Deputy's Observations: Selecting the Right Weapon
The quickest way to reload a semiautomatic pistol is to have another magazine ready in the support hand. It is one of many firearm skills that must be practiced to do effectively. Photo by Teri Kuhn, Iron Sights Indoor Range, Oceanside, CA.
By Frank Hinkle
A few years ago I stayed up late one night to watch a bad Arnold movie on TV. It didn’t finish until midnight. I closed up the house and put the dog out in the garage prior to going to bed. While I was in the garage I heard sounds coming from outside. I could have opened the garage door but whatever was happening outside would be directly in front of me and I wouldn’t be able to see very well until the door was about halfway open. Instead I went back thorough the house and I had to pass the kitchen table on my way to the front door. My off-duty weapon and an extra magazine were still lying there from when I had come home, so I picked them both up and went to the front door. It was my intention to tuck the pistol into the back of my pants and to go out onto the porch to see what the noises outside were, but just as I got to the door I heard music. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I did not expect to hear music. Without thinking why I cocked my weapon and stepped outside, the extra magazine still in my other hand. I was surprised by what I saw outside and raised my weapon…
Let me digress for a moment. The weapon that I was carrying at that very moment has nothing to do with the point of this story and everything to do with the point of this story. It was a Colt Government Model MK IV Series ’70 semiautomatic pistol chambered for the .45 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) cartridges. It was loaded with 8-rounds of CCI/Speer 200 grain “flying ashtray” JHP ammunition and a ninth loaded into the chamber. The magazine in my left hand held another 8-rounds. This hollow point bullet got it’s name because the cavity was so large that it looked like an ashtray, and I was armed with 17 of them. I bought this pistol while I was in the Sheriff’s Academy in 1977, and at that point in time it was the gunfighter’s gun. The pistol most often called “the .45 auto” was adopted by the United States Army as a sidearm for our servicemen in 1911, hence it’s other name, the “1911” or “1911A1.” My model, the MK IV Series ’70 had several refinements that the serious combat shooter wanted in his defensive pistol, including a barrel bushing to improve accuracy. Other than a pair of Pachmayr Signature grips and a duty-tune by our department armorer it was stock.
I had carried this pistol every day. I should have counted how many rounds I had shot through this pistol, but for many years I shot three times a month, and I shot this pistol the most. I had carried it off-duty and as a fugitive investigator with Deputy Phil Ford in our Plain Clothes detail. Every deputy in my locker room associated that pistol with me, and a few even envied it.
Sometimes you handle a tool so much that it becomes a part of you. It becomes a natural extension of you and you manipulate it without even thinking of the mechanics involved. It just “is;” there is no other word for it. “IS-what” you ask? “Is” as in “it is my favorite sidearm”; the one that I’d most want in my hand going into combat. That is if I don’t have a rifle or Mr. Remington in my hand at which point I’d want my Government Model in my holster.
But stepping back to the music playing in front of my house as I stood on the front porch, it was coming from my wife’s sports car, which was parked and running in the driveway. I didn’t know that she listened to the radio so loudly when she drove by herself. The volume had been cranked all the way up when she parked it there earlier that day, so when the car thief jimmied the passenger side door and then forced the ignition switch in his efforts to steel her car, the radio had began blaring. It must have surprised him because he had run back across the street to a waiting accomplice sitting behind the wheel of a new Buick sedan. He didn’t look like a Buick driver; he looked more like a startled car thief.
The driver was 80 feet away from me and the other suspect was about ten feet further away on the other side of the Buick sedan. I know the distance because I measured it later. Behind them was an embankment; the house there sits above ours on a terraced lot and their bedrooms are on the far side of the house from where this little drama was playing out. I had a good backstop. 80 feet is just over 25-yards, a long shot for a defensive pistol, epically one with GI sights. The distance between us ran thought my mind briefly as I brought my weapon up and identified myself as an upset peace officer employed by the County of San Diego. But the distance did not distract me, I had shot at 25-yards and I was confident that I could hit either subject if I had to, and that my rounds could penetrate the Buick if needed.
That is the point of this article and why the gun in my hand is and is not important to the outcome of this story. Sometimes it is just too easy to be safe. I had to walk right past the table where I had left my favorite carry gun and it was too easy to just pick it and the extra magazine up. I had the magazine in my left hand, which was supporting the gun in my right hand. I had practiced holding a magazine in my supporting hand because that is the fastest way to reload. I had researched and chosen the “flying ashtrays” as my carry ammo just like how I had changed from wooden grip panels to the tacky Pachmayr grips for better recoil control. It was too easy to carry 8-round magazines rather than the old standard 7-round mags, and it was too easy to carry an extra magazine. It was too easy to go to the range and practice and practice and practice some more at longer distances, because shooting this gun is fun! And these two car thieves had interrupted my fun by trying to steal my wife’s car, which would have made my life “not fun.”
I did not know what the sounds outside my house were, but I armed myself and went to investigate. When I heard the music playing I did not grasp the significance of it but I did grasp that something was very wrong and I cranked my preparedness level up one more notch by keeping my weapon in my hand. When I saw the two men across the street from me I did not yet realize that they were trying to steel my wife’s car, but I did take exception to them and the car that they had. By process of elimination they were the cause of whatever was going on so I challenged them. I moved forward and was able to see my wife’s car was the source of the music, which meant that it was running. The passenger side door, which was furthest away from me, was open. I did not turn my back on that car because I had not cleared it. What you have not cleared is like a prisoner that you have not searched; so you don’t turn your back on it until you have. When the suspects drove off I cleared our car to make sure that no one was hiding in it.
The point is that the distance involved did not distract me. I was not distracted by anything at that moment because I had been trained and I had practiced and I was equipped and confident and all I had to concentrate on was the two-felony suspect across the street from me. I was not distracted by “is the safety lever ‘on’,” or “can I do this,” or anything else. All I had to concentrate on was ‘if’ I needed to make the shot. I knew my abilities, I knew my weapon and it’s potential and I knew the law.
I live in California, not in Texas. Had I been in the Great State of Texas it would have been another thing, but in California we do not shoot suspects for property crimes. The second suspect jumped into the Buick and it screamed off, chased by my shouts of “Deputy marshal! Stop!” They drove off and I put the safety lever ‘on’ and called 9-1-1. I did not need to shoot to defend my life but I was able to and prepared to do so, even across the width of my front yard and the street in front of my home: 80 feet.
That was not the only time that I had confronted a suspect at more than the common 2-to-5-yards. One night I stood behind a gas station holding a robbery suspect in a canyon below me at gunpoint. I estimated that distance at more than 50 yards, and that night I was armed with my second favorite weapon, a Smith & Wesson Model 19 “Combat Magnum.” I was not pleased to be covering him from so far away with a 4” revolver, but it is an exceptional revolver made by an exceptional firearms manufacturer and I had chosen it for duty carry. I believe that the tone of my commands conveyed my confidence in my ability to control the situation.
I’m not saying that you have to carry a Combat Magnum or a Colt Government Model .45ACP. The gun does not matter as long as it does not matter to you. If you have chosen and trained and practiced and are proficient with your weapon, you will not be distracted by it. You will be able to concentrate on the need to make the shot to protect yourself and to carry out your duties. Think tactically and be aware of your surroundings and what is out-of-place. Communicate, consider the law and policies and be prepared to take action. Prepare beforehand for this event, think about it and practice with your equipment. Remember your training and follow procedure. And don’t be distracted by the music paying in the background.
Stay safe, and stay alert.