Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Lessons Learned

A man was killed in Tyler, Texas on February 24, 2005, as he attempted to stop a murderer who had already killed his ex-wife and wounded his son at the Tyler Courthouse during a bitter child-support dispute. Mark Allen Wilson, 52, was in his apartment overlooking the courthouse square when he heard gunshots, grabbed his Glock 9mm handgun, and went out to confront the shooter, David Hernandez Arroyo Sr.
"They traded shots, missing each other, and then the gunman hit Wilson and Wilson went down," said Nelson Clyde III, publisher of the Tyler Morning Telegraph, recalling the shooting as he watched from Don Juan's.

"The gunman walked up to Wilson and shot him while he was on the ground," Clyde said. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing ... it was sickening."

"He was either wounded or dead, but the guy (Arroyo) shot him again to make sure he wouldn't get up," said witness Brandon Malone, a Tyler builder who was lunching inside Don Juan's.
According to another eyewitness account (see the comments), Wilson actually shot the gunman several times, but his rounds had no effect because the gunman was wearing a military flack jacket over a bullet-proof vest. Wilson then took cover behind a pickup truck (that coincidentally happened to be the gunman's). The gunman closed the distance and then maneuvered around the truck, shooting Wilson several times at close range with an AK-47 rifle, and finishing him off with a shot to the head. The gunman then drove off, followed by another witness to the events, and was shortly cornered and killed by responding police in the ensuing shootout.

I salute Mark Wilson for his courage in running to the sound of the guns. How many of us would do the same? Police credit his intervention with saving the life of Arroyo's son. Mark Wilson was a very brave man, who paid the ultimate price for helping others. What can we learn from this?

Being that he was at his house, why didn't Wilson grab a rifle or a shotgun instead of his handgun? Think how this story would have ended if he had grabbed, say, an AR-15 (every patriotic American should own an AR-15 as their 'Stuff Hits The Fan' gun).

A view of the Courthouse square, steps in foreground.
The flowers on the steps are where Arroyo killed his wife,
flowers across the street in front of yellow building where
Wilson was killed, Wilson's apartment in
building at right with arched windows.
(Image courtesy of 'Blackfork6' via Geek with a .45)

The Bad Guy's vest wouldn't have stopped the rounds... and if it did a headshot would have been far easier. From the pictures of the courthouse I've seen (see above), I believe Wilson could have engaged the Bad Guy from his front door, or even his apartment window, very effectively with a rifle and with relative safety. Or, think how several rounds of 00 buck would have made shredding the Bad Guy's legs, arms, and/or head a lot easier at the relatively short range that this gunfight occurred, or how a slug would have made hash of the Bad Guy's vest, or at least broken some ribs beneath it.

Above all, all of us who carry guns for self-defense need to remember that when the chips are down and Plan A isn't working, then go to Plan B... or Plan C... or Plan D. And we need to have alternatives already thought out, because once the bullets start flying there isn't a lot of time to think. If you shoot a Bad Guy in the body and he doesn't react, shoot him somewhere else! Head shots are a lot easier if the Bad Guy is lying on the ground (and still posing a threat) than if he up on his feet and running back and forth. If you are forced to go to cover behind a vehicle, look for other parts of his body to engage (feet, legs, etc.). This was the successful strategy used by LAPD SWAT during the North Hollywood bank robbery shootout; the good guys went down to avoid the bad guy's shooting, saw his legs and feet, and started pouring in rounds. Plan B (or C, or D) might be to run away, and although you can't outrun a rifle bullet you can outrun someone you just shot in the foot or ankle or shin or thigh, who might then be more concerned about his mangled leg, blood loss, and the massive pain caused by multiple broken bones than someone disappearing between cars a block away.

Again, this isn't to criticize Mark who was a very brave man. It is for the rest of us to think realistically about what it means to use a gun in defense of ourselves and others, to remember that guns (especially handguns) aren't the Hammer of Thor and that we need to consider what we do next when we put a few in the ten-ring and our opponent's only reaction is anger, and to have a plan, and a second plan to use when the first plan fails. Guns don't win gunfights, tactics win gunfights.

Rules To Live By (a distillation of numerous classes and conversations with those far more qualified than I):

• Never take a handgun to a gunfight if a long gun is available. A handgun is what we use to fight to get to our long gun.

• Never take your eyes off of your opponents; if you duck behind a car, get down to ground level so you can see his feet, see where he's heading, scoot around to keep the car between you and him, and shoot him in the feet if possible to eliminate his mobility.

• Never do at close range what you can do at long range, and remember that you don't have to get close enough to the bad guy to hit him with the gun, just close enough to hit him with the bullets. A gun (even a handgun) isn't a contact weapon and if you're reduced to using it as such you're screwed.

• The ideal tactical situation in a gunfight is to be where you can effectively bring fire on your opponent and he cannot return the favor. Let your opponent stand out in the open while you're behind cover. Don't leave cover unless it's for a good reason. Don't ever stand toe-to-toe; distance is the ally of the good marksman. Don't give your opponent a chance.

• Never forget that running away is a viable tactic; "those who fight and run away fight again another day."

• If you choose to get involved in a gunfight (rather than being dragged into one kicking and screaming), you had better figure a way out if things aren't working if you are at all interested in surviving.

• The only way you win a gunfight is by not being shot. If you and your opponent are both shot, you both lose.

I hesitate to use the word "hero" because it is so often used to describe people who really aren't heroic. Sports figures who play children's games for millions of dollars aren't heroes. Neither are sleazy politicians who commit perjury, hide behind semantics, and claim glory for earning a comtempt citation and the loss of their law license. Every once in a while, however, we see an example of real heroism, where someone among us shows tremendous physical and moral courage and risks his life to help others. The firefighters and police of New York City on September 11 who ran to the burning towers come to mind, as do people like the passengers of Flight 93, football player-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman and others who have given their all to help make us safer. Mark Wilson is another real hero, and we are diminished by his passing.

Here's to you, Mark Wilson. You had the courage to try. Rest in Peace.

NB: Other gun-related articles, in my 'Lessons Learned' series that describes gun fights and what we can learn from them, can be found here. I also write on .32 ACP defense ammo that is perhaps the most-read article on this blog, here.

Notes: More on Mark Wilson in the links above, and from the blogs of Greek with a .45, The Smallest Minority, and The Carnival of Cordite at Resistance is futile! who clued me into this story (hat tip to Instapundit). In fact, this will be my entry into next week's carnival.

Update:Other blogs are discussing this as well, from several different points of view. Here's a link to a good summary, and here's another.

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