The 1986 Miami Shootout

April 11, 1986 was an important date for gun nuts. On that date a unit of FBI agents were involved in a hellacious firefight with two military-trained armed robbers, Michael Platt and William Mattix. When the smoke cleared FBI agents Ben Grogan and Jerry Dove had been killed, and five other FBI agents had been wounded in the firefight. Platt and Mattix each sustained multiple gunshot wounds (some very solid hits) but continued to fight and managed to do an extraordinary amount of damage.

The shootout was a high-profile event, grabbing headlines and spawning incredible amounts of myth and legend that persists to this day. Books were written based on it, and you couldn’t read any of the gun magazines for more than a couple of months without seeing the Miami shootout referenced somewhere. Hollywood got involved too, producing movies and TV shows with references to the fight and at least one attempt at a dramatic recreation of it:

While myth and legend persist about the Miami shootout, it’s actually one of the most thoroughly documented and studied shooting incidents in history. There are plenty of facts available to someone who is interested in research, but as is the case with high profile events people often prefer to take third-hand legend away from it rather than carefully search for the facts.

If you’re looking for the facts, our friends at Ballistic Radio did an interview with John Hearne, who is widely recognized as one of the leading experts on the Miami shootout. It’s not exhaustive, by any means, but that interview will give you a good grasp on what happened in the fight and some of the lessons we can learn from it.

Our equipment has certainly benefitted from the lessons learned in the aftermath of the Miami shootout. That incident is widely recognized as the turning point in the study of terminal ballistics when a well-funded organization with access to experts in many fields (one of the FBI’s strengths) applied hard science to the question of terminal ballistics, resulting in a better understanding of bullet wounding factors and some testing protocols which allowed an assessment of a particular round’s likely performance in the field and a process by which ammunition could be designed for better performance. As a result, today we have ammunition choices in any of the common service calibers that perform brilliantly and offer the best possible chance of stopping a threat.

The Miami shootout happened at a time when drug trafficking and related gang crime were hitting a peak, and police departments like the LAPD were encountering a breed of thug that harkened back to the motorized bandits of the depression era. There was mounting pressure to upgrade from the police standard 6 shot revolver to one of the higher capacity “Wonder Nine” semi-autos like the Beretta 92. Derided as “crunchentickers” by Jeff Cooper, this new breed of double-action first shot, single action followup semi-automatic pistols with a double-stack magazine gave the user more than double the capacity of ammunition on tap and a much faster, much less fiddly reload. In the aftermath of the shootout, the FBI transitioned to semi-automatic pistols and that burst the dam, ending the reign of the revolver as the police sidearm of choice.

If you want to really understand the history of firearms, you have to understand the Miami shootout and the general tenor of the times when it occurred. There’s no better way to get a start on that than by listening to the interview over at Ballistic Radio. While you’re over there, check out some of the other great interviews they’ve done. I promise it’s worth your time.

Click here to listen to the Ballistic Radio interview with Miami Shootout expert John Hearne. 

6 thoughts on “The 1986 Miami Shootout”

  1. Ah 1988’s “In The Line of Duty” with Michael Gross as Matix. As I remember they stayed pretty accurate to the details of the shootout in that.

  2. Thank you for putting this gunfight in the appropriate light. I am an FBI Special Agent and am fortunate enough to be a Firearms Instructor for the FBI as well. I still remember watching the reconstruction of this gunfight while at Quantico in New Agents Training and being shown the actual guns used by The Agents in that gunfight. It was a moment I will never forget. The FBI does not get everything right, but the ethos that the best guns, ammunition and body armor needs to be in the hands of the Agents on the street remains today. Thank you for highlighting the role the FBI plays in shaping the tools used by Law Enforcement today.

  3. A very real problem in LE is that we are very good at forgetting our own history. The Miami fight was pivotal, as noted, and had a profound effect of LE, gun and ammo makers and firearms programs. Other watershed events, such as Newhall, are almost forgotten now.

  4. I used to have, and might still have, a VHS copy of the FBI training video where they reconstructed everything, pretty interesting.

  5. I was 2 years old when this shootout happened. I lived down the street from where it occurred (the video clip above is not the actual location) and passed by the placard honoring the FBI agents twice everyday to and from school.

    http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2011/april/miami_041111/image/placard-with-agents-names

    The shootout area is now on the backside of a strip mall where my Friendly Local Gun Store is (Security Arms International).

    If you’re curious about the era, watch the excellent movies Cocaine Cowboys 1 and 2 and Square Grouper.

  6. I am curious know- with regard to nonfatal head wounds as mentioned in this fight and others – whether the bullets grazed the skull but did not enter the brain, or did in fact enter the brain and were simply not incapacitating. In either of the above 2 instances do we know what the failure is attributed to , i.e. caliber/other ?

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