Lessons From the Real World – Chicago Gas Station Shooting

In my time writing for Gun Nuts I’ve tried to use video footage to illustrate points about self defense not for the sake of sensationalism, but to illustrate the principles I’m trying to convey with something that actually happened to another human being. In the last few days video footage has surfaced of violent criminal attacks successfully repelled by armed good guys, and I think there are some important lessons all of us can take away from these bits of footage.

Chicago Gas Station Shooting:

If you’ve paid any attention to the news in the last few years, you’ve learned that Chicago is a very violent city. I’d argue that one of the reasons it’s such a violent place is because more good people in Chicago don’t have the legal option to protect themselves like the off-duty police officer who was the intended victim in this video footage.

Note first the location: Everybody needs to stop at the gas station. The people who stop at gas stations have cars, wallets, and some form of portable electronics like a cell phone. The next time you’re at a gas station really stop and look around at your fellow patrons. How many of them are paying any attention? Aren’t most of them on their cell phone or fiddling around with something on the car? So you combine a place where everybody has to go sooner or later with the known presence of a lot of valuables held by victims who aren’t paying attention and it’s easy to see why criminals look at gas stations the same way lions look at watering holes on the Serengeti. Prey congregates there.

Note the approach the lead bad guy takes. Hoodie up, gun in the pocket, he waits until the innocent dude trying to pump gas has his back turned, fixated on his task. The bad guy closes distance rapidly and draws. The good guy turns just in time to see a gun being aimed at his face. Note the speed with which this occurs. Just a couple of seconds of being blind to those guys hanging out over there and wham: Now those guys have you cornered and you’re staring down the barrel of a gun. Some speak about situational awareness as if it’s some sort of superpower that repels bad guys. While it’s certainly possible that a bad guy will notice someone who is paying attention and leave them alone, in reality what it usually means is that you get a couple of extra seconds to see what’s coming so you can do something about it. In this instance it probably would have meant that the off-duty officer would have seen the robbery developing before the point where he’s looking down a muzzle. Police officers generally have better situational awareness than most, but as you can plainly see in the video a lapse of even a couple of seconds is enough to give the bad guy an opportunity.

When it comes to defending yourself against a violent crime like this one, every inch of distance and fraction of a second of time you can buy yourself is going to increase the odds of the situation turning out in your favor. Note that the police officer didn’t leave his driver’s door open as many do, which would have further boxed him in. The officer figures out something is up when the trap has already been sprung…and he plays the only hand left to him at that point. He feigns cooperation and tries to retake the initiative by getting the bad guys to fixate on something other than him. Note how he uses his gun hand to pass something to his weak hand, which makes that hand’s actions look less suspicious. He surreptitiously draws and then only makes a violent movement when he’s clear and ready to pull the trigger. The bad guys were focused on the haul for a brief couple of seconds…and he used them to regain the initiative. He picked his moment, moved decisively, and shot the gun-toting bad guy in the face.

Also note how the officer reacts after he fires his shot: With his head and his gun he tracks the bad guy with the gun to the ground, and after a brief pause starts looking for the other bad guys. Fixating on the guy you just shot and momentarily losing track of other threats sometimes happens, and sometimes with unfortunate consequences. Thankfully the officer emerged from the event unscathed. The armed perpetrator died on the scene. His two accomplices fled for their lives once the shooting started.

The officer was very fortunate, here. The three men who tried to rob him obviously had some experience as you can clearly see from the approach and relatively efficient division of labor during the robbery attempt. Still, it’s clear they weren’t the very top end of the violent criminal scale. It’s probably an approach that worked for them on previous occasions and they probably didn’t expect problems with this one any more than the officer expected to be robbed when he pulled into the gas station.

So what lessons can we take away from this incident?

1. While violent crime can happen anywhere at any time, predators tend to favor certain situations and times of day. If you find yourself at the modern urban equivalent of the “watering hole” during the hours when predators are hunting it pays to never let your guard down…not even for a couple of seconds.

2. Don’t make a bad guy’s job easier by boxing yourself into a location. Keep the ability to move a priority. Take every inch of space you can get, because sometimes life and death are defined by inches. (The Managing Unknown Contacts section of Extreme Close Quarters Concepts is magnificent for illustrating this)

3. It’s possible to reclaim the initiative mid-event if you pick your moment. Instructors sometimes refer to this as “talking your way to your gun”, feigning compliance while getting the bad guy to focus on something else just long enough to get your own gun involved in the fight.

4. When your moment comes, seize it…because you get maybe a moment or two when you can turn the tide in your favor. Don’t waste them.

5. Avoiding an armed robbery is always better than trying to shoot your way out of one. If you’re considering stopping at a gas station and something doesn’t sit right with you about those three dudes in hoodies hanging out there, just drive to another gas station. If something gives you that vague sense of discomfort then pay attention to it and just avoid the situation altogether. Listening to that instinct is what kept your ancestors from being eaten by a bear or murdered by a rival. You should listen to it, too.


1 Comment

  1. All good stuff. If you get in the habit of buying gas when you’ve still got a quarter or even a half a tank full, you can not only drive through the place that doesn’t look/feel right, you can drive through the whole neighborhood and buy gas 20 miles down the road. Or just drive home and fill up bright and early the next morning in your own neighborhood.

    You can also carry your wallet on your weak side. It’s likely what they’ll be focused on at when you hand or toss it to them.

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