OFFICER DOWN: Off‐Duty Ambush: The Steve Franks Incident


By Brian McKenna

Steve Franks and Mary, his wife of less than four months, were not thinking about Earl Barnes as they drove home from work. Barnes had caused them a lot of grief over the past five and a half months, but he had left them alone for the past several weeks and it had been a long day. The only thing the Franks were concerned about was picking up something for dinner and getting home.

Franks, a 45-year-old, seven-year veteran of police work, was a captain with the hospital police department that served the largest healthcare network in the metropolitan area. He worked in the same hospital as his wife (an employee in the billing office), and since they both worked the day shift, they rode to and from work together. The commute took 40 minutes even in light traffic, Mary had worked over about an hour, they were hungry, and Steve was anxious to get out of his uniform and relax.

As they neared the end of their long commute, they stopped at a fast food restaurant for carryout and then drove the rest of the way to their suburban home, a comfortable ranch house nestled among shade trees on a spacious lot at the end of a long cul-de-sac. Strange, Franks thought, as he spotted his mailbox lying on the sidewalk leading up to his front door. It looked like it had been torn from its post and tossed into the yard. As he parked the car and started to get out, Franks pointed the mailbox out to his wife, initiating a brief discussion leading to the conclusion that the mail carrier may have knocked it off its post. It didn’t look seriously damaged, but it would have to be put back up. That can wait, Franks thought, suddenly feeling a bit uneasy. The late afternoon sky was becoming darkly foreboding with deep gray clouds, it had been a long day, and the mailbox bothered him for some reason. He didn’t feel threatened in any way, but an eerie feeling was descending upon him.

With his keys in his right hand, Franks picked up the bag of food and his morning coffee cup—an oversized plastic mug—and put them in his left hand. He headed for the house while Mary stopped to pick up the mailbox. Franks walked quickly up the sidewalk, still uneasy but giving no thought to Earl Barnes.

Barnes, Mary’s first husband, couldn’t get over losing her. Actually, he hadn’t lost her at all—he had dumped her to go back to his first wife. But this new relationship had soon soured and he had soon begun to regret his choice. In the meantime, Mary met Steve and they married. The harassment had begun about two months before their marriage, and, as is often the case, it had started rather nonthreateningly. A telephone call about their joint tax refund had been the pretext for Barnes’ first contact with Mary, then came false allegations claiming Mary’s infidelity, repeated hang-up calls, and increasingly hostile threats.

As Franks approached the front door, the gloomy sky suddenly turned dark as night and the clouds erupted into a deluge, drenching him and Mary in thick sheets of rain. Rushing to get inside, he stopped in front of the door and fumbled for the key while holding tight to the food and coffee cup.
“Don’t move!” warned a booming voice to his right, “or I’ll blow your f__ing head off!”
Franks spun toward the voice. A man in his early 50s, unexplained hatred blazing from his fiery eyes, stood at the corner of the house shouldering a 12-gauge in the firing position, its gaping muzzle pointed directly at Franks! Instinctively, Franks ducked into a low fighting crouch while going for his own gun, a .40 caliber GLOCK model 22. The shotgun boomed twice, its muzzle flashing like lightning through the rain-soaked darkness, before Franks could complete the draw and get on target. Something peppered Franks’ face and upper body, and he had a lousy grip on the GLOCK—he had always had trouble getting a good grip with this particular holster—but he kept going. The pistol was on target a split second later and there wasn’t time to adjust his grip. Without hesitation, he pulled the trigger. He cranked off two or three shots, the last one coming at the same instant as another thunderous blast from his assailant’s shotgun.

Off to his right, Franks could hear his wife’s horrified screams. Fearing for her safety, he looked in her direction. Though unhurt, she stood next to the mailbox, transfixed in terror with her eyes riveted on the gunman. He shouted at her to get down but she ignored him. Up to this point, Franks had been partially shielded by two large concrete planters at the corners of the front porch. In fact, the one closest to him had taken one of the first charges of 00 buck from the shotgun. Although he was still unaware of it, the impacts he had felt had been debris from the shattering concrete. Franks immediately realized that his warnings to Mary were going unheeded. He broke cover and went to her.

In the meantime, the gunman had shot his shotgun dry. He dropped it and drew a Ruger Blackhawk from his waistband. The big revolver roared and belched flame as the gunman cranked off shot after shot at Franks. Franks rushed to his wife’s side, grabbed her by the left wrist, and tried to pull her to the ground, yanking with such force that it tore the watch from her wrist. She wouldn’t budge. He had reached for her with his left hand. He now added his right, which still held the GLOCK, and squeezed so hard that it left the imprint of the gun’s magazine release in her hand.

As he desperately tried to leverage Mary to the ground, one of the heavy slugs from his assailant’s .44 magnum grazed Franks’ left leg just above the knee. The bullet caused only a minor flesh wound that went unnoticed by Franks at the time, but its sudden impact buckled his knee. The abrupt shift in Franks’ center of balance brought him to the ground, and he dragged Mary down along with him. Mary landed face down a few feet away from her husband, who was now on his back with the rain splashing over his face and nothing in front of his eyes but the rain-blackened sky.

Franks immediately started to scramble to his knees, but then noticed that the GLOCK’s slide was mysteriously locked back and its magazine was missing. Oh shit, he thought, but there wasn’t time to worry about it now. He snatched a spare magazine from his belt and slipped it into the weapon as he came up onto both knees, released the slide, and began to return fire. The gunman was now firing a smaller weapon, a .380 Colt Mustang.

Facing each other squarely, but at a range of about 25 yards, the two blazed away until Franks’ slide locked back again, this time because the magazine was empty. Franks reloaded with his last magazine, grabbed Mary again, and tried to pull her to her feet.
Still frozen in place with her eyes locked onto the gunman, Mary refused to look at Franks. “Why’d you kill him, Earl?” she sobbed, “Why did you kill him?”

The motive for the ambush had suddenly become very clear: The gunman was Earl Barnes. Although Franks knew all about the man, he had never met him face-to-face. Mary had recognized him right away, of course, and she was now convinced that he had killed her husband and was trying to kidnap her.

Mary wasn’t going anywhere on her own; that was obvious. Franks knew he would have to drag her to safety. He cranked off another shot or two at Barnes, who had also shot his gun empty, reloaded, and was now resuming the attack. Dragging his wife across the lawn with such force that it tore the ligaments in her wrist, Franks headed for the corner of the house opposite Barnes, blasting away at his assailant as he ran. Barnes stood where he was, neither advancing nor retreating, and fired back with the Colt.

After reaching cover at the corner of the house, Franks heard his assailant’s gun go silent. He glanced around the corner. Barnes was no longer in sight. Concerned that the vengeful gunman might circle around the back of the house to attack them from the rear, Franks was anxious to get Mary moving. He yelled at her again but it was obvious she didn’t hear him. He reached down, grabbed her by the shoulders, and forcibly turned her face toward him. As he looked straight into her eyes, she finally recognized him. The change was instantaneous—he now had her full attention. “We gotta get outa here!” he barked in a firm voice.

Then, fearing that he was getting low on ammo, he withdrew the magazine from his pistol to check it. He couldn’t see clearly through its indicator holes, but it appeared that it still held five or six rounds. He slammed the magazine back into place, helped Mary to her feet, and commanded, “Let’s go!”
By now the rain had stopped as suddenly as it had begun, the sun was shining, and Mary was ready to go. Then, as they started toward their car, Franks realized his keys were missing. It was a distressing setback, but Franks persisted. After a brief search, he spotted the keys glistening in the rain-soaked grass, snatched them up, and ran to the car with his wife. As they jumped into the car and started to speed away, Franks noticed a man’s crumpled form lying on the lawn near the corner of the house where Barnes had been standing. He kept going.
As soon as they were out of range of their home, the Franks stopped at a neighbor’s house and called 9-1-1 (neither he nor Mary had a cell phone). Responding deputies from the sheriff’s department had no trouble finding Barnes. He was still where Franks had last seen him, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head and clutching the powerful Blackhawk in his hand. His only other injury was a minor bullet wound in the right leg. A stock of several boxes of ammunition was stacked along the side of the house near where he lay, and more ammo, along with a cache of additional guns, was found in his pickup truck. The truck had been hidden in a fire break in the woods, buried up to its axles in mud, about 800 yards from the house.

Captain Franks left the hospital police department not long after the shooting and is now working for the metropolitan police department. He and Mary are still living in the same house where Barnes had so carefully laid his trap.

Capt. Franks suddenly found himself caught in a nightmarish scene in which not only his own life but the life of his wife as well was threatened by a determined, heavily¬ armed gunman. His cool head, quick and aggressive return fire, dogged determination to save his wife, and the fact that he was still in uniform with full duty gear saved both their lives, and also provide us with a good example of what it takes to win. Moreover, his ordeal also offers us a wealth of lessons about how to deal with armed violence when off duty in the company of loved ones, and how to prepare for and overcome an ambush.
The following analysis will address these points in greater detail, as well as a number of other crucial lessons from this incident—lessons that can save lives. Before you read the analysis, however, please review the following discussion questions and work through your own answers.
Stay safe.


  1. What does this case have to say about the danger posed by stalkers?
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  2. Capt. Franks was operating in an off-duty mindset just prior to Barnes’ attack. How important is it to maintain an appropriate level of danger awareness when off duty? What can we do to help prepare mentally for off-duty armed confrontations?
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  3. Mrs. Franks’ life was also in grave danger during Barnes’ attack. Have you ever considered how you would respond if suddenly thrust into a lethal encounter when in the company of loved ones? What can we do to be help ensure our family’s safety in such situations? How important is preplanning to keeping our family safe when we are off duty?
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  4. This case highlights how dangerous an ambush can be. How much of a threat are ambushes to the safety of police officers today? What can we do to help avoid being ambushed? How can we do a better job of preparing ourselves to deal with this growing threat?
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  5. Capt. Franks instinctively dropped into a low fighting crouch and returned fire as soon as Barnes launched his attack, and it may have saved his life. How important is it to move when returning fire? Is any kind of movement better than another? If so, which one is best? Why?
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  6. This incident involved the expenditure of an unusually large number of rounds. Although still relatively rare, it appears that police shootings of this kind are becoming more prevalent. What can be done to prepare for this possibility?
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  7. Capt. Franks’ accuracy was considerably below average. What might have accounted for this?
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  8. In what ways did Capt. Franks’ attitude and actions exemplify winning mindset and warrior spirit?Click here for analysis

    This case provides a thought-provoking example of the danger posed by stalkers. The fact that the motive for the attack was strictly personal in nature and had nothing to do with Capt. Franks’ position as a police officer should not detract from this example. That Barnes chose to attack Franks as he was returning home from work, while still in uniform and obviously armed, only further illustrates how highly motivated a stalker can be. Stalkers are single-minded in their obsession over their targets, and should not be expected to give up easily if you try to stop them. Never play them cheap.
    Return to Question 1

    Off-Duty Mindset
    We all tend to let our guard down when off duty. Although this tendency cannot be overcome entirely, it is important to keep cases like this one in mind as a reminder of the need to stay alert at all times, whether on or off duty. This is especially important when going to and from work (times when your routine schedule makes you an especially easy target), and even more so when traveling in uniform or worse, driving a marked take-home car. If you don’t maintain proper focus at such times, it can put you in the dangerous position of being immediately identifiable as a police officer while at a reduced level of awareness. When accompanied by family members, you face the additional, potentially disastrous problem of unintentionally exposing them to danger (see next section for further info) while distracted by family matters. Envision, for example, pulling up in front of a convenience store in your marked car to pick up a gallon of milk while you are distracted by your kids arguing in the back seat and a hold-up is in progress inside.
    In Franks’ case, we don’t know what, if any, danger signs he might have missed, except the downed mailbox (see next paragraph for further info), because if they existed, he has no conscious recollection of them. What we do know, however, is that, like most off-duty officers, his mind was on off-duty matters, his hands were full—something most officers carefully avoid when on duty—and he didn’t see the attack coming. There is no reason to be overly cautious, but we can’t afford to let our guard down either. Remain alert during your off-duty time, particularly when in uniform and/or driving a marked unit, going to and from work, and/or traveling through high-crime areas, and even more so when accompanied by loved ones.
    Furthermore, it is very important to pay close attention to our instinctive defense mechanism when off duty as well as on duty. A stark example of this can be seen in the way Capt. Franks reacted to the downed mailbox. It had made him feel mildly uneasy—not alarmed or even concerned, just slightly uneasy—but he had ignored the feeling because of his off-duty mindset and hurry to get inside. Ironically, he is now convinced that the mailbox was a “stopper” (i.e., an obstacle placed in the path of an ambusher’s victim to cause the victim to stop squarely in the hot zone just before the attack). Franks believes Barnes used the mailbox to halt him and Mary in the middle of the yard, where he would be able to shoot Franks first and then kill Mary at will. But when Mary stopped at the mailbox and Franks kept going, it split them and forced Barnes to delay his attack until Franks stopped at the front door.
    Ironically, although this may have saved his life, Capt. Franks had made a potentially fatal error by ignoring his instincts about the mailbox. This is a very common mistake, because we fail to realize that danger cues are often very subtle and not recognized at the conscious level. Our subconscious minds are able to detect and analyze these cues very quickly, but our much slower conscious minds cannot; therefore, the subconscious mind must find a way to let us know about the danger without taking the time to explain it. It does this with emotions like alarm when it clearly sees imminent danger, or in less obvious situations, concern or uneasiness. It is common to ignore these gut instincts when focused on something else or to dismiss them by rationalizing them away, but we need to remember that our instincts are often very reliable. We do well to pay attention to them and adjust our actions accordingly.
    This is not meant to condone overreacting when our instincts warn us of possible danger, but we should at least raise our awareness, reassess the situation, and be ready with a plan. In this case, for example, Capt. Franks could have started looking for other danger signs while returning to his vehicle with Mary, and then decided on his next move from there. Depending upon what he observed, he might have decided to leave and come back later, drive to a neighbor’s to call the police, or tell Mary to drive a short distance down the cul-de-sac while he carefully checked his property by circling it from a distance and using the surrounding trees for concealment. The essential point is to trust our instincts.
    Return to Question 2

    Off-Duty Family Concerns
    Another matter that came into play in this case, and which is of even greater importance than our own safety, is one we have already mentioned briefly but needs further attention here—our family’s safety. We are trained and mentally prepared to protect ourselves, but we don’t think much about how our jobs might affect the safety of our families. Though we may never be targeted by a stalker, the risks of the job don’t disappear when out of uniform and accompanied by family members. Ten percent of the officers feloniously killed in the past 10 years were killed while off duty. Over a quarter (28%) of these attacks were ambushes and over a third (37%) were robberies, either one of which would be unthinkably dangerous for our family members if they were caught up in one. How often do we plan for this distressing possibility? Think about how you would react if, while off duty with family members, you stumbled into a holdup or other violent crime, witnessed an officer in serious trouble, or were ambushed. Discuss this with your family in as nonthreatening a manner as possible, but seriously and from a calm, practical perspective. Since their safety is top priority, your goal should be to direct or escort them to a safe place before taking any action to intervene. Children who are old enough to notify the local police of the situation should be told to do so, and to include a full description of you and your clothing; but only if they can do so without putting themselves in any danger.
    Though pre-planning is crucial, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it is better to keep it simple and generic enough to be applicable to as wide a variety of situations as possible. For example, consider telling your family to either take cover or exit the hot zone immediately if you ever have to take any kind of police action in their presence, and then explain that you will try to distance yourself from them before you act. This is also a good time to educate them about cover and concealment, and to emphasize the importance of maintaining constant awareness of the nearest available cover, concealment and escape routes. You may even want to make a game of it by randomly asking them to identify the various escape routes and items of cover and concealment in their immediate vicinity. The idea is to get them into the habit of exit/cover awareness so they won’t have to stop and think about where to go in an emergency. It is also a good idea to have everyone memorize a code word that you will use to warn them before you take any kind of police action.
    Your best course of action when traveling by car with your family is usually to just keep going and call 9-1-1, but you may come across a situation that you cannot in good conscience ignore, such as an officer in need of aid, citizen in lethal danger, or kidnapping. In that case, probably the best plan to follow is to stop at a safe place, have your spouse drive away while calling 9-1-1, or lock your children in the car if your spouse isn’t with you, and return to the scene. Exactly where or how far from the scene you park will vary depending upon the circumstances, but make it far enough away to keep your family safe.
    In the event of an ambush, it is especially important to accelerate out of the hot zone as quickly as possible rather than try to fight back. However, if your vehicle is blocked in or the ambush occurs when you are on foot, it is especially important to distance yourself from your family as quickly as possible and then return fire. Often, this will terminate the threat by disabling your attacker or forcing him to surrender or run. If not, your movement will draw your assailant’s fire away from your family, because, as his only real threat, you will be the focus of all his attention (Capt. Franks’ case was an exception to this rule, because Mrs. Franks, as one of the targets of Barnes’ anger, was equally in danger). There is a strong tendency to want to keep our loved ones close when danger is present so we can shield them from harm, but this will only put them at greater risk if we start taking fire. The only way to combat this tendency is to plan how you will respond to the threat beforehand, including making a solid commitment to separate from them, and then reinforce your plan with mental imagery.
    Return to Question 3

    Ambush Awareness and Counter-Ambush Tactics
    While the number of officer murders have declined significantly over the past three decades (from an average of 68 per year between 1985-1999 to an average of 53 per year since 2000 , , ), the number of officers killed in ambushes has increased dramatically. Of the 1,020 officers feloniously killed between 1985-1999, 11 percent were killed in ambushes, whereas 21.7 percent of the 799 killed in the 15 years since then were the victims of ambushes. This last figure represents an alarming 52.7 percent increase in ambush deaths while the total number of felonious killings decreased by 21.7 percent during the same period. While it is difficult to determine why we haven’t been more successful in countering this threat, it may well be due to the pervasive false notion that there is little that can be done to defend against them. While it is true that ambushes are very dangerous, it is also true that there is a lot we can do to effectively deal with them.
    As with any other hazard, the first step in avoidance is awareness. Be especially cautious when responding to any incident that makes you vulnerable to an ambush. These include active shooters, bombings, or other mass casualty incident. Terrorists and other mass killers want to inflict as many casualties as possible, and one way to do that is to use snipers, explosive devices, etc. to ambush first responders when they arrive on the scene. Also be wary of any calls to remote or deserted locations (it’s easier to set up an ambush without being detected when no one is around), calls that appear bogus, or anything else that raises your suspicions.
    When responding, slow down as much as the circumstances allow and scan for anything that seems unusual or hazardous as you approach the scene. In rapidly developing emergencies like active shooters, you will need to get there quickly, but even then it is important to drive at a reasonable enough speed to scan for possible secondary threats, as well as to avoid accidents. When time permits, also think about approaching from an unexpected direction and/or stopping at a safe location for a closer look before you proceed further. Consider using binoculars if you have them, and take time to listen as well. You may also want to park your cruiser and proceed on foot if you still have any suspicions.
    Another precaution is to drive past the location first to see if you can spot anything that looks suspicious, and then cautiously re-approach it, preferably from a different direction. Besides allowing you to assess the danger, this will also allow you to get a better idea of the lay of the land and pick out the safest place to stop upon your return.
    As you arrive, focus first on the most likely places where an ambusher may hide, like rooftops, the sides of buildings, walls, ridges in the terrain, and other places that may provide an attacker with cover and an easy avenue of escape. After checking these areas, scan windows, vehicles, trees, and other smaller places of cover and concealment. Also pay special attention to dark recesses and shady areas, and look for glints of metal, muzzle flashes, smoke, and hints of movement. In addition, since our peripheral vision is especially good at detecting movement and seeing in low light, don’t ignore things you notice out of the corner of your eye.
    Also, as was discussed earlier in this analysis, watch for anything that could be a stopper. Since the purpose of a stopper is to force the victim to stop in the hot zone, the best thing to do if you suspect one is to not stop for it. Immediately start scanning for other danger signs as you back off, go around it, change directions, etc., and then head for the nearest cover or avenue of escape.
    Another source of danger is the tendency to focus on injured victims. Since we police officers have a deep concern for others, it is only natural for us to want to rush to their aid, but it can make things worse for everyone involved. If you fall into this trap and become incapacitated, other responding officers and medical personnel will then have to deal with two victims instead of one, which puts others at greater risk and ties up a lot of resources that may be needed elsewhere. Unless the ambusher’s location cannot be pinpointed and/or he is in a solid defensive position where it will take too much time to neutralize him, it is usually best to deal with the ambusher before rescuing any victims.
    In the event that you are ambushed, immediately exit the hot zone, or if immediate escape isn’t possible, follow Capt. Franks’ example. He had received considerable counter-ambush training in the military, and this proved to be a key factor in the outcome. Without conscious thought, he fought back with aggressive return fire (the first and foremost rule for winning when trapped in an ambush, or any other armed attack for that matter) as he had been trained to do. Had it not been for the need to protect his wife, his next step would have been to follow his training by laying down suppressive fire as he moved to cover and then returning aimed fire from there. Instead, he delayed going to cover to rescue his wife while continuing to return suppressive fire when he could.
    However, it is important to note that, whereas troops in combat can put down a large amount of suppressive fire to keep their ambushers at bay, police officers have neither the firepower nor the moral right to spray an area with indiscriminant gunfire. Nevertheless, suppressive fire can still be used to keep your assailant’s head down without compromising your moral obligation to avoid endangering others, as long as you keep it to a minimum. Fire just a round or two at your attacker/s to break up their plan of attack, and then head for cover. As you move to cover, still firing as you go, and then continue your suppressive fire from there, focus on keeping your shots to the minimum and putting them where nobody but the ambusher is at risk. The idea is to conserve ammo and limit the chances of any collateral damage while keeping your ambusher(s) at bay as you plan your next move. This is also a good time to call for help, coordinate with incoming units, check yourself for wounds, etc. In the meantime, keep scanning for movement or any other indications that your attacker(s) may be attempting to advance, flank your position, etc.
    The above discussion of counter-ambush tactics is by no means all-inclusive. In fact, considering the extreme danger posed by ambushes and current shortage of training in how to deal with them, it is hoped that Capt. Frank’s shooting will serve as a starting point for an honest dialogue about the problem. Police officers are remarkably innovative thinkers with a solid grounding in street wisdom and common sense. We can come up with answers to this challenge if we put our minds to it.
    Return to Question 4

    Moving Off the X
    Capt. Franks instinctively dropped into a low fighting crouch and returned fire as soon as Barnes launched his attack, and it may have saved his life by allowing him to take advantage of the planter as cover. This demonstrates the importance of moving out of the line of fire, but it is important to note that lateral movement to his right (i.e., into the yard away from the house) would have been an even better move than crouching in place. Lateral movement in any direction makes you a much harder target, and when combined with quick return fire, it can severely affect you attacker’s accuracy. Unfortunately, police firearms training doesn’t emphasize shooting while moving nearly enough. In many agencies, it is added almost as an afterthought, and in some it isn’t taught at all. Instead, it should be an integral part of every police department’s firearms training from the beginning at the academy and continued throughout every officer’s career. Similarly, considering the importance of cover, cover awareness should be heavily emphasized from the beginning so that it becomes a habit for every officer in the agency.
    Return to Question 5

    High Volume of Fire
    Interestingly, despite the intensity of the attack and the fact that he had to split his attention between dealing with Barnes and protecting his wife, Franks still managed to notice that he was starting to run out of ammunition. It’s very is easy to lose track of the amount of ammunition expended during a gunfight, and the fact that he thought to check his last magazine before making his escape is a testament to his cool-headedness under fire.
    Although the vast majority of police shootings involve the exchange of only a few shots, this case highlights how easily we can run through two or three magazines, even when off duty. Besides expending an unusually large number of rounds, Capt. Franks lost a nearly full magazine by accident early in the fight, which shows that the need for another magazine may not arise from the number of shots fired alone. Moreover, in today’s world of active killers and the growing threat of terrorist attacks, the simple truth is that two spare magazines may not be enough. Extra spares don’t take up much room or add much weight, and they can easily be slipped into a back pocket, under the straps of your body armor, or in pouches on your external load-bearing vest. Besides providing you with extra ammunition, this will serve as an important reminder to slow down if you have to use them. Since they must be drawn from a location other than the magazine pouches on your belt, the act of drawing them will alert you to the fact that it’s time to start conserving ammo.
    Another option to consider in lieu of—or preferably in addition to—extra magazines is a backup gun. There are a large number of good reasons to carry one, and the fact that they provide extra ammunition is one of the best.
    When off duty in street clothes, the issue of extra spares becomes more difficult. Few would see the need for a backup gun under normal conditions, and there is a legitimate need to keep the off-duty gun, ammo, cuffs, etc., well concealed, which limits how much equipment we can carry. On the other hand, this case makes clear the importance of being prepared at all times, even when off duty. If, for example, he had been in his street clothes armed with nothing more than a five-shot snubby and five spare rounds, it is very unlikely that he would have survived. We have to find a balance between preparation and overdoing it. A good compromise is to carry a high-quality autoloader, preferably one that is a downsized copy of your duty weapon, at least one spare magazine, handcuffs, and a cell phone.
    Return to Question 6

    Missing the Target
    One of the more remarkable aspects of this case was the number of misses; Franks scored only one hit out of an estimated 26 rounds, and Barnes only one out of 23. In most gunfights, there are many more misses than hits, but only two peripheral hits out of 42 shots is well below the norm. However, there are a number of likely reasons for this:
    • The sudden intensity of the action. Franks was caught completely off guard, taking a lot of fire, and under incredible pressure to react, none of which is conducive to good marksmanship. This kind of stress is common to lethal encounters, which only reinforces the importance of realistic, high-stress firearms training. However, an equally, if not more important factor to consider here is that Barnes, an avid hunter and excellent marksman, was also affected by stress. By shooting back, Franks put intense pressure on Barnes, thereby disrupting his plan of attack and very likely forcing him to rush his shots. This created a harsh new reality for Barnes—his prey had never shot back at him before—and fortunately, he didn’t handle it very well.
    • Distance and Visibility. The distances involved in this case were considerably greater than the norm for police gunfights. The great majority of fatal police shootings (over 67%) occur at 10 feet or less, , which is considerably less than the ranges involved in this incident. The drenching rain was probably a factor as well. It drastically reduced visibility, and, by coming on so suddenly, it probably created a distraction for both men. Again, training is important here. Although the main focus of firearms training should be on the most common threats, longer ranges of 25 yards or more should not be ignored. Besides giving officers an advantage at greater distances (most offenders are not proficient at long-range shooting either), this will increase their confidence, which improves performance under stress at all distances. In addition, training should be conducted under a variety of environmental conditions, including rain, darkness and temperature extremes.
    • Family Concerns. Franks’ fear for his wife’s safety also created a serious distraction that, besides forcing him to make the critical mistake of rushing into the hot zone, probably negatively impacted his accuracy. In addition to making it harder to focus exclusively on neutralizing Barnes, it probably caused him to rush his shots as well. This is another reason why it is a good idea to do some planning with your family. If, by planning ahead, they are able to expeditiously reach a place of safety on their own, you can focus more effectively on terminating the threat.
    • One-Handed Shooting. Despite his training to the contrary, Franks fought the entire gunfight one-handed. Even Franks himself can’t understand why he did it, but the suddenness and intensity of the ambush may have had a lot to do with it. During force-on-force training, for example, it is very common for officers to use one hand when shooting at close range, even when they have never been trained to do so. Very likely, this is because their natural instincts demand it. Instantaneous return fire, not pin-point accuracy, is the most crucial element in winning a close-range gunfight. The subconscious mind knows this, instincts take over, and the officer pulls the trigger as soon as the gun clears the holster. Frank was in a similar situation, although at a much greater distance. He was suddenly coming under such heavy fire that he simply pulled his gun and blazed away at his attacker without taking the time to take a two-handed grip on the weapon.
    This point reinforces the importance of training officers to shoot one-handed, but from a broader perspective, it illustrates the importance of taking instincts into consideration when training for lethal encounters. When the techniques we learn are not congruent with our natural instincts, they may break down under stress. Intense, repetitive training and frequent practice can overcome this dangerous tendency to some extent, but it is generally easier and much safer to develop techniques that are congruent with our instincts. This will help ensure that our conditioned responses don’t come into conflict with our instincts when both are needed to win the fight.
    • Grip: Capt. Franks points out that he had a poor grip on his gun as he drew, which hampered his ability to shoot well. Grip is one of the basic components of shooting, and it starts with your initial grip on the gun even before you start to draw. If the initial grip is off, it won’t improve as you engage your target unless you take time to readjust it, and time is a precious commodity in a gunfight.

    No doubt, Franks’ poor grip affected his performance; therefore, it is important to consider why it happened. Franks puts the blame—with good justification—on his holster. He explained that the style of the holster he wore, which was dictated by department policy, was a high-ride design chosen for its weapon retention capabilities. The design didn’t fit with his personal build and drawing style, and he had never managed to become fully comfortable with it. When he suddenly came under fire he wasn’t able to manipulate the awkward design smoothly, and wound up with a poor grip on his weapon.
    It is absolutely essential that officers be allowed to carry equipment they can handle comfortably and with maximum proficiency under stress. The gun and holster in particular must fit the officer’s hand, body structure, and personal drawing and shooting style. Obviously, some limits must be placed on the officer’s choice of equipment (in a hospital setting like Franks’, for example, the close quarters inside the hospital, frequent contact with emotionally disturbed persons, etc., make a high-security rig essential), but uniformity and the personal preferences of decision-makers should never overshadow the need for personal flexibility within reasonable guidelines. When that happens, the proficiency of the line officers who must use the equipment in the real world may suffer, often with serious consequences for the officers, the department and/or the public.
    On the other hand, the harsh reality is that some administrators still insist on uniformity in firearms, holsters and other vital officer safety equipment. In that case, the line officer has the responsibility to himself, his citizens, and even his family and fellow officers, to make do with the equipment he is issued. It takes a lot of extra time and commitment to hone our skills to a fine point when our equipment doesn’t fit us, but with so much on the line, we just have to work harder. Train hard and train often, and then train some more, if that’s what it takes to compensate for inadequate equipment.
    Return to Question 7

    Winning Mindset
    Despite being caught off guard by Barnes’ ambush, Franks fought back aggressively and without hesitation. His training had a lot to do with this response, but so did his fighting spirit. Then, as the situation worsened in the face of his wife’s panicked reaction to the attack, he did what he had to do to save her in spite of the danger. Later, when he was struck to the ground by the gunshot to his knee and then tried to return fire, only to find his gun unexpectedly empty, he again focused on what he had to do and quickly reloaded. Finally, despite Mary’s continued frozen response to the crisis, he bore down, dragged her to safety while returning fire, forced her to pay attention to him, and made their escape. This ability to remain optimistically focused on what needs to be done rather than the hopelessness of the situation, sometime referred to as warrior’s optimism, is a common trait among winners. It keeps them in the game regardless how bad things gets, and often drives them forward to victory against all odds. Capt. Franks’ response to Barnes’ ambush offers an excellent example of this trait in action.
    Return to Question 8

Never underestimate the danger posed by stalkers.
Stay alert for danger when off duty, especially when your surroundings or circumstances place you at increased risk of being ambushed or otherwise involved in a violent confrontation. This is even more importance when in the company of loved ones. As hard as this may be, the safety of your family demands it.
Trust your instincts.
Plan for the possibility that an ambush or other armed encounter might occur while in the company of your loved ones, and discuss your concerns and plans with them in as nonthreatening a manner as possible.
Be especially cautious when responding to any call that makes you suspect a possible ambush.
If ambushed, immediately exit the hot zone, or, if immediate escape isn’t possible, immediately return fire as you go for cover. You can then plan your next move from there.
Firearms and other officer safety techniques must be as congruent as possible with our natural instincts.
Quick movement out of the line of fire is crucial to winning in a gunfight, especially when combined with immediate return fire.
The equipment officers carry must fit the individual officer’s body build and personal style.
Consider carrying one or two extra spare magazines and a backup gun in case you are ever involved in a gunfight involving the expenditure of unusually large amounts of ammunition.
Always fight back no matter what, and stay focused on what you have to do to win.

  1. Though it has never been verified how this happened, it is likely that Franks’ gun had jammed with his preceding shot, and its magazine then dropped out when he pressed its release against Mary’s hand.
  2. F.B.I. (2014). Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2013. Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Justice, table 25. < > at 20 March 2015.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. F.B.I. (1994). Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 1993. Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Justice, table 15.
  6. F.B.I. (2004). Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2004. Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Justice, table 20. < > at 25 March 2015.
  7. F.B.I. (2014). Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2013. Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Justice, table 36. < with_firearms_distance_between_victim_officer_and_offender_2004-2013.xls > at 25 March 2015.
  8. F.B.I. (2004). Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2003. Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Justice, table 31.
  9. This article originally appeared the Sep/Oct 2001issue of The Police Marksman. The analysis has been substantially updated with new information for the new Police Marksman.

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