Should you or shouldn’t you use the sights on your handgun for self-defense? The answer to this decades-old question has well-qualified adherents who subscribe to “yes,” while others who emphatically state the opposite. This said, there is a middle ground where the answer is “sometimes.” Lacking any scientific method or device with which to validate any of these answers, we are left to rely on those who have used their handguns for self-defense and what they recall of their methods. Obviously, we speak to the winners rather than losers. The problem is, they may well repeat what they were taught and what they think they did in their once-in-a-lifetime use of force.
An exception to this is to hear from some folks who have had multiple successful exposures, all in similar circumstances. I believe their recall just might be much more accurate and their conclusions well-worth considering. One such person is the late Jim Cirillo, who was a member of the New York City Police Department’s Stakeout Squad (SOU), where he was forced to kill at least 11 men in the course of more than 20 gunfights during the 40-man unit’s some 250-plus stakeouts.
Fortunately for us, the details of some of his gunfights, along with his observations on guns, cartridges and shooting methods are now recounted in Jim Cirillo’s Tales of the Stakeout Squad by Paul Kirchner, available for $25 from Paladin Press (800-392-2400; paladin-press.com).
NYPD’s SOU was formed in response to an out-of-control crime wave in the late 1960’s. Victims were mom-and-pop candy and grocery stores, motels, hotels and Western Union offices doing cash transfers. The SOU methodology was simple. Review those businesses that had been robbed multiple times, survey the location to see if there was a good position in the business in which to hide (or build one), check possible angles of fire so as not to endanger any innocents, assign two or three SOU officers armed with handguns, shotguns and rifles, and wait for a robbery to occur. Most times, they did not have to wait long and often had to shoot, because many robbers chose not to surrender. A few officers were wounded, but none were killed. The resisting armed robbers were not so lucky.
During the numerous conversations Jim and I had over the years, he told me he took part in about 20 encounters. The exact number of offenders killed or wounded is not known. Bill Allard, one of Jim’s regular partners, pointed out that, “We weren’t keeping a lot of records in those days of everything that was going on. Today you’d have to do that.” Another of his partners, Al Syage, followed up, saying “We didn’t keep score; we didn’t keep records; we didn’t even keep a number of the felons who were put on a slab in the morgue.” Jim is officially credited with having killed 11 robbers in such stakeouts, but he suggested to me that the number was higher.
Jim was armed with his issue Smith & Wesson M10 4-inch barrel .38 Special revolver, but he also used a matching gun as one of his back-ups, which included his personally owned Colt Cobra .38 Special 2-inch barrel and Walther PPK in .32 ACP. He was also armed with either of two types of 12-gauge shotguns – a short, double-barrel Savage or a short-barrel Ithaca Model 37—and the option to use an S&W Model 76 9mm submachine gun. It appears he didn’t care for this and did not use it, stating it only worked reliably when using round-nose full metal jacket 9mm ammunition.
Jim liked and used a PD-owned U.S. GI M1-Carbine… after the SOU unit gunsmith modified it to run with Winchester 110-grain jacketed hollow point ammunition. Bill Allard used his personally owned National Match Model 1911 in .45 ACP. All the guns mentioned were used in at least one shooting, except for the Walther PPK.