A longtime student of Depression-era bad guys and the lawmen who chased them, I came late to the 2007 book “The Complete Public Enemy Almanac” by William Helmer and Rick Mattix.  The latter I’m unfamiliar with, but Helmer is perhaps the leading authority on the topic. Never got to meet the man, though I talked to him once on the phone. Helmer created the whimsical John Dillinger Died For You Society, was the only man to ever get a pro-gun article into Playboy magazine, and wrote the excellent historical text on the Thompson submachine gun, “The Gun That Made the Twenties Roar.”

A few takeaways:

Helmer and Mattix wrote, “Holdups became so common during the Great Depression that few ‘respectable’ people ventured out after dark without some kind of weapon.”

I had known that the notorious Baby Face Nelson was saved from death during a bank robbery when a .22 slug fired by an armed citizen stopped on the back plate of his bulletproof vest. I had not been aware, however, that Nelson was wearing armor on the day of his death as well.  According to Helmer and Mattix, “…when ‘Baby Face’ Nelson went down in battle in November 1934, his legs were full of buckshot, but his vest had stopped all but one of the .45-caliber machine-gun slugs fired at him by FBI agents. (The one that missed the vest mortally wounded him in the lower stomach.) The next January, the bureau laid siege to a Chicago apartment building occupied by Russell Gibson of the Barker-Karpis Gang, and he died when his vest was penetrated by a metal-jacketed rifle bullet.”

The authors attribute to John Dillinger the quote, “Never trust a woman or an automatic pistol.”  Funny thing about that. On the night of his death, Dillinger was accompanied by Anna Sage, who had set him up for Melvin Purvis of the FBI, and he died with a Colt .380 automatic pistol in his hand.

 “The Complete Public Enemy Almanac” turned out to be a great read. Recommended.


  1. “Never trust a woman or an automatic pistol” – John Dillinger

    Yes, indeed, John Dillinger failed to follow his own sage advice. That was his downfall! 🙂

    Another topical Dillinger quote has since become the motto and guiding theme of the Democratic Party as judged from the policies presented by their Presidential Candidates. Here it is:

    “My buddies wanted to be firemen, farmers or policemen, something like that. Not me, I just wanted to steal people’s money!” – John Dillinger

    • If John Dillinger was alive today and a politician, he could very well win the 2020 presidential election running as a Democrat candidate. Ashley Judd and Madonna would definitely vote for Dillinger as I’ve read he was quite well endowed and the object of sexual desire for many gun molls and sluts.

  2. I read “John Dillinger Died for You Society.” “Horace Naismith” reminds me of “Michael Nesmith” the Monkee.

    When the writer wrote about the meeting, at the University of Texas at Austin, in 1966, I was reminded of another infamous criminal, Charles Whitman.

    When I look back at the gangster era, I see a bunch of things still relevant today; body armor, semi-auto pistols, cars, even some familiar calibers. People think American crooks are well-armed today, but Clyde Barrow used a BAR because it was more powerful than a Tommy gun. Only the North Hollywood shooters from 1997 were comparably armed. Maybe the Las Vegas shooter came close.

    Today we struggle to keep our rights to own semi-auto weapons. In my dream world, I would like to see the following legalized, because of the thinking that citizen militias need to be able to fight against a modern tyrannical government; full-auto weapons, (I know they are “legal” but I mean removing the restrictions currently in place), grenades, RPGs, claymore mines and mortars. Think of how that legislation would make the Left squeal! I would love to see that!

    For the record, I believe what I learned from Jeff Cooper. Full-auto fire is a waste of ammunition unless it is against a mass of troops advancing across a battlefield.

    We are taught to seek cover during gunfights today. One of those gangsters hated cops so much he would advance on them during gunfights.

    • I would like to see full auto and short barreled firearms become unrestricted and possibly hand grenades too, but draw the line there. There are no safe facilities for practicing with RPGs, mortars, artillery, or bazookas and an accident at home with one of these could injure and kill many neighbors unlike small arms. Grenades do have their uses in civilian hands, but they have to be employed with extreme caution and kept out of the reach of children, just like guns. Having shot quite a few machine guns, I can agree with many experts that full auto fire is only effective with submachine guns and belt fed firearms. Even a low powered cartridge like the .223 in the M16 on full auto is very difficult to control and hit with when hand held. Aimed semi-auto fire is the way to go. I believe you were referring to Lester Gillis aka Babyface Nelson who was known to advance on police officers under fire while shooting at them. He was a homicidal maniac and the only way to stop someone like that is pump them full of 12 gauge slugs and hopefully hit him in the head or spine.

    • My late father maintained that when he was about 12 years old, John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson and girlfriends were having a beer party at a popular rural swimming hole. Dad and some of his peers found the delinquents carelessly breaking beer bottles all over the ground. The boys grabbed some rocks and threw them at the thoughtless thugs, driving them away. The story was that the county sheriff knew where the gangsters were but showed no desire to follow up the lead. He at least missed a chance to issue a ticket for littering. I don’t know if the boys knew in the moment who they were dealing with, though.

    • Tom606,

      Yes, you are right. An accidental discharge with an explosive would be really bad. One area of the gun debate where we do see progress is in the concealed-carry legislation. I remember when Vermont was the only state which had constitutional carry.

      As for citizens taking on a tyrannical government, in 2002 we watched the two DC snipers elude police for three weeks. Imagine the devastation created by 10 snipers in every state.

      • TN_MAN,

        You are right about guerrilla warfare, as usual. The U.S. military has never won a war against guerrillas. Didn’t win against North Vietnam, had a really tough time subduing Iraq, and didn’t win against the shepherds in Afghanistan. I hear the Islamic State caliphate has been defeated, but not ISIS. I do not blame our warriors in uniform, I blame the civilian leadership of our military for not achieving victory.

        My guess is that a war against guerrillas could be won if the conventional army was able to deny the guerrillas water/food, ammunition and gasoline. Without adequate supplies, even fanatics who hate us would be unable to fight effectively. Imagine fighting against guerrillas who were sick due to malnutrition. That would be easy, especially if they were low on ammo.

        The problem with the “scorched earth” strategy is that, the guerrillas hide among non-combatants. If we seize their supplies, the non-combatants starve, and we look like the “bad guy” to the world. We are not willing to be accused of genocide, so I think we have no business fighting against guerrillas. I know we do need to protect our nation from terrorist attacks, and missiles. Attacking guerrillas keeps them on the defensive, and that keeps our homeland safe. The USA has not had a co-ordinated, professional terrorist attack since September 11th, 2001. So, our government is doing something right. We have only had attacks from lone wolves, and small wolfpacks.

        Imagine if, during the American Civil War, the Confederacy had chosen to remain on the defensive, and to simply skirmish with any Yankee armies which ventured south. Just harass the troops by sniping, like the Colonists did to the British army during Lexington/Concord. I’ll bet the North would have gotten tired of the fight, and allowed the South to secede in peace. Today there would be the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America. I wonder which nation would be more faithful to the 1787 Constitution?

        I’m glad slavery is illegal, and I’m glad the nation stayed together, but hasn’t the federal government become too powerful, as the anti-Federalists and Southerners predicted? As for fighting against guerrillas, the “scorched earth” strategy was employed by General Sherman during that war, and it worked. We don’t win modern wars, because we don’t fight like Sherman.

      • One man, fired Los Angeles cop Christopher Dorner, had southern California law enforcement in a state of hysteria for ten days until he was cornered and killed himself.

      • Roger, as I recalled the DC sniper situation was a total fiasco mainly caused by police chief Moose who claimed the shooters were two white men in a van when in actuality it was two black men in a sedan with one of them firing from inside the trunk. The police wasted valuable time looking for a pair of white men because Moose who was black did not want to inform the public that the suspects may be black. That information could have saved some victims from being killed and Moose was responsible.

    • Fully automatic weapons, artillery, crew-served weapons, armored vehicles, aircraft, etc. are necessary to fight a modern army on an open battlefield. In today’s world, it is unrealistic to expect that ANY government would allow their citizens to be armed to the extent that they can DIRECTLY challenge the National Army. That is “Blue Sky” thinking.

      However, such a level of armament is not necessary to check a tyrannical government. This is because the option to launch a guerrilla war is always available. For a guerrilla war, small arms and improvised explosives are adequate.

      As well-armed as the U.S. Military is, it could not withstand a widespread guerrilla war launched by a significant segment of the American People. The US Armed Forces currently have about 1.4 million active personnel with another 850,000 in the Reserves. Say a total force of about 2.25 million. How long would they last if even 25 million Americans took up arms against them and used guerrilla warfare tactics? They would be outnumbered 11 to 1 and all of their heavy firepower would be next to useless because it would not be possible to force an open battle with the guerrillas. If they used their heavy weapons indiscriminately against the civilian population (which many in the military would resist), they would soon have 100 million people fighting against them rather than just the 25.

      With over 300 million small arms (rifles, shotguns and handguns) available to the US population, there are enough weapons to arm that 100 million and to spare!

      In such a circumstance, the war would be over very quickly and a new Government would be established in Washington, D.C.

      Here is the lesson which EVERYONE needs to understand. A large population can be forcibly controlled, using terrorist or police-State tactics, ONLY as long as that population is UNARMED. If that population has access to arms and ammunition, even if it is only small arms, then forcible State control is IMPOSSIBLE.

      This should make it VERY CLEAR to anyone, who has more than a handful of neurons firing in their brain, the value of the 2nd Amendment in the US Constitution. It should also make CRYSTAL CLEAR why our Marxist Elite Class want SO DESPERATELY to disarm us with ever-increasing gun control laws and regulations that can lead only to Prohibition and Confiscation of almost all civilian firearms.

      The day that our firearms are taken away is the day that the elite’s chains are applied. Guns and freedom are on one path. Chains and slavery are on the other. Which path will the American People select to walk?

Comments are closed.