Barry Fixler, former Marine and Viet Nam veteran, owns a jewelry store in New York State. On Valentine’s Day 2005, a couple of criminals decided to relieve him of his merchandise. It didn’t turn out the way they planned. We are fortunate that much of the incident was captured on video. There are numerous lessons we can draw from the incident. Let me preface all my commentary by saying that I greatly admire Mr. Fixler’s courage and how he handled the situation.
Bottom Line Up Front: Good Guy 1, Bad Guys 0; that’s clearly a commendable victory.
The robbers didn’t storm his business, they came in under a ruse. It was Valentine’s Day and they arrived just as he was getting ready to open. He didn’t think that was out of the ordinary. “Not unusual for men to get a Valentine’s gift for their girlfriend or their wives,” so he let them in.
After looking at a piece of jewelry, one of the robbers pulled a gun out of his pocket and stuck it in Mr. Fixler’s face. This leads to our first lesson, a very positive one. Mr. Fixler’s immediate response, seen on the video, is to slap the gun away from being pointed at him. He had been a Marine in combat who fought in the Siege of Khe Sanh. Danger was no stranger to him. He didn’t freeze, rather he acted decisively. Good for him, excellent mindset.
My first reaction, when I saw the gun pointed at me was ‘Now, I have to kill these two men.’
However, he merely slapped it away and did not control it. Controlling a brandished weapon is not an instinctive move, it’s a trained response. Second lesson. Fortunately, the robber did not fire his gun, so the action continued.
At this point, Mr. Fixler retreats back into the store to get his own weapon, which was not on his person. In some businesses, weapons either must be carried very discreetly or cached in the store. His pistol apparently was a five shot revolver. As he is making his retreat, the robber who pulled the gun is following him and cursing at him. In the course of his retreat, Mr. Fixler moves off camera so some of the action is not captured on the video.
He knew exactly where his gun was and could access it very quickly. That’s a positive lesson; if your gun isn’t on your person, you need to know exactly where it is and how to get it into operation. He grabs his pistol and comes up shooting. He and the robber holding the gun are at arm’s length of each other. At least one of his shots breaks the glass in the front door.
Note that the robber closest to him apparently was unwounded but the one further away takes at least one hit. Consider the possibility that in another situation, it could have been an innocent bystander. Also consider the fact that at least one bullet exited the store and most likely went across the street where there were other businesses.
Concerned about a ‘counterattack,’ Mr. Fixler moves from the rear of the store and closes with the second robber, who had collapsed in the doorway of the store. This is a good example of a ‘pre-loaded’ response. Military situations often require an aggressive response and closing with the enemy. Marines and soldiers are taught to close with and destroy the enemy. In the worlds of the Private Citizen and Law Enforcement Officer, this isn’t always a healthy tactic. Fourth lesson. Better tactics for us are to take cover or concealment, rearm and reorganize, and then wait for reinforcements to arrive. Escape from the area, if there is still danger present and we can safely escape, is another option.
I figured at this point ‘I only have two bullets left. I shot three rounds’, which was wrong, I shot all five.
Fifth lesson: it’s hard to know how many shots you’ve fired. Always assume you’ve fired more than you think you have and have less ammunition remaining than you believe.
Mr. Fixler sees the remaining robbers escape in their brown minivan and “felt better that they took off and left their man here.” Mr. Fixler now crosses over the prostrate second robber and blocks him from escaping.
I didn’t want the police to think that I shot him in the parking lot.
Next lesson: Once the battle is joined, be concerned about that battle. We place a great deal of emphasis on the legalities of our actions and rightfully so. However, placing ourselves in more danger by thinking about the legal battle that MIGHT follow can be counter-productive. He is holding the robber at gunpoint with an empty weapon. They are about 6-7 feet apart and, unknown to Mr. Fixler, the facedown robber is holding a gun underneath his chest.
He then stands outside the store trying to get someone’s attention to call the police. Notice around the 4 minute mark in the video how many times his attention is not on the robber but directed across the parking lot. His position forces him to do this; it’s perfectly understandable. He admits that he is verbally venting his anger at the wounded robber. It’s difficult to shoot and talk at the same time. If the robber had tried to shoot him, he would have had to stop talking and then shoot back, if his weapon had been loaded. At a range of 6-7 feet, that could be a fatal time deficit.
Once the shooting stopped, he placed himself in a very vulnerable position from several different aspects. Just because the shooting has stopped (for the moment), doesn’t mean the incident is over. Another lesson.
About 4:27 in the video, other business people from across the street arrive after having called 911. They were attracted by the shattering of the front door glass. In the video, the glass shattered at 1:38, approximately two minutes earlier, there being about a one minute slow motion replay on the video. Mr. Fixler had to deal, by himself, with the situation for minutes before even a neighbor arrived, unarmed, much less the authorities. Final lesson: you’re going to be alone for a bit, manage your time well.
0:30 – Mr. Fixler admits the two men to the store.
1:33 (16:54 timestamp on tape) – Robber sticks gun in Fixler’s face
1:37 (16:59 timestamp on tape) – First shot, glass shatters
1:42 (17:06 timestamp on tape) – Second robber collapses in doorway
2:35 (17:08 timestamp on tape) – Fixler comes out from behind counter
1:49 – slow-motion starts
2:41 – slow-motion ends
4:27 – neighbors arrive (with their hands in their pockets)
Let’s keep in mind the lessons that this brave man has given us. Smart people learn from other people’s experiences.