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Chapter Three – GUNS & KNIVES
When we get into the topic of guns and knives, it holds a special place in my heart. I have carried a handgun since I was 18 years old and some sort of pocket knife even longer.
Deadly weapons don’t necessarily have to be used in the way they are generally intended for them to make an impact. Sometimes, the mere presence of one of these deadly implements is enough to stop an attack. The following is a true story. I know, I know; usually when someone starts out with the words “true story”, it’s not exactly true. Well, this one is!
CASE STUDY: Armed Robbery Admission
It was January 1975 at Chicago, Illinois Police Headquarters, which also houses various court rooms. I was present in one of these courts for a number of shoplifting arrests I had made while working temporary, plain clothes, store security detail.
While awaiting one of my court cases, I heard an elderly black man (probably in his late 60’s or early 70’s) explain to the judge the circumstances leading up to his arrest. The following is almost verbatim what this man said.
“Yore honors, I admits to going into that store. I admits that I had me this gun. I also admits that I wuz gonna rob that store. But, this here man (the elderly black man was pointing at a plain clothes police officer standing next to him) never told me he wuz no police man. He only pointed his gun at my head and said ‘Bye-bye mother f- – – er.'”
At this point the entire court room was laughing hysterically, including the judge. Court had to be recessed for 15 minutes while the court regained its composure.
Never admit to attempting an armed robbery. The old gent above received a fairly stiff jail sentence. Silent hold-up alarms work, at least sometimes!
The plain clothes (tactical) officer didn’t need to fire his weapon. However, his judicious choice of words caused the elderly robber to cease and desists his actions IMMEDIATELY!
The elderly hold-up man wasn’t all that upset about being caught for his crime, but he sure enough was upset with the way the police officer identified himself as well as his carefully chosen challenge. Intimidation worked. Enough said?
Over the years, while working as a police officer, private investigator, or security officer, I had several occasions in which I drew my gun. There have also been occasions when I would have been justified (under the law) in firing.
CASE STUDY: Equalizing the Hefty Shoplifter
While working for one particular detective agency in Chicago, I was assigned to work a plain clothes store security detail for the two weeks leading up to Christmas. The store was Alden’s, a mail order outlet store. This was a fairly small outlet store with probably less than 5,000 square feet.
I worked with my partner, Dave Guritz, and four other security officers at this store, plus Alden’s had two off-duty Chicago Police Officers also working the store. That was plenty of security for a store so small in size, or so we thought.
The two Chicago Police Officer wore security guard uniforms and worked near the front door and cash registers. The rest of us either worked the floor or observed the store’s patrons from behind two-way mirrors in a specially built booth. We averaged 25 shoplifting arrests per day! Yes, you read that right; we had 25 shoplifting cases per day!
For some now forgotten reason everyone had gone to lunch and I was working alone. While observing a rather tall and heavily-built Puerto Rican “shopper” from behind the two-way mirror, it soon became obvious that this was no ordinary shoplifter. This fellow had on a long dress coat with “booster” pockets built into it. This is a sure sign of a professional shoplifter.
The two-way mirrors we worked behind were built onto a special platform that was raised several feet off the floor. I was looking down on this shoplifter when he carefully folded two men’s suits up and hid them inside his booster-pocketed coat.
I knew the character was big, but I had no idea just how big he was until I hurried down from my hiding place and met him at the front stairwell. He stood 6′ 7″ tall and weighed around 225lbs. I knew this was going to be trouble!
I identified myself as store security and had my badge in my left hand. I politely (really!) asked this pro to please turn around and accompany me back to the store’s security office.
I was told in no uncertain terms that he was “going to walk all over” me. He was big enough to do it, too. I looked hopelessly for help, but none was to be found. I drew my Smith & Wesson Model 39-2, 9mm pistol from my shoulder holster and placed in square in this monster’s face. He came along quietly.
It’s simply amazing how much a person learns as they grow older. Such is my case. I should have followed this pro out the door and got a license plate number from his car. We could have called the police and caught him driving away or at home. My only excuse is that I was young, dumb, overly enthusiastic, and inexperienced.
I could have looked the other way when I saw the size of this guy and let him “walk”. No one would have been any wiser. The odds are that he would have returned later for some more “shopping” at a time when the rest of the store’s security staff had returned.
Under Illinois statute, I was justified in drawing my weapon. The “disparity in size” and his threat aimed at me (“I’m going to walk all over you”) gave me legal grounds to equalize the disparity in size. This guy was capable of carrying out his threat, even with my martial arts training. I don’t know if I would have been the victor in a fight.
The threat of deadly force and my clear intention of using it against this professional thief, turned his attention to doing the right thing. Many times, I’ve heard people say that they are only buying a handgun to scare someone away. They say they wouldn’t (or couldn’t?) ever shoot someone. This is a poor approach to self-protection. A seasoned professional criminal can detect if you’re serious in your threat. If they know you are only bluffing, they’ll take your gun away from you and use it on you.
I had every intention of using my 9mm (for self-defense,) against this monster of a thief, and he knew it! Oh, I wouldn’t have shot him for his shoplifting, even though it was a felony theft, but had he tried to “walk all over” me, as he claimed he would do and I believe he meant those words, he would have met my great equalizer– the 9mm!
CASE STUDY: The Young Bully
Knives have always held a special place in my life. I can still recall the very first knife I received. My grandfather got a hunting knife and hatchet set for me when I was about six or seven years old. I thought it was the best knife in the world. Today, you can probably buy the same knife for about $5. Nevertheless, I thought I had a real bear-killing knife.
Long before Spyderco came out with their easy one-handed opening knife, we were pretty limited to knives that were fixed blade or pocket knives that required two hands to open. That is until my cousin Tony devised a way to make a standard pocket a one-handed affair.
All the gang members in the area were carrying a certain type of pocket knife during the 60’s. It wasn’t anything special, but I do recall these knives had something akin to a clip point blade, which was about 3″ long. A “genuine” simulated bone handle accompanied the entire affair.
When the knife was closed, the back of the blade stuck out of the handle just enough so you could readily grasp it. You still couldn’t use one hand to open it though. This was easily corrected with a flat file and about 15 minutes of your time. About two-thirds of the way toward the front of the knife, the file was used to remove about a 1/3″ of the handle material. The file made a nice little, squared cut into the handle. It short order, you had a one-handed opening knife. With a little practice, you could flick the blade open almost as fast as you can with today’s one-handed openers.
Before I was old enough to carry a gun, I carried a pocket knife, similar to the one described above. I got pretty good at flicking it open.
Jack K was one of the slower kids in our 6th grade class. If I recall correctly, Jack K was probably about 15 or 16 years old and still in the 6th grade. Jack K was also a bully!
One evening my friend, Andy Silva, and I were in Knapps Pool Hall having a Coke or Pepsi. We weren’t old enough to shoot pool yet, but Jack K was always in the pool hall usually shooting pool with someone. This evening found Jack K sitting all alone at a table.
Jack K thought this was a good opportunity to shake Andy and me down for some money; maybe he needed it for a game of Eight Ball. Anyway, we both refused to give up what precious little pocket change we had with us. Jack K threatened to beat us up if we didn’t come across with the money, but we held firm.
After we finished our drinks, we went outside with Jack K right behind us. I had already gotten my neat little one-handed opening pocket knife, and it was in my hand yet unseen by Jack K because it was pretty dark outside. When Jack K grabbed me and told me what he was going to do to me, I let loose with the knife.
First of all, we should NOT have been in the pool hall; we weren’t old enough, and there were usually some local “toughs” who occupied the place. Had we been a bit smarter, we would have gone to the bowling alley for our sodas instead of the attached pool hall.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this book, no matter how big a person is (and Jack K was pretty big compared to me), if you can catch ‘em by surprise you’ve got a fighting chance.
Plain and simple, I cut Jack K right across the top of his hand. He immediately let loose of me and told me what he was going to do to me later, but nothing ever happened.
I believe most people have a real fear of someone with a knife. I know this was true in my case, because of the times I faced knife-wielding attackers. However, I overcame my fears and fought back.
In the above incident, I caught Jack K by complete surprise, and the sight of his own blood was enough for him. The attempted theft of our money ended right then and there.
CASE STUDY: Shoot Out at Traffic Light
The early 1970’s still echoed the violence and demonstrations against the Vietnam War. I found myself working full-time for the Illinois National Guard. I enlisted in the Guard when I was 17 years old; my folks wouldn’t sign the necessary parental consent papers for my enlistment in the Regular Army. During my stint with the Guard, I saw my share of riots and demonstrations against the war. However, on this one particular evening the events had nothing to do with the Vietnam War or race riots.
I was working late one summer evening at the armory on Madison Street, on the west side of Chicago, which is a predominately black neighborhood. Our armory was located just a few short blocks from the (then) infamous black Panthers Headquarters.
It was approximately 7:00pm when I left the armory, and as is the case during the summer months in Chicago it was hot and humid. My car didn’t have an air conditioner, so I drove with the windows rolled all the way down.
While stopped at an intersection, waiting for the light to turn green, I noticed three black men standing in front of a tavern across the street from me. They hurled all sorts of racial remarks at me. I urged the light to change green, yet it didn’t! A shot rang out. I felt the bullet whiz past me. It struck the front passenger side door, shattering the rolled down window inside the door frame. My heart was pumping at this point. In all honesty, I didn’t know if I had been shot or not. I looked down at my uniform and saw no trace of blood.
I drew my Browning .32 acp auto, and without looking (or aiming) I emptied the magazine in the direction of my attackers. They took off running down the street. I ran the red light and headed home. It wasn’t until I arrived safely at home that I called the police and made a report. Nothing ever came of this incident to my knowledge.
First of all, I should have left the armory at my usual time. The west side of Chicago was no place for a white man during the turbulent late 1960’s and early 1970’s. There had been a number of race riots in this area in the preceeding years (and months).
Secondly, I should have simply ran the red light. There were no other cars in front of me, and traffic was extremely light. Our battalion commander had instructed all of the full-time Guard employees about such matters and had given all of us some additional escape and evasion driving lessons.
Lastly, I should have looked where I was shooting. I was justified in returning gun fire to defend myself. While in uniform, we were authorized to carry concealed or openly.
This is an easy one. It was pure terror and sheer luck! I was driven by my youth and inexperience in these matters, as I was only 18 years old! Although I had been thoroughly trained in the use of all sorts of handguns (and long guns), I didn’t have the street sense to look where I was shooting. I simply drew my handgun and instinctively fired in the general direction of the threat. Luckily, no innocent bystanders were hit.
Thus far, I’ve only discussed the incidents that did not result in anyone getting shot. Lest anyone reading this believe that the mere presence of a gun will always work, you are sadly mistaken! If you purchase a firearm for self-defense or the defense of others, you’d better be prepared to use it. I made my mind up long ago that I would not hesitate using deadly force to save my own life or the lives of those in my charge. The following case illustrates this.
CASE STUDY: Shooting the Home Burglar
The fall of 1970 brought about a series of burglaries in our middle class neighborhood (in Chicago). Most of these burglaries took place during the evening hours, which is unusual. Contrary to popular belief, most burglaries take place during the day, when folks are at work or school.
I had abandoned my little Browning .32 acp by this time and laid claim to a neat little Smith & Wesson Model 36 Chief Special revolver. There’s a certain mentality in Chicago that exists to this day. It’s that most people who own handguns for self-defense carry (illegally) either a .38 Snubby or a totally under-powered .25 acp autoloader. I was caught up in the thinking of the day and had to have a little .38 for everyday carry to and from the National Guard Armory. I had two Colt Government Model .45’s at home; one of these should have been my carry gun in those days. Hind sight is wonderful, isn’t it?
I made a habit of keeping my revolver under the pillow on my bed when I came home from work. I couldn’t legally carry if I was out of uniform or off duty, but that’s another story.
My two oldest sisters were still in high school at the time. They were both on the volleyball team and asked me to drive them to a game (or maybe it was a practice) that evening.
I distinctly remember locking the front door as we left. As a matter our routine, someone was always coming or going, and the front door was usually left unlocked.
The roundtrip to the school and back only took about 10-12 minutes. When I returned home, I found ajar the front door, which I knew I had closed locked when I left. The only lights on in the house were in the living room. I left all the rest of the lights off and proceeded to creep up the stairs to my bedroom to retrieve my little .38 snubby from under my pillow. Like most people, I knew my house in the dark. There was no need to turn on any light switches to find my room, bed, and gun!
Just as I reached under my pillow and had my hand on my gun, someone shoved me and started to run down the steps to the main floor. I was right behind him. I fired two shots using point shooting techniques, and I heard the burglar scream out an obscenity. He ran out the back door, with me in hot pursuit. I never did catch him or fire any more shoots.
I called the Chicago Police. When they arrived, they discovered that there was one bullet hole in the wall along side the stairwell. Obviously, the other shot hit the burglar, and that’s why he cried out. The police made a search of the area and never found this creep. We did find that this character had broken out one of the panes of glass in the back door, reached in, and unlocked the door. Why he had opened the front door still remains a mystery. Perhaps, he opened it to look out to see if anyone was walking by.
I should have gone next door to a neighbor’s house and called the police when I realized that someone had broken in. This would have been the smart thing to do. My excuse (and it’s a good one) is that I was only 18 years old (almost 19) at the time.
Secondly, after making the decision to retrieve a gun, I should have grabbed one of the guns my father kept downstairs in his room. It was foolish to insist upon following my own desire and taking the chance of getting attacked (which did happen) and going to my own room to get my own gun.
As an aside, I was an avid knife collector at the time. I had quite a collection of bayonets, Bowie knives, and hunting knives on the wall in my room. The burglar could have easily armed himself with one of those knives; instead of pushing me, he could have stabbed me in the back.
My cousins, Leroy Moe Laneve and Abner Leneve, taught me how to point shoot when I was 15 years old. I made my first visit down to Kentucky with my grandmother and purchased my very first gun during that trip. It was my country cousins– Moe and Abner– who really taught me how to shoot rifles and pistols. Abner was good enough to be an exhibition shooter for one of the ammo or firearms companies. Sadly, the day of the exhibition shooter was long gone by this time.
Moe was confined to a wheelchair because of an automobile accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Regardless, he could shoot the eye out of a crow at 75 yards without much trouble. Abner was a better shot and could toss rocks into the air and hit them (with a rifle or pistol), without aiming, nine times out of ten. Abner taught me how to point shoot, and I quickly applied this method to all my close quarters combat shooting. It wasn’t until 1990 that I met the legendary Col. Rex Applegate, who is recognized at the master of point shooting. Since that time, the good Colonel has taught me even more about close quarters combat shooting and the art of point shooting.
When I fired the double-tap at the burglar, who was running down the stairs, I used point shooting. It was too dark to see the sights, and there was no time to aim, even if I could see the sights. The distance involved was only about five feet.
The hole remains in the wall after all these years. My parents recently sold that house to a Chicago Police Officer!
Not all my encounters were deadly or potentially deadly. Like a lot of people, I still needed to be delivered from a little bit of a mean streak that I had. So much time has passed since this next incident took place, I think I’m safe to “fess-up” about it.
CASE STUDY: Who’s Boss in My House
Remember my friend, Andy Silva, who I mentioned earlier? Well, Andy was a bit bigger than me and about a year or so older. When you’re 10-13 years old, age and size make a difference. Remember, I was a skinny kid in those days, too.
I don’t recall the exact circumstances that led up to this case study, but I do recall that Andy and I were horsing around in my bedroom. I recall that my grandmother had told us to put an end to things, but Andy was persistent.
I was pinned on my bed and in pain. I don’t recall exactly what Andy was doing to me, but I believe he was applying a pressure point. (Andy was deeply involved in judo and karate in those days.) I remember telling him that I’d had enough and to stop, but he didn’t. I fought back and retrieved one of the many knives I had in my knife collection (on my desk).
Never trust anyone (completely), not even your best friend. For some reason, Andy was determined to show me who the “boss” was that evening. I wasn’t about to submit to that, not in my own house and my own bed room.
It was very simple. I grabbed the first knife I could lay my hands on, which in this case was a Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Dagger. These babies have a point on them like a needle; they’re real sharp!
I stabbed Andy in the arm, and the “who was going to be ‘boss’ battle” was over immediately. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t stab Andy all that deeply, just enough to draw blood and let him know I wasn’t about to put up with his behavior that night.
Needless to say, Andy didn’t come around for quite some time after that. I do recall him saying something to the effect that I was crazy or something like that. I was making a reputation for myself.