Three in the Head

I carried a gun in New York City for more than a decade -- back when there were thousands of murders a year and the Bronx led the nation in killings. On at least four occasions, that gun saved my life, and in a couple of instances, the lives of people who were with me at the time.

For 13 years I had a New York City full carry permit.

For a number of years I concealed and carried a gun in my son's grammar school as well.

I don't think the world would be a better place without me, and it is indisputable that my Beretta 92FC is responsible for my presence today.

The FC model is the compact version of the full size 92, which takes a 15 round magazine and has a 5" barrel. The FC has a shorter grip, accommodating a 13 round magazine, and a shorter barrel at 4 ½".

My regular means of carry was usually a horizontal shoulder holster. This type of holster provides the easiest access in time of need, because the gun rests parallel to the ground and when drawn, comes out in one motion, level and in theory, already on target.

Later on, I also used a fanny pack with a tear-away Velcro compartment. The gun rests next to your body, with a normal fanny pack as a disguise in front. Pull back the front of the pack to draw the weapon, also held parallel to the ground in its compartment, and you were again on target.

The pistol, even though it was a compact, weighed 4½ pounds, which was difficult to carry for a slim boy from the Bronx. On TV there is always a hero or a bad guy running after someone while carrying a weapon -- forget about it. There is nothing more painful than running full speed with a 5 pound weight banging against your chest, sticking into your back or bouncing relentlessly against your genitalia.

Besides, you don't run with a gun. If you are lucky enough to control a life-and-death situation without having to kill anyone, you don't pursue. You drop to your knees and thank God you are not dead and didn't have to kill anyone to stay that way. You let them go -- I know I did.

I never shot or killed anyone, and except for the tens of thousands of rounds I put through my gun practicing, I never had to fire my weapon either, despite the fact -- as I mentioned -- it saved my life on several occasions.
I won't tell you where I went for target practice, even though the store has long since closed, because I bent the rules considerably during my weekly shooting sprees. For years, I went every Tuesday and put anywhere from 100 to 300 rounds through my gun.

It was all about combat shooting for me. I would hit the range early, around 8 AM, before the range officer started, when I was assured to be the only shooter. I always set up several targets, all within 10'-20' in 3 or more stalls. I would load the gun with one in the chamber and have a spare magazine, sometimes 2, held in the holster (gun under left arm, mags under right). I would set the targets, usually depictions of criminals holding hostages, at different distances, changing the distances with each iteration.

With one spare magazine, I had 27 rounds, 13 in each magazine and one in the chamber. With 2 spare magazines, I had 40 rounds, 13 in each magazine, and one in the chamber.

I set up, my back to the targets, drew my weapon, turned and started firing, rapid fire, changing targets and booths as I did. 27 rounds would take less than 10 seconds -- 40 rounds would take perhaps 5 seconds longer.
Although I could barely hit a target at 50 feet, I was really efficient at less than 20 feet. I was extremely skilled for the type of situations I was anticipating and practicing for.

It was New York City, in the 1980s, the murder capital of the nation.

At the time, almost no private citizens had guns; it was almost exclusively NYPD who used my range. This scared me to death. There were bullet holes everywhere, the ceiling, the walls, the door to the bathroom, even the toilet had bullet holes in it -- you would think that going to the bathroom would be the one time when you would put your gun down, hands being otherwise occupied, but I guess not.

The Bronx in the 1980s was like Beirut -- a dated reference, I know, but I am of a certain age. Thousands of murders a year, and the NYPD, the finest police force in the world, had been relegated by political considerations to being outgunned and undermanned. The only time you saw them was when they were either issuing you a ticket or drawing a chalk outline around your body.

Michael Bloomberg longs for those days.

I was careful, obsessively so -- I would hit the Citibank on Morris Park Avenue on Monday morning with tens of thousands of dollars in a paper bag. I would use a #1 bag, the one you see drunkards on the street corner drinking pints of beer using as cover. It is the smallest bag and it was easy to stuff one or more down my pants with my shirt pulled over. I would use a #10 bag as a decoy, filling it as if it had money in it and carrying it in my left hand, out in front of my body. Deception is a frightened man's tactical ally.

Pulling up to the bank, I would stop a short distance away, with clear sight lines to my destination and scope out everything and everyone, making sure I missed nothing -- especially the reactions of those who noticed me watching. I would then pull away and drive around the block, still watching as I drove.

Once having gone around the block, I would stop the car in front of an available parking spot -- never, however, directly in front. Getting out of the car, I always did a 360 degree turn to see what was there and what had changed since my first pass. All things being safe, I would park and then do another 360 degree turn when exiting the vehicle, looking at everything, labeling all I saw, threats, mushrooms (see Pac-Man) or morons.

Once I ascertained there was no setup, I would take the straightest line to the bank, right hand on my gun in its holster, finger on the trigger. In my left hand, I held my decoy bag. If anyone got in my way I stared them down until they moved.

It was terrifying -- and I did it every day for years.

Yet... I managed to not kill anyone in the process.

I will relate only one tale of the gun.

I was working 7 days a week, a minimum of 12 to 14 hours each day, running my small empire of two grocery stores. I would start early, before 7 AM and work until 2 AM in the morning. During the day, I would go home for an hour or two to sleep, since I didn't sleep at night, choosing that time for the nonstop party. I became used to going home between 10 PM and Midnight, coming back to close the one store at 1 AM and the other at 2 AM.

Somewhere in the process of my predictability, two men started coming into my main store. They were easily identifiable, one big guy, 6' 7" at least, with a smaller accomplice. They came in every Wednesday night for 3 weeks in a row. They would stay perhaps 15 minutes in the back of the store, watching everything, and then leave without buying anything. My man at the counter said he thought the big guy had a gun in his belt, but he wasn't sure.

Coming in on the same day every week and at the same time, told me they were casing the place. The fact that they lingered, told me they were checking to see, not only how much money was coming in, but whether or not any police stopped in on a regular basis. The fact that they didn't buy anything said they weren't worried about any opposition and didn't care if anyone knew their plan. After all, at the time, only the police and the criminals had guns.

On the third Wednesday, I rushed to the store, but missed them. On the fourth Wednesday, I was waiting for them.

I knew it was them the second they walked through the door. You can't miss a giant. I stepped up, and noticing me, the big guy went for his gun, which was tucked into the waistband of his pants. I was already drawing mine.
I grabbed the smaller man by the collar and put my Beretta to his head as the big man ran down the aisle, his gun drawn. I yelled for the customer who stood frozen at the counter to leave, and I told my two workers to get down.

Using the one robber -- remarkably docile with a gun to his head -- as a shield, I tried to see where the big guy went. He was at the end of the aisle, hiding behind the rack.

I was terrified.

I knew I needed to be aggressive or this would end badly -- it was already going badly.

"If you come out with anything but you d$@k in your hands and your buddy is the first to get it."

The man I held started to sob. I shook him so he would stand still.

"Then I'm going to kill you and send what's left of you to your mother in a paper bag."

The sobbing grew louder as I pressed the muzzle of the gun harder into the back of the man's head.

"And then, I promise you, I will find everything you love and I will kill it. I will hunt them down and I will kill them. Do you hear me?"

I could hear the big guy in the back starting to cry.

I don't remember what he said, but the next few minutes were taken up by him begging.

I told him to put his gun down and come up front, which he did. I tried to hold the two of them while waiting for the police, while the big guy begged to be let go.

Eventually -- it seemed like an eternity, but was probable only minutes -- I started to lose confidence in my ability to control the situation. I had the one assailant in hand, with a gun to his head, but the other was just standing there pleading to be let go. Since he was no longer armed, and I was no longer in mortal peril, if they chose to jump me, they actually had the advantage. I was not going to shoot. You are only allowed to use deadly force when you fear for your life, and I no longer feared for my life.

I finally told the big guy to go, which sobbing like a baby, he did. I held the other one for the police.

The "paper bag" threat was paraphrasing Ed Asner in an episode of Police Story from the 1970s. The "I will find everything you love and kill it" was paraphrasing Dennis Farina in an episode of Crime Story from the 1980s. "Your buddy is the first to get it" was all me. I practiced for these things, and not only was ready with the weapon, but the rhetoric as well.

When my son was born and his mother wanted to leave, I sold a controlling interest in my stores and let her go, while keeping him. I concentrated on being a father. I grew up without one and was determined that my son would not be burdened so.

When he went to school, I went to school with him -- in fact, becoming what was known as the "class father." I spent some part of every day in school with him and I went on every school trip. There were plenty of single parents, but I was the only single father with a child. For some of the children, I was the only man they ever saw. I was pleased to serve that purpose and those in power at the school let me.

On school trips, I was security and play -- women just don't roughhouse the way men do. The teachers were perfectly happy to let me step between the children and anyone who got too close, and I was grateful for the opportunity to be the man who had been missing from my childhood -- not only for my son, but for any of the other children.

The thing is that during that entire period from kindergarten through the 4th grade I carried my gun. I was a true 'concealed carry' man. No one knew, I didn't tell anyone. I was not the kind of person who wanted everyone to know he was armed. There are girls I dated who didn't know I carried a gun.

...And, don't get me wrong. I am not a brave man. Fear is healthy; it's always the best swimmers who drown. I am, and have always been, a coward, but in life you do what you have to do.

If I had been at Sandy Hook and armed, as I had been in my son's school so many times, I would have done what Morgan Freeman advised in Nurse Betty, and put "three in the head," because then "you know [he's] dead."

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