait for representation before answering these limited questions.

1) In what direction did you fire pistol rounds? 2) If you know of anyone who was injured, what is his or her location? 3) If any suspects are outstanding, what are their descriptions? 4) What was their direction of travel? 5) How long have they been gone? 6) What are they wanted for? 7) What weapons do they have? 8) Does any evidence need protection? 9) Where is it located?

“Officer, in order to prevent the contamination of your statement, I order you not to discuss this incident with anyone, including other supervisors or staff officers, prior to the arrival of the assigned investigators, with the exception of your legal representatives.”

Understand Kevin Davis is not an apologist taking the position police can do no wrong. He writes, “I have been consulted or given testimony in a number of misdemeanor and felony cases involving police use of force or criminal trials of suspects involving force or firearms. I have testified both for and against officers.

“As a proud member of the profession, it saddens me to testify against a brother in blue, but if they are guilty of violations of policy or law, then it’s my responsibility to be honest and protect my profession along with my brothers and sisters in uniform.”

The several cases plucked from Use Of Force Investigations and discussed above represent just the tip of the iceberg of the many actual incidents and the extensive collective experience Kevin Davis put into his book. I would call it nothing less than required reading for police supervisors and detectives who have the responsibility for investigating shootings and other use of force instances. It is likewise a “must read” for those in the legal profession who try this type of case.
It is every bit as important to anyone working today with a badge and a gun. I agree with Kevin: a lot of cops don’t understand their rights, and people who are bosses but not leaders throw some to the wolves.

I would strongly recommend this book for any private citizen who keeps or carries a firearm for personal-defense. At the deadly force level, use of force guidelines is very similar — whether the gun is carried on the authority of a badge or permit. It’s also of great value beforehand to anyone who might find themselves on the jury of such a case.

Use Of Force Investigations goes through the entire spectrum of physical force, from non-lethal through intermediate force and of course, lethal force. While it is of great value to everyone I just mentioned, Kevin is a cop and wrote it for cops, so I’ll leave you with this final quote from his excellent book:

“Society expects officers to be ‘faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings with a single bound,’ to defy the law of physics à la The Matrix and to read a person’s mind ascertaining their intent.

“An officer must respond with the reflexes of an Olympian, shoot like Annie Oakley and have the endurance of an Ironman competitor. They are expected to reason with the unreasonable and talk to the manic, depressed, mentally ill, emotionally disturbed and hyper-violent with equal aplomb. When assaulted with verbal insults, spit, punches or targeted with human urine or feces, they must wipe it off with a smile and a deep understanding it was the uniform which was targeted and not them personally.

“They cannot feel fear or anger and must wait for a suspect to fire first. When they fire back, they should shoot the gun out of the suspect’s hand with one round. Their memories must be photographic and their written reports pieces of literature. When confronted with violence they must apply minimal levels of masterful non-injurious control like a Jedi Master.”

Kevin Davis is a realist. He knows his topic deeply and … he gets it.
By Massad Ayoob

Read More Ayoob Files


Order Your Printed Copy Of American Handgunner March/April 2014 Issue Today!

Download A PDF Of The American Handgunner March/April 2014 Issue Now!