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Real Life Gun Fight – When Practice and Training Count

While studying the art of law enforcement at the academy, Officer Chris Beck achieved the status ‘Top Gun’ — or, simply stated, marksman. Believing that a police officer can never have enough training in the use of handguns, Beck continued to practice in his off time. Spending any free hours at either a shooting range or a distant site in the desert, he taught himself to shoot accurately right-handed, left-handed, or with both hands from any position – stationary or moving – pushing himself until his skill was honed to perfection. Often, a police officer is the only protective barrier between civilians and imminent danger. Training and mindset are the only things standing between a police officer and potential death during a gun fight, as Beck’s story shows…

At the time I had been an active duty police officer for about four years in the city of Compton, CA. This particular day l was making my mid-morning rounds, enjoying a coffee break with a friend when the call came in: man with a gun was as much detail as the dispatcher could offer.

There’s no such thing as “routine” in a police officer’s life—but, being human, we can slip into a rut. In an area like Compton, particularly the ghetto areas of the district, nine out of ten domestic disturbance calls come in described as “gun involved.” That’s because you have a lot of good people out here that are sick of seeing the drug and gang element hanging out on the corners and sidewalks— or in front of their house. They figure if you call 911, tell the dispatcher that a gun is in play, they’ll get a faster response.

Obviously, they are correct. A non-weapon, non-confrontational situation is regarded as a low priority call.

This is not to say that we don’t treat it responsibly but, unfortunately there are only so many officers on duty at any given time—so things have to be prioritized. I’ve answered dozens of calls like this, and either the suspect with the weapon has bolted before my arrival, or, in most cases, there never was one to begin with. Ironically.

I remember telling my friend, “Sit tight, I’ll be back shortly.” Maybe, just like anyone else, you watch so many cop movies where the criminal activity takes place at night, that you don’t expect violent confrontations during daylight hours. [Ed note: But as is often the case, Mr. Murphy—as in Murphy’s Law—was along for the ride]

A big crowd is usually a clue that shots have been fired, but arriving at the residence, I saw only a few people milling around on the street. I was still under the impression that this could be just another bogus call.

I noticed that the door was standing open. Since I was patrolling alone, I called for a back-up unit and got an update from the dispatcher. Apparently, in the interim, the shots had been confirmed. Witnesses were specific: it was a shotgun.

I drew my weapon, a .45 Glock, and was approached the door. I announced my presence and was greeted with silence. An eerie silence, the kind you can almost hear. I knew something was wrong. Nothing else smells like gunpowder, so there was no mistaking the sharp, acrid scent that greeted me as I entered the house. Tiny holes from shotgun blasts peppered the walls and spent cartridges littered the floor. Declaring my presence again, I backed out of the house.

My back-up arrived within minutes, and he know from my stance and the fact that my weapon was in hand that this was the real thing, I told him what I knew. We agreed to call for more units and surround the dwelling.

Mow, with two police cars on scene, and with recent gunshots, you increase the number of curious onlookers around the scene. This always presents a problem.

With the house facing north, and no one inside, we took opposite sides and moved around to the backyard where I almost bumped into the suspect. It’s important to be able to read a person’s body language and positioning and demeanor in this type of encounter. If, right off the bat, you can tell that your suspect is not intent on causing harm to himself or others, it can go a long way toward determining your style of negotiation.

This individual – male, 50s – was sitting upright, casually, on a garden bench – the kind you can buy at Home Depot – with this immense double-barrel shotgun straddling his lap.

Gun Fight

 

From the blank expression on his face, he could’ve been daydreaming about a failed romance. That, right there, is an immediate sign of danger: this guy is either “on” something or he’s just leaned so far over the edge that he’s fallen off. Talking to such a person is not unlike talking to a brick wall, but you absolutely have to continue verbal negotiations as long as possible.

In the firmest possible tone we demanded he release his hold on the weapon, place it on the ground and step away. No response. Meanwhile, of course, we positioned ourselves to maximize our cover. A side-by-side shotgun is a nasty invention, especially when you don’t know what he’s got loaded in it.

We repeat our demand. The suspect then stood up and bolted for the west side of the house, disappearing around the corner. As if things weren’t bad enough, the suspect was not heading for the large group of civilians around front, making the situation considerably worse. Anything was possible now. He might open fire on them at random or take a hostage – neither scenario was appealing or acceptable.

And now, of course, the danger to us was increased. In order to follow him around the house and target him correctly – and safely – we had to expose ourselves to the full bore of the weapon. We could’ve remained adequately covered and still had him in the crosshairs, so to speak, but if any one of our shots missed him – if it came down to that – the bullets would have continued past him and into the crowd out front.

When we caught up with him, the suspect was actually squatting and leaning back against an aluminum door that led to a playroom in the residence. The shotgun was cradled in his lap pointing away from us.

For the moment, he seemed calm and passive. There was a mere twenty feet between us.

I remember distinctly asking him again for the weapon, at which point he finally spoke. Since these were only words he ever uttered, l remember them clear as a bell: F—k you! You’ll have to kill me and take it out of my hands.” And in one fluid motion he uncoiled, whipped around like a snake stood to his full height, brought the shotgun to bear on us and opened fire!

gun fight: shotgun being fired

The concussion felt like the wind from a door being slammed in my face. At the time, I thought he only fired one barrel; later I would learn he pulled both triggers, unleashing the full force of the weapon. I felt the pellets ripping into my face and my legs, but oddly there was no pain. My partner went down screaming, “I’m hit!” And I could see that the guy still had that thing trained

Like throwing a switch, I went into automatic mode; my training took over. When this happens, I literally ignore the target—it becomes a blur—and my point of focus becomes the sight at the end of the gun’s barrel. In the blink of an eye, I fired off nine Hydra-Shok® rounds—very proven, very reliable ammunition. Yet the blur—the target—was still standing! I’m thinking maybe my sights are off and I missed. So, refocusing on the suspect, I could see that all nine shots were good, all had made contact with center mass — his chest area—and he was still standing! So, I reacquire and fire three more times in rapid succession.

The suspect finally slumped to the ground. Moving in. I saw no movement. With my gun still trained on him, I kicked the shotgun aside, out of his reach, handcuffed him and checked for other weapons. Then I checked for vital signs and discovered of course that he was dead.

Moving back towards my partner. I examined his wounds. None appeared to be in vital areas, thankfully, and I informed him that an ambulance was en route to take him to a hospital. My partner started laughing, asking if I’d bothered to call one for myself. It was then that l remembered that l had also gotten hit. Checking myself over, I found that the little BB sized pellets from the No. 2 buckshot had penetrated my legs and face—including one that had penetrated my cheek and entered my mouth where it rolled around like an oversized piece of pepper until I spit it out. Luckily my vest had taken the brunt of the round.

It was days later, after plastic surgery for my face and an entire day in an ER having pellets removed from my legs one at a time, with a pair of tweezers, that I learned the story behind the incident. The suspect apparently was a Postal worker, blown out of his mind on a mixture of cocaine and PCP, angered at his son, who decided that a shotgun was his best route of diplomacy. I thought my job was tough.

Overall, it goes to show you that nothing can beat training. You have to do it over and over and over until it becomes second nature—an instinct that comes to the surface automatically without conscious decision. Otherwise, you will hesitate or second guess your judgment—and that can cost you your life.

–as told to Kevin Kenney

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44 thoughts on “Real Life Gun Fight – When Practice and Training Count”

  1. This is a great lesson, and goes to show us that a person jacked-up on PCP (Angel dust) can literally be dead on his feet, but his body doesn’t know it yet, and can still go on shooting. It also shows us that when someone is on drugs, even a .45 acp isn’t always a guaranteed thing, so you just have to keep shooting until they go down. Not a pleasant thing to think about, but a sad, true fact.

  2. Let me get this straight. The perp was twenty feet away and managed to pepper an area from the face to the legs of one officer. Simultaneously, the
    other officer whom I’m quite sure wasn’t side by side, was also peppered. Apparently significantly more since no mention of return fire from that officer. All that from a side by side both barrels discharged.
    I think either the perp was an incredible shot or there is something wrong with the account of information. I’m curious as to what exactly where the positioning of all involved. I sure would love to see a 3D mock up of that sceen.

  3. Good resl life story, I want to prepare myself life this, with hopes of never having to use ot, but ready if I do.

  4. Should have put the last 4-5 rounds in him to make sure….i love hydro-shocks!….i am not big on oppressive employment….but police have to do necessary evil everyday….im sure they save more lives than they take….the whole thing is sad really!

  5. #2 buckshot??….i dont understand,must be a misprint….a pellet of buck is same as 9mm…one to the face?…im a little confused…..i wouldnt want to be on the end of any buck….ive shot watermelon at 20ft
    They explode…..but being the circumstance,and being a civillian,with limited training,in a perishable skill,im glad it was a cop,with a vest…..
    Its good to be canadian

  6. Thank God for your vest! How’s your bqack-up? All’s well I hope. You are absolutely correct practice, practice ’til your tired of it, then practice more! It will save your live on day, as you know!

  7. Sounds like a fairy tail. He said,” there was a mere twenty feet between us”. Unless it was sawed off to under six inches there is no way the wad had disbursed the #2 bird shot to spray such a large pattern. The two wads would have bounced off of them.

  8. If this scenario were to play out where I was born and raised (Albuquerque N.
    M.) The man with the shotgun would have never made it off the bench alive in the first place. This place is incredibly violent and you can hardly blame the police for the high percentage of police shootings. Again, thanks for the article and all other things that you offer. Just received my 3 stinger knives which I really like and have a “Fang” knife on order!! You guys are great
    Keep it up! People need to be aware of what is going on “out there).

  9. This officer took his job very seriously and conducted himself professionally. Training is the best preparation for being a Police Officer, training prepares you for these types of incidents. I commend this officer for his professionalism and devotion to duty realizing that as a Police Officer training prepares you for whatever you may encounter on the streets. Again I give this office kudos for his devotion to duty and the professionalism demonstrated by his training. As a former Police Officer, I am gratified to know that we have that caliber of officers on our streets.

  10. Blue lives matter. Training,training, and more training keeps you alive. God bless, and stay safe out there,what with all the goblins in play today.

  11. Thank you for your service and my God bless you and keep you safe. You guys stand between heaven and hell, when called upon it you that brings peace back into the lives and our community’s. Thank you and again my God bless you all. Peace

  12. Like the saying goes it’s better to have it and not need it than needing it and not having it. Knowledge is power and with that power comes a huge responsibility. I want to thank-you for bestowing these valuable techniques with those of us who understand that force is something that at times is necessary but always used with responsibility.

  13. My grandma always told me “practice makes perfect”. I believe it really paid off in this situation. I’m just sorry that drugs made a person believe that the only answer to a problem was using a gun. I am glad that the police officer practiced enough with his weapon that instinct took over & he was able to save the lives of civilians, his partner and himself.

  14. You’re right. Nothing beats being properly trained for situations like this. Often, when you think about it, you’re pausing to think. That’ll get you killed in that scenario. When you’re trained, your body already knows what to do and does it… all without pausing to think, and that makes all the difference between victory and death.

  15. Thanks for sharing an incredible story. Our mind and the way we react to a given situation can kill us or save us.I’m learning to stop for that couple of seconds and focus on task.

  16. *(I took a 2 yr Criminology Course and to this very day, i wish i was a Policewoman).
    A Policeman’s training and keen sense of awareness, allows him to react naturally. Quickly taking cues from the limited information you know going in. Being able to read a persons body language, positioning and demeanor, are important cues. I think it’s a natural response, for a Policeman to want to continue verbal negotiations, as long as possible.
    The suspect not complying by not dropping the shotgun and no verbal response, are two ‘big cues’. Suspect running around the house, another ‘ginormous cue’, that he’s not willing to go peacefully.
    I think the question is, at what point does the Policeman, shoot first, (even to wound), I.E. (the gun hand) and ask questions later? *(Taking valuable
    cues and being able to respond instinctively)…

  17. Good story.
    I am a patriot
    Member of front sight.
    I hope to get trained soon.
    I am a strong supporter
    Of the NRA.AN And second Amendment God Bless America.
    Ed

  18. First off, thanks to the officer for his service. The real lesson to be taken away for a civilian is that body armor is a game changer in a deadly force encounter. If you have to check out that bump in the night at home, it sure is nice to have a vest to quickly slip on first. There are civilian vests available for less than 500 bucks and if you own a self defense firearm and plan on clearing your house in an emergency it sure would be nice knowing you could absorb a round or two like this officer did. It isn’t like the movies where the bad guy drops after your first shot, he will be able to shoot back if armed and I for one want to have all of my vitals covered. I keep a vest with extra mags and a tactical light right by my bed so if I have to respond to something quickly I can slip it on and move. Overkill? Maybe so but I would rather have the protection and not need it.

  19. The officer did a very professional job, acting in an extremely calm & competent manner.
    Thank you for his story. I’m glad that there are [I hope]more men like him in other states.

    Wes Welch
    Trucker 24 yr. driver/3,000,000 miles with no accidents. No drugs, no alcohol. I’m now 75, & still recovering from severe injuries due to actions caused by another driver who thought that a Joke was a good thing to do, even though it almost cost another man’s life. Practice makes perfect/not always, but it helps.

  20. Thank GOD we have the right to bare arms. Thank GOD for good police officers! I’m also thankful to the officer that counted on his training and lived to tell the story! We all should honor and respect good police officer. Let’s also Thank GOD for the second amendment: The Right To Bare Arms!

  21. There are situations that have deteriorated to the point of non-negotiable before arrival, and this would be one. When the subject has gone silent and a blank stare or gaze as if nobody is home, all thought is on one thing, opportunity. In combat, shoot now, its over. In police action, one has lawyers to contend with and public opinion, that luxury is gone and one has to take the shot literally, to take a shot. It is always a bad day. Training in any combat is the key to survival.

  22. Overall, it goes to show you that nothing can beat training. You have to do it over and over and over until it becomes second nature—an instinct that comes to the surface automatically without conscious decision. Otherwise, you will hesitate or second guess your judgment—and that can cost you your life.
    Well said!!!

  23. Gunfight are serious. It’s far better to use other “tactics” before guns are introduced. I realized this is not always practical, but there ARE ways to disarm a gunman if you are well trained. if you are not – spend a lot of time at the range and ALWAYS be prepared for the unexpected,

  24. Just goes to show you that the more training you have,the better odds are that you will survive.I have a CCW and our instrutor said that the more training you get,the better off you will be.

  25. Thank you for your service Officer Chris Beck.
    Having been a native of SoCal, I know how dangerous patrol duty is in places like Compton. My wife served jury duty in a criminal trial there. I took depositions of public safety members injured for disability.
    A former fire engineer say he always carries when coming into Compton. He quit Compton Fire. Oh, he was born in Compton. He swears he will never come in there voluntarily. I was always threatened or cursed when I traveled to appearances there. So I salute you, officer.

  26. this is a very interesting history, praise the Lord that this officer was wheel train, thank you to share it with us.

  27. I agree totaly when at first start to trinen and lisening to all this coments and preparetion i heard about musle memory and “be awear of your soraunde i thoug i was gointo be paranoya but the reality is after a few weeks of trining and paid att,of whats goin on that people get kill for les than $20 bucs i change my apttitud completly and now i automaticly allwais am awerard whats around me am allwais ready but now its normal for me thanks for every thing ….and very important i now i have a long way to go on lern.

  28. Reminds me of my Army days, when we had “battle drills’, a word or phrase that meant “WHATEVER YOU ARE DOING, DROP IT AND INSTINCTIVELY DO WHAT THAT WORD REQUIRES !!!” Such as, in a field artillery Fire Direction Center, hearing a call for fire on the radio or computer prompts somebody to yell “FIRE MISSION!” Everybody else on shift drops their MRE or card game and grabs their slide rule or whatever and gets the data calculated and sent to the gun line as fast as possible. Lives depend on doing it fast AND correctly first time, every time. For the 200 or so live rounds we fired in an average year we did “dry” missions (going thru motions without ammo) in the thousands. Training is the key to overcoming the emotions and getting the job done. Emotions are for after the after-action-review, for the commander when he/she writes the letters home to the families of the KIAs and wounded, and for when the living write home of their fallen comrades.

  29. Most powerful story that does indeed take training. Emotions can be crippling!! I didn’t realize how much so until I was faced with it. Fortunately all worked out well and safe.

  30. You could not pay me enough to do what our Police officers have to do on a daily basis,and we still have these people out there that run there mouths off every day about they should not do this or that. Let the big mouths run into a 6 ft. 250 lb. man half crazed on drugs grab them and see what they would do. They never see that side its always police unnecessary force. Yea

  31. This is an officer that should be an example to others. His extra effort in training was well worth it. Civilians should train themselves to the extent that they are able to make decisions when it counts.

  32. The second lesson in this story is when you are closer then 25 feet to someone, considering it takes 1/2-1 second to respond to the other person’s movement, this gives that person enough time to kill you with an already loaded gun at the ready.

    If the guy had been using real buckshot or slugs, this story might have ended with two dead police officers.

    1. You are right John, with firearms especially you have very little time to react. You would never want to approach an armed and dangerous person without already have your weapon out and ready.

      The other lesson here is the limitations of some shotguns for personal protection. The crazed man in this story fired two rounds and hit two people (unfortunately for the officers, he was very efficient and effective with his weapon), but unlike in the movies people don’t simply fall down and die after one shot. Even with a fatal shot an attacker may be able to function and be a lethal threat for several seconds. Relying on a weapon which only has one or two shots before reloading is better than nothing but far from ideal. A pump or semi-auto shotgun is a safer bet, but still not great, considering both are time consuming to reload.

  33. A similar incident happened to one of my personnel years ago. Yes, they happen in a flash and you don’t realize what’s going on immediately. You just react to the way you trained