Gunfighters I Have Known
And Why They Are Still Around
To Tell Their Tales.
During my time as both a cop and soldier, I was fortunate to know many men (and a few women) who experienced close-quarters combat or gunfights with armed criminals. Some were just lucky they survived; others trained constantly, were mentally tough and prepared daily for what they considered an inevitable encounter.
The four men we’ll be looking at are all veterans of multiple shootings and firefights. They are, as best as I can describe them, modern samurai with rifles, shotguns and handguns. They didn’t count on luck — they trained, practiced and prevailed by constant repetition and careful preparation. Here are their stories, their fighting weapons and what they consider important from literally dozens of firefights. What you won’t be getting here are body counts or what it’s like to engage in a gunfight. These men are not about describing their shootings. But they’ve spent years training other cops and soldiers going in harm’s way on what works and how to survive and win. I’ve found their lessons and training are very similar and have relevance to a city cop on patrol, a citizen carrying lawfully concealed or a young Marine on his first combat deployment.
Colt .45 Government Model, favored weapon for many years with LAPD SWAT. SWAT
officers are issued two pistols for duty. Until recently, these guns were
confiscated Colts, rebuilt by the SWAT Armory. Kimber has won the contract
to arm LAPD SWAT with customized 1911 pistols.
Police Officer III Scott Reitz (ret.),
LAPD SWAT/METRO Favored weapon: Colt 1911 .45
I first met Scotty just before the ’84 Los Angeles Olympics. I was a probationary recruit still in the Academy; Scott was a veteran team member in SWAT, where he spent 10 years of his police career. During his time on LAPD SWAT he participated in hundreds of SWAT callouts and got into several full-on gun battles. When Scott wasn’t working, he was training with other SWAT members, working as an instructor at Gunsite (Jeff Cooper’s firearms training facility in Arizona) or doing physical training. Later in his career, he was the primary LAPD SWAT and Metropolitan Division firearms instructor.
What I remember clearly about Scott Reitz was his incredible appetite for training. His marksmanship skills are exceptional with rifle, pistol, shotgun or sub-gun. If there’s ammo available, Scott will shoot it — but it’ll be done in a live-fire scenario or drill designed to increase skill, speed or accuracy. The neat thing about him is his knowledge as a trainer was available to all LAPD units, not just METRO or SWAT. He worked with every copper who asked, including probationary cops like me, dispensing life-saving tips and marksmanship techniques. Much later in my career, I had the honor and pleasure of working with him as a tactics and firearms trainer, where I saw his abilities as marksman and instructor close-up.
When not training, Scott is a physical fitness fanatic. He works out with the same intensity he has when he’s shooting. Fitness was always mentioned and stressed by him when he trained other LAPD officers. Fit cops shoot better, think more clearly and have the will, stamina and strength to survive and win. Scott Reitz is still training other cops, as well as civilians and military, in retirement. He’s an author and an internationally recognized instructor of law enforcement officers and military professionals.
Like many experienced pistol shooters, Reitz prefers the 1911 .45. LAPD SWAT Officers are issued two 1911s for duty, equipped with lights. Scott is comfortable training with any handgun, including revolvers (his first duty gun), but in his experience, the 1911 chambered in .45 is the ultimate professional’s weapon, having the power and reliability needed in high-risk entries. But he cautions it’s not a weapon for beginners or those who don’t like to train. Scott still carries a cocked and locked 1911 as his personal handgun in retirement. He trains with and uses the Weaver stance, slightly modified, because it’s built upon a balanced fighting position. The bladed body profile of the Weaver keeps the holstered weapon away from a suspect. It can also be quickly taught to police officers trained in the interview or interrogation position, and can be modified to fit the user’s physique, or if body armor is worn.
Patrolman Bill Allard (ret.),
NYPD SOU, ESU Favored weapon: Colt 1911 .45
NY City Patrolman Bill Allard has been in more gunfights than any other policeman in NYPD history. He was one of the initial members of the NY SOU (Stake-Out Unit) in 1968 and left when the SOU was disbanded in 1973. After leaving the SOU, he continued working the streets of New York in ESU (Emergency Services Unit), Detective Investigations and Patrol, retiring in 1981. He still lives in NY and carries a handgun daily, usually a Kimber 1911 .45. Now 75, he’s finally enjoying retirement after a second career working as a firearms consultant and instructor.
Before, during and after his career as a cop, Bill was a fierce competitor in bull’s-eye. In 1982 he won the national civilian championship at Camp Perry, shooting the .22 and .45. Bill is adamant you must look at your front sight in a gunfight; his years of intensive bull’s-eye practice made focusing on the front sight part of his muscle memory, even under the stress of a shooting. The basics of bull’s-eye (intense focus on the front sight and absolute trigger control) were in his training regimen and carried over into deadly encounters. As the firearms instructor for the SOU, Bill mandated high marksmanship standards for anyone selected, and conducted frequent live-fire drills for the squad. He personally tested and chronographed the loads used by SOU for accuracy, velocity and terminal performance.
Bill has used shotguns, .38 Special revolvers and a Colt .45 auto against armed suspects. The NYPD issued Ithaca 37 12-gauge short-barreled shotguns and buckshot to the SOW. The primary handgun was the S&W 4″ .38, loaded with the (then) NYPD duty load of a 158-grain SWC lead bullet. Bill also carried his personal National Match Colt 1911 .45 with hollowpoints as a backup gun. Because of the nature of the threat and the danger faced by the stakeout squad, members were given a wide latitude in weapons used. Bill had his heavy-barreled 4″ S&W .38 as his primary and carried his .45 in the backup mode, which was specially authorized by the NYPD. Other SOU members carried Browning Hi Powers and additional 2″ and 4″ .38s during stakeouts.
In discussing guns and gunfight survival, Allard advocates the 1911 loaded with a good hollowpoint round. “In those days (late ’60s, early ’70s), there weren’t many good hollowpoints available. The guys with the Browning Hi Powers used roundnosed ball, which didn’t work too well performance-wise. I had Norma hollowpoints in my .45 — much better than ball. The .45 hollowpoints didn’t exit the body.” Bill emphasizes sighted fire, 1911s, hollowpoints and lots of competitive practice to give the policeman or citizen the upper hand in a lethal engagement.
During the 5 years the NYPD SOU was active, SOU never lost an officer or a gunfight in dozens of armed confrontations.
SGM (ret.) Kyle Lamb instructs a class on CQB with an M-4 rifle. After retiring from the Army, Kyle opened his own training school and is busy teaching deploying special operations soldiers, cops and legally armed civilians techniques he’s learned from 21 years as a special operations soldier.
Good advice from those that have been in more than one gun battle is to have access to a long gun. Bill Allard carried a cut-down pump shotgun. Kyle Lamb preferred an M-4; Scotty Reitz and John Helms were usually armed with ARs, MP-5s or a Benelli shotgun. Only after the long gun was empty or unavailable would the pistol be employed. This is a suppressed version of an M-4, used by US and other special operations forces.
SGM (Sergeant Major)Kyle Lamb (ret.),
US Army 1st SFOD-D Favored weapons: Colt M4A1, Glock 22
SGM Kyle Lamb has been at the very “tip of the spear” in Desert Storm, Somalia and Iraq. His 21 years in the US Army reads like a Hollywood character in a movie script: 82nd Airborne Paratrooper, communications specialist in a Special Forces A-Team during “Desert Storm” and 15 years as a Delta team member. SGM Lamb was one of several Delta Soldiers heavily engaged in the fighting in Mogadishu after the downing of the Super 61 helo. He deployed five times to Iraq during the 2nd Gulf War, planning and participating in literally hundreds of direct-action missions. His advice on surviving in combat is simple: “bottom-up planning, combat marksmanship, thinking outside the box and medical training.” Something that needs to be mentioned is Delta’s usual mission, unlike a Ranger or Marine combat unit, is accomplished by stealth, not confrontation. But if it comes to a firefight, massive, overwhelming, targeted violence by experienced operators will almost always win.
Kyle has had extensive experience with the H&K 416 and MP-5 as well as the Colt M4. He preferred the M4 on combat deployments. “The M4 is a lightweight system highly reliable when lubed. It also has less recoil and is lighter than most piston systems.” On pistols, the SGM has worked with many handguns, including 1911s, S&W M&Ps and the Glock. When Lamb came to Delta, the .45 1911, tuned by Army Special Operations Armorers, was the issued sidearm. Delta eventually transitioned to the Glock 22, which Kyle likes for its simplicity, firepower, light weight and reliability. In the military, the handgun is a secondary weapon; soldiers don’t get the extensive training with pistols they receive with long arms. That’s not true in Delta, where weapons proficiency with all assigned firearms is at a far higher level than any combat infantry unit. The Glock has the required reliability, magazine capacity and durability a Delta operator needs. Like most hardcore pistol shooters, SGM Lamb loves the 1911, but notes the Glock is a better pistol for Delta missions.
SGM Kyle Lamb kept his shooting skills at peak level between deployments by competing in 3-gun events. He told me competition increased his proficiency and pointed to areas where he could focus his future training on. He has used his competitive shooting experiences, proven in combat, to train fellow Delta teammates. Now retired, Kyle Lamb still offers training through his own school. Kyle is heavily involved with training US Army units for combat and police officers in street survival. His insights into practical marksmanship, coupled with his extensive combat time, give soldiers, cops and the civilians he’s trained a critical advantage not found anywhere else.
The 3rd Gen S&W .45, here in the TSW (4563) version. A favorite of the LAPD SIS unit for quite awhile, before being superseded by the Glock 21 in .45. John Helms liked the .45 DA Smith &Wesson autos and considered them a good fit for the SIS Detectives he trained. The .38 S&W below the S&W .45, while popular with the LAPD rank and file, was rarely carried by SIS Detectives, who usually carried an additional .45, as well as shotguns and rifles.
Glock 22 in .40 caliber, favored weapon due to lightweight, magazine capacity and durability
Detective IIIJohn Helms (ret.) LAPD SWAT,
SIS Favored weapons: Colt 1911 .45, Glock .45, S&W DA .45
In a department full of urban warriors, John Helms is a legend. His entire 35-plus years on the LAPD have been spent on the streets of Los Angeles. His time “on the job” includes 8 years in SWAT and over 20 years in SIS (Special Investigations Section), the LAPD’s go-to unit when dealing with the City of Angel’s most violent felons. John has been in numerous toe-to-toe gunfights as a SWAT cop and SIS detective; one shooting resulted in his being decorated with the Department’s Medal of Valor for heroic actions during a violent hostage rescue.
Not surprisingly, John likes the 1911 as a fighting pistol, but is also aware of its limitations. As much as he likes the 1911 (John told me shooting one was “like shaking hands with an old trusted friend”), he thinks it’s a training-intensive weapon and isn’t the best solution for many people. Proper employment during high-stress incidents mandates extensive, repetitive training. Detective Helms mentioned some shooters are all about the weapon — and that’s a serious mistake. To him, the handgun is a small part of fighting and winning. Helms cautioned me about picking a “favorite” tool (firearm): “you must train and excel with whatever you’re issued.” It is, after all, just a tool. The individual involved in the struggle is the irreplaceable item that wins the fight.
John started his police career with S&W revolvers and understands their role in defensive shootings well. In 1984, while assigned to SWAT, he partnered up with Larry Mudgett (also LAPD SWAT) and taught the November ’84 LAPD recruit class Cooper’s modern technique of the pistol. It was a groundbreaking experiment, resulting in later modifications on how the LAPD trained and qualified with handguns. During his time in SIS as both worker bee and field supervisor, Helms was the primary tactical firearms instructor, overseeing the development of arrest tactics and marksmanship techniques unique to the SIS. He had the same job in SWAT (tactical firearms instructor), and was instrumental in developing CQB and hostage rescue training for what many consider the finest (and oldest) SWAT unit in the US.
John has extensive experience with DA (double-action) autos, having used S&W .45 autos for several years in SIS. It was a reliable, accurate pistol that was well suited to the mission, serving the unit superbly (“It always got the job done!”). Once again though, according to John, it was all about SIS individual and team training. Other pistols, including the Glock 21 in .45, have served SIS equally well; John likes the Glock (“holds lots of rounds, is simple and reliable”) and now carries one daily in retirement.
Some of the guns of Scott Reitz from his LAPD career. Top is an M67 .38 S&W, the standard-issue LAPD revolver when Scott started with the LAPD. Middle is a 6″ LAPD M68 .38. Bottom is a Colt Government Model .45, the standard-issue SWAT pistol until the Kimber 1911 was adopted. Bottom right is the Beretta 92, an LAPD-issued pistol.
What I keyed on during my interviews with these four gentlemen were that the similar points and lessons stressed not only staying alive, but to win the gunfight. I don’t think there’s anything new here. What came across was applying marksmanship basics and training constantly works better than the latest gun or tactical technique. Detailed planning of your operation, training as a team and repetition of training wins firefights and street confrontations. For the citizen, meaningful practice, knowing the law, when and when not to engage and what you’ll do after the shooting are what’s important.
Use a big gun. When confronting suspects or enemy combatants, carry a rifle or shotgun as your primary weapon. All four of our interviewed subjects started an engagement usually armed with a shoulder-fired weapon. The advantages are obvious. The handgun eventually came into play, but only after the big gun was empty or unavailable. And all four carried more than one weapon, including multiple handguns. Bill Allard always carried a .38 (sometimes two) and a .45, in addition to a short-barreled shotgun. Delta Soldiers carry a handgun as well as a rifle (and sometimes a shotgun, too).
The quickest reload is transitioning to another loaded gun. John Helms, when he worked SIS, had an AR-15 or shotgun and more than one .45, as did the other SIS detectives. Scotty Reitz, as a member of SWAT, had two 1911s and an MP-5 sub-gun. Everyone agreed the handgun should be loaded with a good hollowpoint load. Today there is no shortage of excellent pistol ammo available; there’s no excuse not to buy something with a good track record. Test-fire your weapon and ammo for reliability and point of aim. The .40 or .45 is the preferred round. Big bullets are always better than smaller ones, even today. Cross-train with a variety of weapons and learn to be competent with anything you come across.
Training is critical. Train hard and train often. Shoot as much as you can afford to, and shoot competitively. Even if it’s just shooting against your range partner, compete. Flawless performance under stress is what you’re after. Col. Charles Askins, who was no stranger to a gunfight, told me he experienced far more stress during the National Matches than in any gunfight. Competitive practice also gives you a yardstick to measure your performance by. Work on the basics; sight alignment and trigger control have won more gunfights than point shooting at sinister-looking targets or a roadhouse spin. The basics of marksmanship, though boring, apply in all shooting scenarios. Practice the basics over and over. Advanced drills and tactics come later after you’ve learned to shoot. Excellent marksmanship skills build confidence.
Work out as much as you shoot. Lift weights, run and be physical whenever you can. Being fit and strong will improve your marksmanship and give you the determination to fight and win. John Helms is a serious student of the martial arts. It’s another survival skill that compliments his marksmanship training. “Don’t have a preferred weapon. Learn to excel and win with whatever you have.” John emphasized this several times when I spoke with him. Be comfortable with whatever you bring to the fight; don’t fall into the “I must have my favorite 9mm or .45,” or whatever else you carry. The weapon is only a tool, whether it’s a pistol, shotgun or police baton. Be familiar with whatever you have available. Have a plan, train as a team and refine your training based on feedback from team members. Then train some more.
Our subjects are modest regarding their shooting ability, what they’ve accomplished in their careers or about what they’ve survived on the streets or in combat. No one wanted to talk about individual shootings, and I didn’t ask. But the lessons from all of their encounters were discussed without reservation; all four men have studied armed conflict and what wins gunfights. All four never had any doubts about surviving an encounter when they went to work; they had supreme confidence in their partners, equipment, training and ability. This was based on rehearsals, live-fire exercises and constant marksmanship training. The winner is always the best-trained, most-focused combatant. Some things never change.
By Robert Kolesar