A Police Survival Skill.
Notice the title of this month’s column doesn’t have a question mark after it. That’s because there’s no question about it. The ability to reload swiftly is a well-recognized survival skill — for cops, military personnel, armed citizens or any of the other Good Guys and Gals who might be involved in a protracted gunfight.
Gun-savvy officers on NYPD begged for more firepower than the standard 6-shot .38 revolvers and dump pouches, but it wasn’t until the death of Officer Scott Gadell in 1986 they got speedloaders for their six-shooters and finally, less than 20 years ago, 16-shot 9mm semi-automatics. Caught up in a shootout with a fleeing felon, Gadell ran dry and was trying to reload his revolver from a dump pouch when the suspect, still with plenty of ammo, scuttled up and killed him execution style.
Some 3,000 miles away, in Newhall, California, West Coast cops had seen it happen earlier. The 1970 cataclysm in Newhall is discussed in this month’s Ayoob Files section of American Handgunner, and revisits among other things the question of whether or not one of the four California Highway Patrolmen slain that April night in Newhall had put his spent casings in his trouser pocket. James Pence was just closing the cylinder when his killer closed in, snarled, “Got you now,” and shot him in the brain with a .45 auto.
As you’ll see elsewhere in this issue, whether or not the martyred Patrolman Pence put his spent casings into his pocket before trying to reload has been a matter of debate. What is not debated is that (a) he ran out of ammo after six shots; (b) he had to take individual cartridges out of a dump pouch to reload, after already having been shot three times with a .45; (c) he reloaded a full six rounds as trained and (d) was just closing the cylinder when he ran out of time and was brutally murdered.
For 42 years now, it has been suggested in such a situation, a good guy with a revolver might be better served to just load a couple of rounds, close the cylinder, and get back into action. That became standard doctrine after Newhall. It was suggested if Pence had speedloaders, his cylinder would have been closed much earlier and about the time his killer was starting to say, “Got you …” Pence could have put a .357 slug through his head and changed the outcome of the incident profoundly. Subsequent to the Newhall Incident, CHP authorized and then issued speedloaders, and in 1970 adopted the 12-shot .40-caliber S&W 4006 auto, an updated version of which remains standard issue with that agency.
By Massad Ayoob
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