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Guns of Heroes: What the Good Guys Carried

We walk through some impressive acts of American heroism, looking at the who, what, when, where and...most importantly, the guns.

We talk a lot about guns around here — reviewing them, previewing them, and diving into their accessories, magazines, and components.

But how often do we talk about the men and women who utilize firearms heroically, though?

Faxon Firearms Ascent AR-15 Shooting
We talk a lot about guns, but the people behind them…not so much.

Well, not enough.

Today we change that by examining heroes wielding firearms and the events that compelled them to act.

From police officers and soldiers to concealed carriers, we can find heroes wiht firearms of every type in nearly every situation.

1986 Miami Shootout
Position of vehicles during the 1986 Miami Shootout. (Photo: RECOIL)

So, today, we’re going to talk about them.

In specific, we’ll look at five heroes who used firearms to save the day. (And what guns sat in the middle of all the action.)

Heroes & Their Guns

1. Jack Wilson, Sig Sauer P229

A different kind of evil targets churches and schools – someone looking to cause as much pain and harm as possible.

However, when a cowardly gunman entered the West Freeway Church of Christ, he met Jack Wilson.

Jack Wilson
Jack Wilson

Wilson served as a volunteer on the church’s security team, concealing a Sig Sauer P229 chambered in .357 Sig.

That’s a mighty powerful caliber in a capable weapon. Wilson proved to be a very competent defender.

Technically a compact pistol, the all-metal Sig P229 still remains a rather big gun for concealed carry. Big and heavy mean controllable and, partnered with a decent sight radius, it offers enough accuracy for longer range shots.

Sig Sauer P229
Sig Sauer P229 in holster. (Photo: Sig Sauer)

Not to mention, Sig perfects the DA/SA system, incorporating decades of refinement into the P229 design.

The .357 Sig caliber runs hot and hits hard — a fast cartridge designed to replicate .357 Magnum performance in a semi-automatic pistol.

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Armed with a long gun, the church shooter should have outgunned Wilson, but his skill, tenacity, and choice of firearm led him to stop the threat with a single round.

Wilson even followed through, moving towards the threat with weapon ready while the world around him exploded into a panic.

Unfortunately, the gunman took the lives of two innocent people; however, Wilson’s intervention no doubt saved lives.

Jack Wilson Governor Medal Courage
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott presented the Governor’s Medal of Courage to Wilson for his courageous actions. (Photo: Ricardo B. Brazziell, AP)

Wilson is a good reminder of why we train and why we carry…because disaster can strike anywhere.

2. Special Agent Edmundo Mireles, Remington 870 and Smith & Wesson 686

Saying the 1986 Miami Shootout changed law enforcement is a cliche, but dang, it’s true.

This ferocious firefight lasted all of 5 minutes and involved almost 150 rounds fired between a squad of FBI agents and two bank robbers.

1986 FBI Miami Shootout

Out of eight agents involved in the firefight, two lost their lives, and only one made it through without injury. (The two violent bank robbers who initiated the fight died as well.)

The gunfight took place around a number of vehicles, providing a crazy mixture of cover and concealment for such a close-range gunfight.

Ed Mireles
Special Agent Mireles

During the fight, Special Agent Edmundo Mireles embodied courage. Mireles began the fight armed with a 12-gauge Remington 870 shotgun.

As one of the two big pump-action American shotguns, the 870 provides a shotgun for thousands of police forces. It sports a refined action that’s slick and smooth.

Remington 870 with Streamlight
Remington 870 with Streamlight

As far as close-range firepower goes, a shotgun is tough to beat, delivering a massive amount of lead per trigger pull. In the 1980s, it was the standard long arm for law enforcement.

Pump shotguns require two hands to operate effectively, and as soon as Agent Mireles got into the fight, his left arm received a serious wound from a bad guy’s Mini 14.

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Yet, Mireles was not defeated.

He operated the Remington 870 with one hand, putting out five rounds of 00 buckshot and hitting one gunman in the feet.

Winchester 12ga 00 Buckshot
Winchester 12ga 00 Buckshot

As Mireles ran out of ammunition with his shotgun, he drew his Smith & Wesson 686.

Although it’s technically a .357 Magnum revolver, this large-framed wheelgun packs six rounds of .38 Special +P.

S&W 686+
S&W 686+

The 686 redefined the fighting revolver and provided a modern duty revolver to replace the aging .38 Specials occupying police holsters at the time.

While everyone adores the Colt Python, the S&W 686 did the actual fighting.

As the bank robbers attempted to flee in an FBI car, Mireles acted. Moving toward the now stolen car, he emptied his revolver into it.

Miami Shootout Crime Scene
Miami Shootout Crime Scene (Photo: By Miami-Dade Police Department)

Both bank robbers were done for, and the fight was over.

As a result, Mireles earned his place among America’s best gunfighters.

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3. John Basilone, M1919 Machine Gun

To Marine Machine Gunners, John Basilone is essentially a deity.

The man’s actions in World War II changed doctrine. So much so, his accomplishments are still felt by machine gunners to this day.

John Balisone
John Basilone

At Guadalcanal, Basilone commanded two sections of machine guns set into a defensive position.

In no time at all, his unit came under attack by a numerically superior Japanese unit.

The Japanese assaulted his position with small arms, machine guns, grenades, and mortars, attempting to break through the lines.

Like the Spartans of old, Basilone and his guns defended a narrow pass near a river. And Basilone held his ground.

Guadacanal Machine Gun M1919
A machine position on Guadalcanal.

Three thousand men bared down on them, but Basilone kept his guns running.

And keeping the guns running means your buddies live.

As machine gunners, we are trained on a level of maintenance for our guns most other Marines never experience.

From the new Private to the salty Sergeant, keeping the gun running is the number one objective of a machine gun team.

The heavy machine gun at the time was the Browning-designed M1919 machine gun.

Browning M1919
Browning M1919

This gun served in a variety of configurations, acting as the machine gun of choice for both the Army and Marine Corps for decades.

Chambering the powerful 30-06 cartridge, the M1919 delivered a devastating but slow 450 rounds-per-minute cyclic rate.

And, as a belt-fed weapon, there were no magazine constraints. As long as you could attach a new belt to an old one, you effectively never ran out of ammunition.

Basilone’s first act of heroism involved responding to a downed machine gun.

M1919 WWII
Being a machine gunner meant being able to fix your weapon.

He rushed almost 100-pounds of gear and guns into that pit to get the position up and running once more.

Basilone continued running between gun pits, delivering supplies and ammunition. He even fixed an M1919 in the dark by stripping it down and combining parts from another gun.

And that level of skill passes down to machine gunners to this day. In order to graduate from machine gun school, a Marine must be able to strip and reassemble the M240, MK19, and M2 machine gun in less than 3 minutes.

The M240B, Bipod Required. Image Source: Military.com
Modern machine gunners have to prove they can break-down and reassemble the gun in less than 3 minutes. (Photo: Military.com)

At one point, Basilone manned a 1919, thwarting an attack single-handedly.

With the loss of his asbestos glove, he manipulated the weapon with his bare hands, causing severe burns to his arms and legs.

After three days of fighting, his machine gun section was reduced to himself and two other men.

He earned a Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery, credited with personally killing 38 enemy soldiers and stopping an entire regiment.

John Balisone Medal of Honor
Basilone receiving the Medal of Honor

4. Sergeant First Class Randy Shugart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon, M14 and Delta Colt 723

I couldn’t choose one man over the other in this situation as both gave their lives in defense of others during Operation Gothic Serpent in defense of the aircrew of a downed Blackhawk.

Sergeant First Class Randy Shugart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon volunteered and insisted on being inserted to protect four fellow soldiers.

Gary Gordon
Master Sergeant Gary Gordon

SFC Shugart and Master Sgt Gordon were both Delta Force members and snipers but were not wielding the rifles we typically associate with snipers.

Mission drives gear selection, and the men chose weapons that made the most sense for their role as overwatch in a dense urban environment.

Randy Shugart
Sergeant First Class Randy Shugart

SFC Gordon wielded a custom M14 outfitted with an Aimpoint red dot, while Master Sgt Gordon armed himself with a Colt 723 AR-style carbine with an Aimpoint optic and suppressor.

The M14 fell out of service after six years of General Issue use.

Combat Center shooting team puts rounds down range
Sgt. Maj. Karl Villalino, Combat Center Sergeant Major, aims an M14 service rifle down range during the High Desert Regional Shooting Competition at the Combat Center, Nov. 13, 2014. Villalino fired the first shot, signifying the start of the competition. (Official Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Thomas Mudd/Released)

A semi-automatic rifle packing full-powered 7.62 cartridges, it offered the Delta sniper a powerful and rapid firing option that excelled in urban combat.

M14s in accurized roles are nothing new, and the finicky rifle can be made quite accurate.

Delta’s armorers undoubtedly delivered on accuracy with this rifle.

An Aimpoint doesn’t offer extra magnification but gives the shooters a reflex sight for quick shots in an ever-changing battlefield.

Gordon’s Colt 723 was one of many carbines based on the M16 series of rifles.

Prop Gallery Blackhawk Down Actor
Actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, played Master Sergeant Gary Gordon. Here he shows the prop equipment used for the film.(Photo: Prop Gallery)

A shorter, lighter rifle fits the special missions of Delta Force a bit better than the ole A2.

Short and light is the ticket for urban warfare, and the 723 was just that. With the Aimpoint and suppressor, the rifle would be quick on target and easy to control.

The 723 was immensely popular with Delta at the time and was used heavily during Operation Gothic Serpent.

These two men departed the relative safety of their helicopter, navigating the chaotic city streets of Mogadishu by themselves.

Michael Durant’s helicopter over Mogadishu.

They fought their way to the downed helicopter to establish a defensive position.

Somali forces closed in, and the men suffered constant assault.

Gordon and Shughart fought fiercely, delivering effective fires that saved the life of Chief Warrant Officer Durant.

5. SEAL Team Six Bin Laden Raid Force, the HK 416

In May 2011, Operators from DEVGRU – a.k.a. SEAL Team Six — raided a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

That night history was made as this team of elite commandos killed Osama Bin Laden, organizer and financier of one of the world’s most violent terrorist forces.

Seal Team Six Movie
A scene from “SEAL Team Six: The Raid On Osama Bin Laden.”

This nighttime raid is still cloaked in mystery, with large parts of the operation remaining classified.

We do know the SEAL team entered under cover of darkness, flying low and fast in stealth Blackhawks. But, immediately, the well-planned raid hit a snag.

Instead of fast-roping into the compound from a helicopter, the SEALs experienced a soft crash. Luckily, none suffered any significant injury.

Operators departed and entered the compound, making short work of Bin Laden. Ultimately, the weapon that took out this violent terrorist was the HK 416.

A piston-driven AR-like weapon, the HK 416 stands as the preferred rifle of special operations units.

HK416N with Aimpoint CompM4
HK416N with Aimpoint CompM4

It’s renowned for its reliability, accuracy, and easy handling.

One major advantage the HK 416 offers is reliability with a short barrel and suppressor, outshining the classic M4 series in this role.

When you are a small raid force in a foreign country, the last thing you want is to hear a click when you should hear a bang.

The HK 416s wore suppressors and EOTech sights, Surefire lights, a PEQ 15, and a vertical foregrip.

.30 Cal and 5.56 Suppressors
.30 Cal and 5.56 Suppressors

For 2011, this was as high speed as it got, clearly serving its role well.

In total, the raid was slated to take 40 minutes. The SEALs achieved it in 38 minutes on the dot.

That shows the efficiency of well-armed warriors, even when they face incalculable odds.

Squad of Seals
Squad of SEALs during an operation. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)


Bravery and courage under fire define the Americans above. From civilians in church who saved fellow churchgoers to SEAL Team Six’s elite members, each brought skill, know-how, and guts to the fight.

Jack Wilson Governor Presenting Medal
Jack Wilson being awarded the Governor’s Medal. (Photo: USA Today)

Honestly, researching these heroes and their guns brought me great joy. I only listed five, but there are thousands of more acts of heroism worth noting.

Since I’m only one man, let me know your favorite gun-slinging hero and their weapon of choice. For more on cool gun people, check out our roundup of Badass Lady Shooters Pt. 1 and Pt. 2.

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9 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    Good article.

    April 27, 2022 7:02 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Basilone did it with a water cooled 1917

    June 24, 2021 4:10 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I shared the pure joy reading. Thanks man.

    June 22, 2021 11:37 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    There were a lot of typos in this article. You may want to proof read them better.

    June 21, 2021 6:15 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Clynn Korney

    Great article, I could read these stories all day.

    June 20, 2021 6:16 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Not an Editor

    non-editor here, just to say that I really enjoyed the article. It's always interesting to read and learn about the firearms used during these types of events.

    June 20, 2021 3:43 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    whats a "Smith & Wesspm 686"?

    For a second there I thought there was a new gun manufacturer :)

    Typo - "Wesspm" should be "Wesson"

    June 19, 2021 5:27 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    David Schattner

    Typo-Abbottabad is in Pakistan...

    June 19, 2021 4:04 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jacki Billings

      Whoops! Thanks for that catch!

      June 21, 2021 11:07 am
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