Don't bring a pistol to a rifle fight

While on vacation, I’m reading Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough; this is the factual accounting of the exploits of Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie & Clyde, etc on which the Michael Mann movie of the same name is loosely based. The book itself is quite good, as Burroughs does an excellent job of weaving the patchwork of witness accounts and FBI files into a compelling narrative. I for one had no idea that Bonnie and Clyde were active at the same time as Indiana’s most infamous son, nor did I realize the amount of interconnectivity between the various V-8 bandits of the time.

However, what’s interesting about the book from a gunnie perspective is the firearms selection by the criminal class. While virtually everyone carried a pistol, if they knew they were headed for a shootout, they would always take a rifle, a shotgun, or an SMG. Long guns were the weapon of choice when violence was certain.

The same holds true for the lawmen hunting the criminals. When they knew a fight was coming, they’d always be kitted out with rifles, SMGs, and shotguns. Despite the prevalence and concealability of handguns, it seems that what the old cowboys knew in the 1800s was still true – pistols are for fighting your way back to your long gun.

That’s still true today – the role of a pistol for the armed citizen hasn’t changed from the ’30s. Valuable for its portability, it behooves us to remember that the real fight stoppers are fired from the shoulder.


  1. At that time more people had connections to farm/ranch life (e.g. Dillinger) and had used firearms against pests, game or to slaughter animals for food.

    Todays urban ganstas carry silly pistols and oversized pants. They have never run from danger and have no prior experience with firearms.

    Hard lands produce hard men.

    Rap videos and public education only produce soft morons.

  2. Good post on a topic that I found interesting.

    Another angle on this topic is where they obtained their arms.

    Dillinger favored raiding police armories while the Barrow gang would hit National Guard armories. Shooting Buddy is right, they had more familiarity with weapons, but they also used logic in what they did. Barrow cut down shotguns and B.A.R.s to make them easier to use in the Ford V-8’s he drove and Dillinger sometimes used customized .45’s modified to fire full auto.

    Of course, the Law Enforcement Officers chasing the bad guys responded in kind. Frank Hammer switched over to a .38 Super Colt as well as a .35 Remington rifle with a twenty round magazine. He did this because he wanted penetration. One of the men who worked with Hammer, (I believe it was Ted Hinton) had once opened up on Barrow’s Ford with a Thompson Submachine Gun but failed to either stop the vehicle or injure Barrow. The .45 slugs just wouldn’t chew through that tough auto body.

    At the final shoot out, Hammer had his .35, there were also two B.A.R.s, a few shotguns and a 30/30 Winchester. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire…….

  3. The coffee lets you fight your way to the pocket gun. The pocket gun lets you fight your way to the belt gun. The belt gun lets you fight your way to the shoulder weapon.

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