Time came to a screeching halt inside Baldwin’s mind the second he saw the gun.
“I started making all kinds of calculations of how to solve this problem as safely and quickly as possible,” Baldwin recounted. “It’s like five minutes of analytical thinking happened in a second and a half.”
“I realize I’m already behind the eight ball,” he continued. “I’m already at a tremendous disadvantage. He’s got his gun out, it’s pointed at Tori, Tori’s about 15 yards from him, and he’s walking really, really fast. He’s going to be to her in about two or three seconds.”
Making matters worse, Baldwin knew Nonaka was unarmed. In their rush to leave the house and make it to the restaurant before it closed, she didn’t put her handgun back on. On the other hand, Baldwin was forced to assume that the second man approaching them didn’t leave his gun at home.
“He had his hand in his hoodie pocket the whole time while this went down,” Baldwin said.
As the lead man turned to Baldwin and uttered the only words anyone would exchange in the entire incident — “What’s good?” — a grim thought flashed through Baldwin’s mind: If this man only wanted to steal money or the car, he certainly wasn’t acting like it.
“Usually, when people rob people, they ask for something,” Baldwin said. “They’ll ask for the keys to the car, they ask for money, they ask for something. He didn’t ask for anything, so I had no reason to believe anything else other than the fact that he wanted to put a bullet in her [Nonaka’s] head just to see the expression on my face. And then put a bullet in my f—ing head.”
When the gunman turned back toward Nonaka a second later, Baldwin seized the counter-ambush opportunity he was waiting for.
Training for Defensive Gun Use
There’s an old adage in the defensive pistol training world that says you will default to your lowest level of training when faced with a real-life self-defense scenario. This is a short way of saying that every element of your shooting technique that isn’t instinctual — deeply ingrained through thousands of repetitions — will suffer when you’re confronted with the type of high-stakes, life-in-the-balance stress that no drill or simulation could possibly replicate.
When those seemingly small hitches and snags start adding up under duress, they can throw you way out of your routine. And when you factor in the body’s natural reactions to immense danger — tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, loss of fine motor skills, slowed reaction times, diminished depth perception, time distortion and more — skills that seemed more than proficient on the range can suddenly fall woefully short in real life.
There are dozens upon dozens of examples of this phenomenon playing out within military, police and concealed carry communities, including many cases with tragic consequences for the good guys.
Baldwin’s self-defense situation is not one of these.
When he reached for the custom-modified Glock 19 holstered at his appendix, the draw was as smooth and fast as the thousands upon thousands of times he’d drawn the same pistol while training on the range or running through habitual dry-fire exercises at his home.
As Baldwin raised the 9mm pistol and found the attacker in the sights, he was already instinctively darting for the cover of a trash can approximately 2 yards to his left — moving off the X — as he had done time after time in his training.
“In my mind, when this happened, this trash can covered me all the way up to my chest and it was 4 feet around,” Baldwin recalled.
In reality, the domed receptacle was barely big enough to cover his pelvic girdle and femoral arteries, but it was the best cover available at a moment’s notice and certainly far better than nothing at all.
Baldwin squeezed the trigger for the first time when his attacker was at approximately 15 yards — a distance Baldwin “owns” from an almost fanatical dedication to long-distance training.
“For the average person, that’s a long f—ing way away. For me, it’s not,” Baldwin said. “So, if you look at it this way, I was a lot closer to him than he was to me.”
The Shooting Starts
Baldwin’s first shot left his Glock at almost the exact same moment the gunman fired his first shot at Nonaka. Baldwin believes his shot landed in the attacker’s center mass. The attacker’s shot missed. With bullets now being exchanged, the man behind the gunman wasted no time in turning and running away as fast as he could.
The attacker, now running to his right and angling away from the vehicle, fired a second round at Nonaka — another miss — as she broke for the cover of a nearby stucco pillar. While Baldwin continued delivering rounds to the gunman’s center mass, the still-running attacker turned his attention toward the source of the growing number of shots he was absorbing and fired six additional times at Baldwin.
“He missed every single time,” Baldwin relayed, “and I suspect it’s because he was getting hit the whole time.”
Baldwin shot 10 times before the attacker finally collapsed. He fired an additional three rounds over the attacker before he was able to process that the threat had been stopped.
“In all honesty, I thought I would be firing three or four rounds and the party would be over, he would be done,” Baldwin said, “but he was incredibly tough. Incredibly tough.”
The autopsy reports have not been released at the time of publication, but Baldwin believes all of his first 10 shots connected, with most of them landing in the attacker’s center mass. He estimates — based on drills he’s run in the weeks following the attack — that the entire exchange of gunfire lasted just four seconds. In this incredibly fast and dynamic incident, Baldwin experienced none of the performance-sapping side effects he expected to have to overcome in what is the only self-defense shooting in which he’s ever been involved.
“It’s very, very strange for me because I performed without fear, without adrenaline, without excitement and with exceptional speed and accuracy, as if I had been practicing this particular drill for a half hour on the range,” Baldwin said. “It’s really, really weird.”
It’s perhaps a bit more understandable when you weigh in Baldwin’s extreme dedication to and proficiency in defensive pistol shooting and his vast experience in high-intensity, split-second decision-making as a professional off-road truck racer.
“If you’re going too fast into a corner in the desert and you’re going off the road, you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to hit that’s going to produce the least amount of negative impact on the vehicle that you’re racing,” Baldwin explained. “I call it disaster management.”
In those moments, a bush or a small tree is a lot safer bet for a crash than flying into a boulder or off of a cliff. Within fractions of a second, Baldwin has to make decisions that could easily impact his place in the race, the viability of his truck for the rest of the event or even his personal well-being. And he’s faced these situations thousands of times throughout his career.
“Maybe that helped me,” Baldwin reflected. “I don’t know.”
Driving to Safety
Baldwin held his sights on the attacker, who was now lying motionless on the concrete approximately 23 yards away from the trash can that Baldwin had used as cover moments earlier. Baldwin surveyed the scene. The other man was still running — now at least 75 yards away. Baldwin didn’t see any gun in his hands or any indication that he was an immediate threat.
Baldwin performed an administrative reload, ejecting his partially filled magazine, placing it in his pocket and replacing it with a full 23-round magazine. He kept his gun pointed in the direction of the two men.
Baldwin and Nonaka moved toward the Porsche but quickly noticed the rear driver’s side tire was flat. One of the attacker’s shots had hit it.
“It’s just a tire,” Baldwin told Nonaka. “Get back in the car. We’re driving on the flat.”
Baldwin was anxious to get to a safer place. Not only had the fleeing man now started yelling threats at the couple from the other side of the parking lot, but Baldwin still wasn’t sure why they were attacked in the first place. He began wondering if they were targeted specifically. And if they were, were there other people nearby who came with these two?
“I started the car, put it in drive and drove it 20 yards with my sights on the threat,” Baldwin said. “And then, looking forward where I was going, I reholstered my gun and made a right on the street.”
The Adrenaline Hits
As he drove, Baldwin and Nonaka both checked for wet spots or pain and confirmed that they weren’t harmed in the attack. Nonaka dialed 911 while Baldwin accelerated down Tropicana Avenue. She began talking to the emergency dispatcher, but the flat tire was quickly becoming an issue.
“The tire had de-beaded from the rim and, because it was flat, it was moving and flapping around the rim, which was causing the car to not want to go straight,” Baldwin explained.
Baldwin told Nonaka to hang up in case they had to run from the vehicle on foot to escape the area. The tire quickly stabilized after she ended the call though, and Baldwin sped toward his home.
“I made sure nobody was following me,” he said. “I was driving 94 to 95 miles an hour up a desolate city street on a flat tire, trying to make sure I wasn’t being pursued by anybody.”
Baldwin pulled his car into the garage so no one driving by would be able to tell that he was back home. He ran inside and told his son’s mother and stepdad, who were staying at the house with his son, to go into his son’s bedroom and shelter there.
“Don’t answer the door. Don’t answer the phone unless it’s me,” Baldwin told the stepdad, who armed himself with a rifle and a pistol. “I’m trying to figure out why this happened or what happened. I’m going to go down to my dad’s house.”
Baldwin grabbed a rifle and a chest rig, threw them in another vehicle and drove with Nonaka to his father’s house, just down the road from his home. At that point, they contacted a lawyer, who called the police.
The adrenaline finally hit Baldwin.
“I’ve been on fire six times. I’ve almost killed myself 2,500 times racing. I did professional desert racing. That was just part of the game,” Baldwin said. “This level of adrenaline was probably more than I’ve experienced. Luckily for me, I didn’t get it for 40 minutes, and it lasted for, I don’t know, four or five hours.”