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.