• TSG Defense

Review: Cirillo’s Gunfighting Secrets for Armed Citizens



It’s always instructional to get armed defense advice and information from actual gunfighters. The problem with getting first-hand information from experienced gunfighters is that there are so few of them. Let's face it, the danger of engaging in actual gunfights pretty much precludes anyone from having the experience to be part of this group.


Jim Cirillo qualifies as such with many gunfights to his credit during his time with a famous unit in New York City dedicated to stopping a rash of armed robberies followed by murders in the late 60s and early 70s.


If you are a new student of the gun, Cirillo is a name you should be familiar with. Despite the fact that there has been different accounts of how many incidents he participated in (seems like Cirillo himself used various numbers between 17-23) the shear number of close-quarter shootouts he survived makes him a legend in law enforcement and civilian shooting circles.


“A little background is in order. The NYPD Stakeout Unit, unofficially called the Stakeout Squad, was formed in 1968 and existed until 1973. Its formation was due to the large number of retail robberies occurring in New York City at the time, many of which resulted in the brutalization or murder of shopkeepers. The Squad was disbanded in 1973, allegedly for ‘efficiency’ reasons but the members generally conceded that it was because the Squad shot so many robbers, whom they caught red-handed and who decided to shoot it out rather than surrender. Jimmy Cirillo was one of the founding members and a good friend of mine.”


The above quote is from Cirillo’s book, “Guns, Bullets, and Gunfights: Lessons and Tales from a Modern-Day Gunfighter”. The book appears to be re-published in 2018 despite being written before his death on Friday, July 13th, 2007, in an auto accident after he apparently turned into the path of a tractor trailer rig. Ironic, to survive so many face-to-face gunfights only to die in a pedestrian automobile accident.

He openly and humbly describes a number of his armed encounters in the book which have salient lessons for tactical shooters and responsible armed citizens. 

He says, “In this ‘school of hard knocks,’ one learned real fast both the shortcomings and feasibility of firearms teachings and techniques. I graduated from that school, walking away without a scratch from showdowns with 17 armed robbers.”


Here’s Cirillo’s secrets and lessons learned:


  1. Do not rely on only one shot to incapacitate an attacker.  He feels man is one of the toughest animals on the planet and warns us to not believe in how Hollywood portrays gunfights.  

  2. There is no magic bullet.  He laments the state of bullet construction at that time and relays how and what he used for custom loads of his own design.  He shows a definite preference for bigger-caliber bullets. 

  3. Use proper tactics. He stresses the need to be aware of reaction time.  Use cover, concealment, or distance.

  4. Train for proper bullet placement. Marksmanship comes into play here to reliably “place the bullet where it counts”.  This is consistent with current tactical thinking which places bullet placement above bullet size for effectively neutralizing deadly threats.

  5. Choose your firearm carefully.  He recommends a 9mm at the minimum with a definite preference for larger calibers. If he was working the unit at the time of this writing, he would probably carry a Glock 21 (.45) and a Glock 27 (.40) as a backup. He fondly remembers his partner saving his life with a 1911 National Match .45 ACP. 

  6. Hunt with your handgun.  He believes hunting with handguns is good training and can sharpen your skills if you are on a unit similar to the stakeout unit or with SWAT. He also believes hunting instills a patience in shooters that is valuable on stakeout squads. 

  7. Supplement your firearms training with mental conditioning.  He repeatedly stresses throughout the book the advantages the mental training provides in a deadly force encounter.  He believes the subconscious mind provides faster and more accurate responses than the conscious mind during critical situations. He attributes the successful use of his subconscious mind during gunfights to his background as a firearms instructor and the vast amount of shooting repetitions he had. Hear that? Reps matter.

This book is only 136 pages long and is an easy read with several anecdotes describing the chaotic and unpredictable nature of real-life gunfights in enclosed spaces. Click on the link below to take you to Amazon:



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