Last Friday evening, just before 10pm, an ‘internet cafe’ in Ocala, FL was held up by two armed robbers. One had what appears to be a baseball bat, the other a pistol. There were about 30 people inside the cafe.
One of the patrons was lawfully carrying a concealed .380 semi-auto pistol (it looks like a Ruger LCP from the video footage).
When the bad guys turned their back on him, he pulled his pistol and started shooting at them, firing between four and six shots as the two would-be robbers turned tail and desperately ran out of the store, twice tripping over themselves in their desperate rush to run away, including a final parting shot out the closing door as the two robbers departed the scene.
Both of the robbers were wounded, and subsequently arrested at a local hospital.
The man is now being hailed as a hero, and won’t be facing any charges. You can see good video clips from three surveillance cameras on several web pages such as this one here, and you probably should review the video before reading this analysis further. Here’s a second site which has a different mix of video footage – showing some extra parts but leaving some other parts out, plus mug-shots of the robbers (their race is carefully not mentioned in most accounts), and some extra background to how events unfolded.
Some comments about what 71-year-old Mr Samuel Williams did.
1. He was very lucky that none of his shots hit anyone (or even anything) else, either in the store or outside on the street.
2. It is unclear how many times he hit both robbers, and where his shots landed, but as you can see in the video, neither robber was physically impaired by being shot.
This is another reminder that pistols are not imbued with magic properties. Most times, a single shot will have little effect on the person you are confronting and you should usually not pause to see what happens before continuing your defense.
3. Almost certainly his first shot or possibly two were justified, but it becomes more difficult to say that the others and in particular his last one or two shots were still justified.
Shooting at fleeing felons who have left the store and are running away as fast as they can is rarely a case where you can claim to be in imminent deadly danger, beside which, shooting out onto a public street massively increases the risk of stray rounds hitting other people or damaging other property.
In particular, one of the two people was armed ‘only’ with a baseball bat and at no time was in an aggressive posture towards Mr Williams. In some states it would be difficult to suggest this second robber posed a sufficient threat (although for sure a baseball bat can grievously injure), particularly as he almost certainly was in headlong retreat by the time Mr Williams got to shoot him. If you live in a state that is overwhelmingly anti-self defense and all about ‘offenders rights’ (a nonsense concept but one sadly embraced by some states), this would be a difficult situation to justify.
4. Mr Williams took a very aggressive approach to defending himself. He made no use of any cover or concealment. He was very lucky that the robber with the gun did not shoot back.
Indeed, if you look at the video, you can see the armed robber turns with his gun to point it almost at Mr Williams, but as soon as Mr Williams fires his first shot, the robber loses any thought of fighting and instead starts running away as fast as he can. Half a second of timing the other way could have seen a very different result, and/or if the bad guy was a more determined assailant, the two of them would have ended up fighting it out with less than 10 ft between them (which incidentally is a typical distance for gunfights to occur).
And – here’s the thing – the bad guy had a buddy. Mr Williams did not (his wife was in the store too, apparently, but Mr Williams was the only person engaged in confronting the robbers); if he was incapacitated, the ‘game’ would have been over.
On the other hand, Mr Williams displayed an excellent ability to combine movement with shooting. Most inexperienced shooters end up rooted to the spot. He did an excellent job of controlling the environment and tactically moving and flushed the bad guys out of the store before they had a chance to regroup and return fire.
The one thing that can most positively impact on your survivability in any gunfight is to keep moving.
5. Talking about timing, from when the robbers entered the store until their hurried exit spanned a period of only 17 seconds.
The military doctrine of ‘speed and violence of action’ certainly applied in this case. While we advocate, below, that it is often prudent to quietly sit out and wait and see what happens in such situations, in the hope you won’t need to respond; that is not always the best advice, because the first few seconds of a takeover situation like this are the most fluid, with the two robbers having to somehow focus on 30+ people, spread all around the store.
Mr Williams exploited this to his advantage, by being able to draw his pistol and approach the armed robber unseen; 30 seconds later, with the store more secured by the two robbers, this would have been more difficult to achieve.
6. One thing Mr Williams did not do – he didn’t reload at the end of the confrontation.
His pistol likely held no more than six or seven rounds, and he probably fired five or six of them. It needs to be an automatic instinctive reflex, at the apparent end of any confrontation, to reload. The chances are you won’t have accurately counted the shots you fired, and even if you only fired two or three from a high-capacity magazine, you have no way of knowing what is about to happen next, so give yourself as much benefit as possible by swapping to a more fully loaded magazine.
Oh – one other comment about that. You do, of course, always carry at least one spare magazine, don’t you?
Analysis and Comments
The good news is that this situation did end with good news. The good guy won, the bad guys lost. But we’re troubled by the incident, and don’t think it a good example of an optimum response by an armed citizen. There could very easily have been a much less positive outcome.
The appropriate response when two robbers burst into a store, one armed with a pistol, depends on many things, including the state you are in at the time, because different states have very different laws on the legal use of deadly force. It also depends on what you can determine about the gunmen’s state of mind and their declared intentions.
If the robbers merely focus on the cashier at the front, asking him to empty his till, and give no indication whatsoever of any interest in the people in the store at all, you’d be better advised to sit out the confrontation. You’re not in any immediate danger yourself, you just happen to have the bad fortune to be witnessing a hold-up of someone else, and particularly if you are one of 30 other people, the robbers’ focus on you is at best marginal and diffuse. Be alert, of course, and ready to defend yourself if the situation deteriorates, but don’t go looking for trouble, because if you go looking for trouble, you run the grave risk of trouble finding you.
It is important to realize that just because you have a concealed weapons permit and happen to be carrying a pistol with you, this does not authorize or obligate you to use your pistol for anything other than essential life-threatening personal protection. Mr Williams is extraordinarily fortunate not to be facing criminal charges now, and who knows if he might not end up with civil suits being filed against him by the robbers. He is also extraordinarily fortunate that none of his rounds hit anyone else, or damaged anything valuable. You shouldn’t automatically assume to have such good luck in any respect.
Apparently in this case, the robbers made clear their intention to rob not just the store but its patrons too (an ‘internet cafe’ in Florida is a polite name for a semi-legal computer gambling facility, apparently, and so there was a reasonable expectation that the customers may have been carrying more cash with them than normal). This may have been the ‘trigger’ event that caused Mr Williams to feel he needed to actively respond while he still had the possibility of gaining a tactical advantage.
It is difficult to know what type of behavior the two robbers were displaying – whether they were cool, calm and collected, showing a ‘professional’ ability to conduct a businesslike robbery, or if they were wildly unstable and appearing as if they would shoot people for no reason at all.
But their announcement that they intended to rob all the patrons, and of course, their mere presence and their weapons, created sufficient cause for Mr Williams to feel his life was threatened – indeed, the validity of his decision is now being confirmed by the authorities and their decision not to prosecute him.
But this was a decision (by the authorities) which could have gone either way, and in other states, might well have resulted in Mr Williams facing criminal charges – not so much for his first shot or two, but for his last few shots. There have been other cases where a citizen defending himself was found not guilty of inappropriate use of deadly force for all the shots fired except the last one.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you must use deadly force to protect yourself, don’t let the blood lust take over. Stop shooting as soon as the threat has been nullified.
Although the distances between Mr Williams and the two robbers were very close, the stress levels were high, the angles were bad, everyone was moving, and the store was full of panicking patrons. This was a very difficult environment, and he did very well.
Clearly, we all need a high level of training to be able to make the right decisions and then to carry them out appropriately in such situations.
Lastly, it is easy to second-guess someone from the comfort of one’s safe environment, with time to leisurely analyze and consider things that happened in split-seconds of great stress. Mr Williams did a commendable job from start to finish, and we appreciate his public-spiritedness.