Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series on Mychael Waller’s self-defense incident. Part 2, which details what happened to Mychael and his son MJ after this incident, appeared in the February/March 2021 issue of Concealed Carry Magazine.
The timing seemed astonishing on that rainy day — May 27, 2019. Mychael Waller, 25 years old, and his 5-year-old son MJ walked toward the home of Waller’s girlfriend in the Little Village area of Chicago. Waller knew this rough part of town well but had just returned from a firearms training conference in Missouri with his friend Devin Perkins, 27 years old, who waited in the car. Waller and his girlfriend planned on buying a house away from the city and raising MJ and a new daughter there.
As father and son approached the driveway from the alley, however, their fate would be in the hands of Waller’s own survival instincts and preparedness. Within seconds, a man yelling and cursing into his phone approached them.
“What the f**k are you doing in this neighborhood?” the man shouted as Waller moved toward the house.
After flashing some gang signs with one hand, the man edged closer. Instinctively, Waller moved MJ behind him near the side of the house as the man pulled out a firearm with his right hand. The two men were now about 10 feet apart.
I didn’t know what his intention was until he started approaching me.
Suddenly, a round exploded out of the man’s gun. The bullet missed, but Waller pulled his own Heckler & Koch VP9 and fired back. One of Waller’s rounds struck the gunman in the upper body. Despite crumpling to the ground, the gunman continued shooting.
With his son nearby witnessing everything, Waller didn’t hesitate to defend himself and his child. He continued firing and hit his assailant in the head. The gunman eventually stopped firing. The shootout lasted only seconds.
“I hit him with the first shot I got off when he missed me,” the firearms distributor and trainer recalled. “That’s what kind of changed the fight.”
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
The intensity of the moment was surreal. Just a few seconds after putting his car into park, Waller had been forced to use his sidearm in self-defense. Fortunately, Waller and his son both escaped uninjured.
There had been no attempted robbery or previous meeting that could have created a disagreement — nothing that could have predicted such a violent outcome. So what possessed the man to open fire on a complete stranger? Waller says that the Hispanic gunman must have assumed that he — an African American man — was in the wrong neighborhood and a rival gang member.
“That’s a very gang-infested area,” Waller noted. “So if they see a guy of a different race in that area, then they’re going to confront him. Just because of the color of my skin, he assumed I was in a rival gang.”
“He sees a young black guy and thinks he’s a gang member inside his neighborhood,” Waller added. “He sees my son and he doesn’t care and is cursing at him too as he’s approaching me. I think it was all really about trying to flex his muscles. I didn’t know what his intention was until he started approaching me. As I was backing up, that’s when I went for my gun.”
The shouting instantly seemed awkward, and Waller believes the gang member was on Facebook Live at the time, looking to document some act of violence. However, the man made a mistake in confronting Waller. That same weekend, Waller had fired more than 3,000 rounds as he worked on his shooting skills and self-defense readiness.
In this case, Waller’s awareness was key when visiting Little Village because of the noted criminal activity in the area. Waller didn’t let his guard down for a moment. Police later detailed that the gang member had a long and violent criminal history. Waller’s girlfriend, Dana Clayter, stayed at the property on the days she had to work. He’d stay with her during this time and knew his concealed carry permit might come into play. The couple have since bought a house in a more rural area outside of Chicago with much less criminal activity.
A History With Firearms
A shootout with a criminal may not have been something Waller sought out, but he was certainly trained for just such a scenario. He grew up in Chicago and also the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In high school, he was a popular but quiet individual who played sports and avoided trouble. After graduation, he studied criminal justice at Waubonsee Community College.
Even from an early age, Waller always maintained a respect for the law and gun safety. He has several members of law enforcement and the military in his family. He also learned about firearms, and doing so had an impact on him. After his son was born during his second semester in college, Waller decided he needed to do more to protect his young family. A gun shop opened near his house, and he dropped in to check it out.
Only 18 at the time, Waller bought a custom-built AR-15 that had been assembled by a Purple Heart veteran. He was soon working for the company, Civilian Force Arms, the first African American-owned AR-15 company in the country. Waller began learning more, became certified to build firearms and added more training to his resume. His education would plot the course of his career.
In 2018, Civilian Force Arms went under, but Waller was hooked on the industry. He launched his own company, MJ’s Firearms LLC, after obtaining a federal firearms license. He became the first African American dealer under the age of 25 in the state of Illinois. Waller continues to sell firearms online and offers training programs to educate others.
As many protests turned violent in the wake of the death of George Floyd this summer, Waller viewed the death as a tragedy but didn’t agree with the violence and looting that developed in the aftermath.
“I don’t necessarily agree with everything that’s going on,” he stated. “I feel it definitely makes sense on why people are protesting. We, as Americans, have that right. I believe that the situation with that gentleman George Floyd was not right. But a lot of people out there doing all this looting are doing it for the wrong reasons. You’ve got a bunch of criminals joining in this stuff, and it’s making it worse. It’s just a bad look.”
The rise of violence also points to the need to be prepared and armed in the event someone needs to defend his or her family. This is a situation Waller has now experienced firsthand.
Waller also doesn’t like how police officers have been represented in the protests and the media.
“I have 17 family members who work for the Chicago Police Department alone right now,” said Waller, who also sells guns to officers as part of his business. “It’s not fair that every police officer gets the finger pointed at them. I don’t feel like every cop is bad. There are good cops out there. There have been times when I was in an accident and a police officer came and helped me out.”
Preparation Saves Lives
Reviewing the shootout that fateful day in 2019, Waller’s friend Devin Perkins recalls the unreal scene he witnessed. The general manager of a trucking company in Washington D.C., Perkins also hosts the Trench Work Chronicles podcast, which is all about the Second Amendment, current events and educating the African American community about owning firearms. Perkins had waited in the car just out of view behind a fence, but he certainly heard what was going on during the shootout.
“It couldn’t have been more than five to 10 seconds when he turned the corner and I heard gunshots go off,” Perkins remembered. “As I got out of the car and ran around the fence, he [Waller] was coming toward me with the gun in his hand and his son. I jumped in the car and threw a bunch of our luggage bags on top of MJ. Some of the gun cases were bulletproof.”
As a father, we have instincts that take over.
“As soon as the gunshots went off, since we were at a firearms training literally the day before, it didn’t kick in as fast as it should,” Perkins added, “but then once I realized, we’re not at the training anymore, [and] we shouldn’t be hearing gunshots, everything from that training just basically kicked in to real life. From what the police said, we did everything perfectly. After the situation, two of the cops asked if we’d ever considered a career in law enforcement.”
After getting MJ into the car and away from the scene, securing the area became Waller’s immediate concern. Perkins and Waller still worried another gang member might be nearby and wanted to protect themselves from retaliation.
Waller grabbed a Glock 30 he’d brought for the training weekend and returned to the area of the shooting. The shooter lay in a pool of blood on the concrete, and Waller applied pressure to the wound on the man’s body as he called 911. An ambulance arrived before long, but the shooter died.
‘My Son and I Definitely Would Have Been Dead’
Law-abiding citizens owning guns in the Chicago area hasn’t always been as easy as in other parts of the country. A 1982 city ordinance required residents to register handguns with the city and basically banned new handgun registrations. The law virtually limited ownership of guns to shotguns and rifles in a home or business. Several parties eventually sued to overturn the law, including an African American custodian seeking to own a handgun.
The case made it to the Supreme Court in 2010, and Supreme Court justices overturned the law in a 5-4 vote. Justice Samuel Alito concluded that the use of a gun lawfully for self-defense is fundamental to the American “scheme of ordered liberty and system of justice.”
Illinois legalized concealed carry in 2013. In a city that’s been in the news the last few years for violent crime and murder, Chicago has seen those statistics decreasing over the last three years. In 2016, the city reported 756 homicides — the highest number in two decades. But that dropped to 564 in 2017 and 490 in 2019.
Armed citizens trained to defend themselves may be having an effect on seeing those numbers decline. For Mychael Waller though, being prepared and owning a firearm simply meant seeing another day with his family.
“If I didn’t have my gun, my son and I definitely would have been dead,” he indicated. “As a father, we have instincts that take over — my training kicked in.”
 Eric Levenson and Jason Hanna, “Chicago’s homicide rate decreases for the third straight year,” CNN.com (Dec. 31, 2019), https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/31/us/chicago-murders-drop-2019/index.html.