Lessons from an Armed Robbery

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.

Timeline:

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.

13 responses

  1. Bill Wallace, a Yankee apologist

    His weapon should have had a greater capacity. He probably should have had more than one weapon stored. Possibly a second with the larger capacity though I can understand the revolver as I am an old school wheel guy myself. Anyone who is thinking about civilians across the street when there is an active shooter at arms length is either daft or a dead man.

    1. Anyone in a fixed location who hasn’t thought about their fields of fire ahead of time probably should.

    2. Bill: I completely understand your focus on the active shooter, as this is a life or death struggle, and the shooter is the direct and proximate cause of the life threatening situation. That said, we are absolutely responsible for every bullet that leaves our weapon, regardless of intent. No good person wants to be the direct and proximate cause of the death or injury of another human being, specifically an innocent bystander. Claude’s field of fire advice is perfectly sound.

  2. Claude, this is a departure from the stories in the “Armed Citizen” section of NRA magazines. Usually, no shooting or a maximum of two shots fired. It almost seems that marketing people from J Frame World write for the NRA. This guy took it to heart. After a ‘real world’ experience with multiple adversaries, I wonder, is he still determined to remain with a J Frame as his only firearm?

  3. Excellent analysis Claude.

  4. “I figured at this point ‘I only have two bullets left. I shot three rounds’, which was wrong, I shot all five.”

    Which is why revolvers are not suitable for self-defense, as I keep telling people. He was LUCKY…this time. Bet his next purchase is a 15-shot Glock…

    1. I would say using your ammunition unwisely is not suitable for self-defense. There are two quotes I prefaced my snub classes with:

      “The most precious thing in the presence of the foe is ammunition. He who shoots uselessly, merely to comfort himself, is a man of straw who merits not the title of Parachutist.” –part of the Fallschirmjäger Creed

      “No possible rapidity of fire can atone for habitual carelessness of aim with the first shot.” –Theodore Roosevelt, (26th President of the United States) The Wilderness Hunter, 1893

    2. Another pertinent quote comes from a County POliceman where I used to live.

      “I don’t have to be a good shot, I have 16 rounds.” That’s a philosophy I have a lot of problems with. Unfortunately, it’s a rabbit hole many casual gunowners fall down into.

  5. If you are willing to use a firearm in self defense, carry it on your person. An LCP in your pocket beats anything in a back room.

  6. So why the hell did he not have a reload? Regardless of capacity, at a lull in the fight, RELOAD!!!

  7. The store owner would have needed to have been well-trained in the concept of the tactical reload (if he had a reload handy). This is because he was suffering under the illusion that he still had two unfired rounds left in the cylinder. Absent, “illusory rounds,” can easily lead to a quite non-illusory death.

    It’s the old Dirty Harry line, “Now did he fire five, or did he fire six? I was just wondering that myself.”

    Also, TR (as Roosevelt was known to his friends) was certainly on to something, for as many other highly experienced hunters have learned, “the first shot, is the only shot.”

  8. Dennis Tueller’s technique for the revolver tactical reload was to dump whatever is in the revolver out and reload it full. I’m generally in favor of that.

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