You might find this hard to believe, but there was a time when weapon-retention training did not exist in American law enforcement. This is not one of those “good old days” articles; it was a serious deficit in police training and needed to be addressed. Four times during my law enforcement career I had to fight to retain my gun, and the first two incidents occurred before I received organized, structured training in the skill set. Interestingly, both went fairly well for me, so I was fortunate.
When I was in the basic police academy in 1976, I had the opportunity to sit with a veteran of the trench warfare of World War I and talk about the extreme forms of close-quarters combat. Theirs was a no-holds-barred type of fighting in which anything from a knife to a trenching tool could be used to fight, and when I asked him if there was a single tip he could offer based on his experiences, he said, “Affect their ability to see and/or breathe, and you shall win the day!” I never forgot this excellent piece of advice.
The first time a suspect tried to snatch my gun, I was carrying a Smith & Wesson Model 19 in a high-ride, thumb-break holster. Compared to today’s threat-level holsters, this rig would have been a “minus one,” but it was common for the time, and many officers used them. They rode well in daily carry, drew fairly clean, were consistent with off-duty carry and, when using a revolver with a 6-inch barrel, were comfortable when seated in a car.
The first attack came while guarding a prisoner on a routine court appearance. He was expecting to get out on bail, but when the judge set it higher than expected, he went into a deep funk. Just prior to entering a tunnel that went under the street from the court to the jail, he lunged out and tried to grab my revolver. Having no training in how to handle this, I reverted to what I knew, learned from my many years of playing sandlot tackle football, where a straight arm to the face was common. He moved, and I shot out my arm, with my palm landing squarely on top of his nose. It broke, I stepped back and looked around for other threats (something I had not been taught yet, either).