The Pin Shoot: Meeting Gunfight Survivors

By Massad Ayoob

Situation:

A prize-rich shooting match sponsored by a successful armed citizen brings many violence survivors together, allowing them to share the lessons they’ve learned.

Lesson:

Being practiced and ready — and being armed to begin with — allow you to apply your hard-earned skills quickly enough to win, whether the venue for the gunfire is an alley or a firing range.

In September of 2016, I received a most welcome phone call from an old friend, Richard Davis. He had called to say, after an 18-year layoff, he was once again going to hold his famous Pin Shoot in 2017. Let me offer some background, to explain why this is relevant here in this particular corner of American Handgunner.

Davis is “the man who bulletproofed America’s police,” having come up with the first practical, concealable soft body armor wearable all day under a uniform shirt. His life-saving product came out in the early 1970’s. To show a cop would be able to absorb a bullet’s impact on a soft vest and not only survive but still be able to return fire, he came up with a dynamic demonstration. Before the eyes of assembled cops, he would shoot himself on the vest, then spin and blast some bowling pins off a table with the same revolver.

Son of an Iwo Jima combat vet and a former Marine like his dad, Rich was a lifelong shooter. It occurred to him a shooting match with good prizes might be an appropriate way to thank his customers. In 1975, while shooting a commercial video for his Second Chance brand body armor, he invited some cops he knew to join him and the five “Second Chance saves” who re-enacted the incidents in which Davis’ vest had preserved their lives. Those 30 folks on the informal range on Davis’ property in scenic Central Lake, Michigan comprised the first Second Chance Shoot. The rules were simple: whoever shoots the bowling pins off the table fastest, wins. Everyone had fun.

The following year, Richard announced the match publicly, and hundreds of cops attended; one more year later, he opened it to law-abiding citizens and the crowds were bigger still. From a shooter’s perspective, I thought it was the most fun of anything on the shooting match circuit. I’ve always said if shooting tournaments were rock concerts, Second Chance would be Woodstock. But from a researcher’s point of view, Richard had established something else: a reservoir of knowledge.

Think about it: in that very first event, one out of six contestants had stopped gunfire on their vest, fought back and prevailed, and some of the other invited cops were gunfight survivors, too. The ratio might have changed over the years, but one thing remained constant: the folks at Richard Davis’ Pin Shoot were a rich source of experience in armed survival in real world encounters.

Jim Vollink’s Shooting

One of the regulars at what was then called the Second Chance Shoot was Jim Vollink. Not every shootout survivor at the match was a cop. While Jim Vollink had worn a badge in the past, he was a private citizen when he had to use the very same pistol he competed with at the pin shoot to save his life. He was in a drive-through at a Burger King when a man rammed his vehicle from behind. When Jim got out the other driver menaced him with a Browning 9mm. Jim grabbed his own .45, and when the road rage guy shot at him, Jim shot back. Three rounds of Remington 185-grain JHP put the opponent down, fatally.

Police investigation determined it to be a justifiable homicide. However, the family of the deceased filed a lawsuit. Jim’s .45 — a military surplus Ithaca 1911A1 with extended thumb safety and S&W adjustable sights added — became a focus. Here’s how I wrote about it in Ayoob Files appearing in the Nov/Dec, 1989 issue of American Handgunner:

“When they found out the man who killed the deceased was a gun owner, IPSC shooter and NRA member, the lawyers must have licked their chops. They asked him, he said, the following question: ‘Wasn’t that your favorite pistol?’ ‘Well,’ the citizen answered, ‘it’s the one I had the longest.’ ‘No,’ the lawyer sneered, ‘I mean, isn’t that your favorite pistol?’ The citizen paused for only a moment before he answered, ‘It is now. Strike that from the record,’ cried the attorney for the plaintiff.”

Meet Some Saves

One of Richard’s Guests of Honor was Skip Beijen (pronounced “Bain”), a New York State Trooper. At the time of his incident, NYSP issued a K-Frame .357 Magnum revolver with full power 158-grain magnum loads. S&W had made a special run of fixed-sight heavy barrel Model 10’s with longer cylinders and chambered for .357, especially for that agency; the company subsequently introduced the exact gun as the Model 13. Skip and a brother trooper had pulled over multiple bad guys, who were more than reluctant to be arrested. In the midst of the fray, Beijen heard his partner scream, “Skip, he’s got my gun!”

If you can feel your blood pressure go up a little just reading that, imagine how the adrenaline must have been surging through Skip’s system as he heard it at the scene. Turning reflexively toward the threat, the trooper was facing the man who had overpowered his brother officer — when the fireball bloomed from the muzzle of the snatched .357. The bullet hit Skip Beijen right over the heart — stopping on the Second Chance vest. Beijen told me it felt like a strong man poking him in the center of the chest with a stiff index finger.

And now Skip was shooting back with his own .357 which, suffice to say, instantly solved the problem. Lessons: always return fire no matter how bad you think you may be hurt, and remember the norepiniphrine and endorphins releasing instantly, along with adrenaline, have a pain-killing effect.

Another Guest of Honor was John Solheim, from the Pierce County, Washington Sheriff’s Department. Retired today after multiple gunfights, Solheim is an outstanding instructor. He had been chasing an armed robbery suspect when the suspect stood on his brakes and John had to do the same or crash into him. Action beats reaction; by the time Solheim came to a stop, flung open his door, and began to step out of his cruiser, the other man was already running toward him with a stolen Colt Python in his hand.

A 110-grain .357 Magnum hollow point crashed into John’s center chest, at the edge of his sternum. He said later it felt like getting hit with “a ball peen hammer on a good wind-up swing.” The would-be cop killer stood there grinning, knowing he had scored a heart shot on the deputy with his .357, waiting to watch him fall and die.

Instead, he saw — and felt — Deputy Solheim empty his Smith & Wesson .41 Magnum into him. At this point, John’s K9 was out of the car and keeping the screaming gunman occupied while John sprinted to cover and reloaded. He had won the fight. Amazingly, the suspect survived multiple hits from full power 210-grain soft nose .41 Mag that had gone through and through him, and wound up sentenced to a very long term in prison.

Lessons John shared? Today, he would have simply shot through the windshield before the other man could shoot at all. Not having been trained to do that, he didn’t. He lived to teach other cops to learn this survival lesson. John soon switched to a .45 auto as a duty weapon for more firepower. Solheim trained other rookies not to make the mistake that this time had worked for a cop. Don’t take a shot, and stand there grinning expecting your opponent to fall down. And, of course, Solheim has been a proponent of concealed soft body armor from that day forward.

Another “Save” at one of Richard’s first shoots is a municipal police officer I won’t name, because there are some who might take it wrong when they learn his first thought after he stopped a bullet was “You hit my vest, you son of a bitch, and now it’s my turn.” I documented the case, though. He was in foot pursuit of a burglary suspect and when he got close enough to grab him, the suspect turned on him and shot him square amidships with a stolen Colt .45 automatic. The full power 230-grain hardball felt, he said, like a very hard and focused punch. Before the thug could fire again, the cop cleared leather and instantly emptied his 4″ Model 66 .357 Combat Magnum into his antagonist. The wanna-be cop-killer died in his tracks. The cop went home to his family.

Lessons: Again, the importance of swift and devastating retaliation. Reacting, not with horror or shock, but with righteous anger being channeled instantly to the appropriate response with sufficient force to extinguish the deadly threat.

Genesis

People thought “the man who bullet-proofed the cops” — Richard Davis, the real inventor of concealable soft body armor with his Second Chance product — must have been an inspired supercop. In fact, he was an armed citizen and his inspiration was a shootout he experienced with armed robbers, prevailing against three-to-one odds.

It was 1969, and Davis was a pizzeria owner in crime-plagued Detroit. It had become popular for small-time thugs to call for pizzas and then rob the delivery person at the point of knife or gun. One busy night when he was short of deliverymen, Richard’s fiancée had volunteered to do deliveries and been robbed and terrorized at gunpoint by a trio of punks.

Eight months later, the pizzeria got a call for a delivery to the same address. Davis decided he would handle this delivery himself, and he took the only handgun he owned, a 6-shot Harrington & Richardson .22 revolver. He held it beneath an empty pizza box below the real ones. His fiancée had been robbed by three men. If this went down the same, he made a plan: two shots on each.

Arriving, Davis had to walk down an alley to reach the address. Three men loomed out of the darkness, fitting the description of the trio who had so terrified his beloved. One of them pointed a chrome-plated pistol at Davis’ head, and perceiving the man’s finger to be tightening on the trigger, Rich Davis knew he had run out of time.

He opened fire, point shooting from under the pizza box. He saw one bullet hit the gunman on the point of the chin, and perceived the other had struck him in the chest, and saw him sprawl backwards. His third shot missed the second perpetrator but the fourth connected, and the man whirled, his hands going toward his waistband as if going for a gun, so Davis fired again. He saw the man’s shirt pluck up at mid-back as the bullet hit, and saw him instantly collapse. Knowing only one round remained in his revolver, Rich fired it at the third man, who snapped his head as if he’d been hit, and ran into the darkness. His gun now empty, it occurred to Richard that a run into the darkness would be a good idea for him, too.

The enemy was in disarray, but not helpless. One of the thugs fired on Richard and he felt it strike him in the head. A .25 auto slug had deflected off the bow of his eyeglasses, knocking them off, skidded along his skull, and lodged under his scalp. He felt a stinging slap as another .25 slug caught him in the back of the leg. Richard kept running, made it to his car, and raced to the hospital.

All the thugs were subsequently arrested. He later learned the one who had jerked his head did so because Davis’ last .22 bullet had passed through his Afro. The second, who had fallen, had taken Richard’s bullets in the shoulder and spine. The first man, despite hits center chest and head, survived too. The little .22 slug hitting his chin on course for the central nervous system had glanced off the mandible and exited near his ear, never reaching the brain. The .22 LR striking center chest had deflected off the sternum, missing the heart by an inch and exiting the back. The gunman had fallen, but apparently returned to the gunfight and shot Richard Davis twice.

There were multiple lessons. Davis would forever after be an advocate of powerful self-defense handguns: .45’s, magnums, 10mm’s. What he learned later in studying countless gunfights involving his vest customers only reinforced the belief. One reason he chose a format of shooting heavy bowling pins two-and-a-half to three feet back off a table was to enforce the use of potent handguns. Having become a friend of Jeff Cooper by then, Davis believed in Cooper’s mantra of DVC: Diligencia (accuracy, or precision), Vis (power) and Celeritas (speed). Whoever shot the pins off fastest won the event, but they needed power to blast the pins backward and accuracy to channel the power to where it was needed.

Six shots and four hits had been a good performance, but not having more than six may have been what got him shot twice. You are far more likely to find Richard Davis carrying an auto pistol today than a revolver, even though the little H&R .22 6-shooter saved his life. Davis, by the way, was the first gunfight survivor I met who was able to count his shots when they went past three or four. All these decades later, I can still count on my fingers the number who were able to do so. Each time, there was some compelling reason why. In Richard’s case, it was the acute awareness his plan for two-two-two had gone off synch after his third shot missed. “Four! Five! Six! Oh, crap ….”

Davis also learned getting shot sucked and there had to be something better to stop bullets with than one’s own body. It was in the emergency room that night his idea for soft, concealable body armor was born. Within a very few years, Richard Davis had revolutionized officer safety. His Second Chance Body Armor was the first such product to be sold to American police. By the beginning of 2016, well over 3,000 lives had been documented as “saves” by Davis’ invention, encompassing not only his brand — but the many copies that sprang up thereafter by various manufacturers.

You can read the full details on the incident in the Ayoob Files archives available at www.americanhandgunner.com/ayoob-files-archive/. It was in the Jan/Feb 1987 issue.

And Into The Future

The fabulous Second Chance Shoot ended in 1998 and a few years later, Richard Davis retired. His Second Chance Body Armor company was bought by Safariland. Richard’s son, Matt, opened Armor Express in Central Lake, Michigan, and following in his dad’s footsteps makes some of the best body armor available today, the brand I personally wear now. Armor Express products have already saved many lives.

One Armor Express save scheduled to be at the Pin Shoot in June of 2017 is Lt. Brian Murphy. On August 5, 2012, a mad dog killer murdered half-a-dozen people and wounded four more at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. One of the latter was Lt. Murphy. As he pulled up and saw the gunman, he attempted to deploy his AR15 but its tactical sling hung up on his mobile data terminal. Drawing his service pistol to engage, Murphy came under fire and one bullet destroyed his thumb, taking the gun out of his hand. He didn’t have a backup handgun at the time.

Lt. Murphy was shot 15 times with 147-grain 9mm Hydra-Shoks. In one of the great stories of human resilience ever, he survived. The bullets that would have killed him stopped on his Armor Express vest. The gunman was put down by Oak Creek PD firearms instructor Sam Lenda, firing from some 60 yards away with an AR15. His guts blown out, dying, the mass murderer put his Springfield XD(M) to his head and gave himself his own coup de grace.

Meeting Lt. Murphy will be worth the trip in and of itself. I caught his talk at a conference of ILEETA, the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers, where I’ve served for many years on the advisory board. I can tell you there were tears in the eyes of many of the hundreds of cops in the audience. Murphy’s story of survival and determination is not to be missed and is the sort of learning experience you can get at The Pin Shoot.

Like I said, it isn’t just a shooting match.

And One More Thing …

In the spirit of total disclosure, let me share one more point. In the early 1970’s, I was a young patrolman writing for police magazines and spotted the first Second Chance ad in one of the police journals I wrote for, Law and Order. I got one, wrote it up, and wore armor ever since. Over the years, as the saves accumulated, I saw almost half of them were vehicle crashes. Living and working in Northern New England and knowing how many fatal or crippling crashes were caused by folks who didn’t know how to drive on ice and snow, it occurred to me if I had to dress in layers in winter anyway, I might as well have a layer that stopped more than the cold. I got into the habit of wearing the concealed vest on my own time. It was warm, and a great windbreaker. I could wear a flannel shirt and duck-down vest instead of a heavy mackinaw if I had the ballistic vest on underneath, and have more mobility and range of movement.

Long story short: on a bitter cold day in fourth quarter 1996, I was so attired when I couldn’t avoid a crash with a vehicle that blew a stop sign in front of me. I was stupid enough not to be wearing my seat belt. The air bag did not deploy.

Richard Davis’ Super FeatherLight vest did.

I wound up with a major concussion, long term post-concussion syndrome, and some hearing loss from that. The doctor told me without the vest, I would probably have died from a flailed chest when my thorax hit the steering wheel. And without the vest slowing down body and head momentum, the closed head trauma would likely have been an open skull fracture with brain matter spattered all over the windshield. I became Second Chance Save #682 and Kevlar Survivors Club member #1946. Not a great war story, but you can understand why I’m a very satisfied customer of the Davis family’s products nonetheless.

Remember www.pinshoot.com, June 9–17, 2017. One of the all time great shooting matches is back, and you might, like me, also find it a treasure trove of life-saving advice from gunfight survivors.

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