Media And Authorities Fudge
Gun Facts In DC Shootings

By Jeff Johnson
Congressional Bureau Chief

CAPITOL HILL, DC ( - Over the weekend, police linked another shooting to the gunman who killed six people last week in the Washington, D.C., area.
Police say a woman shot and seriously wounded on Friday in Fredericksburg, Va., was struck by a bullet from the same gun used to kill an elderly man Thursday night in Washington, D.C.; and five people on Wednesday and Thursday in the Washington suburb of Montgomery County, Md. (Fredericksburg is about 70 miles away from the general area of the other shootings.)
As police continue their search for one or two suspects in the shootings of those seven people -- six of whom died -- local, state, and federal authorities have been releasing information to the media to encourage public assistance with finding the shooters.
But firearms experts said Friday that at least some of that information has been conveyed in a less than accurate manner.
During an early morning press conference on Friday, Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Charles Moose described the type of weapon investigators believe was used to commit the murders.
"We're willing, at this point, and able to say that from a 90-percent accuracy, we're dealing with a high-speed-velocity round from an assault or a hunting-type weapon," he said. "We're dealing with someone shooting from a distance, someone using a high-velocity round, 90 percent sure that it is a .223 round from a rifle, a hunting rifle, an assault rifle."
Authorities have confirmed that only one shot was fired, striking and killing six of the victims. That fact, and the use of the term "assault rifle," caught the attention of James Chambers, executive director of the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI).
"An assault weapon is a machine gun -- that [means] fully-automatic, and that is a military firearm," he said, explaining that assault rifles, by definition, fire multiple bullets with each pull of the trigger.
Following Moose's comments, CNN Anchor Carol Costello on Friday summarized what officials had reported.
"Five people, all apparently unrelated, random victims, were shot dead by the same gun, according to the chief," she said. "It was a high-powered assault hunting-type weapon with a .223 round."
Chambers said the weapon Costello described doesn't exist.
"That is not an accurate statement. The .223 is a small game cartridge used for small game and varmint hunting. It is about half as powerful as the .30-06 or .308 caliber, which are the big game rifles for deer, elk, antelope, etcetera," he explained. "The .223 is not classified as a high-powered cartridge."
Later Friday morning, Moose called another press conference, intended to eliminate some of the confusion caused by the reporting of his statements.
"When we passed out some information, when we talked about rounds, when we talked about weapons, maybe we created some confusion and so, at the advice of ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) we want to take a few moments to, maybe, clarify some of that information," he explained.
The chief introduced Joseph Riehl, assistant special agent in charge of the Baltimore ATF office, who, along with a team of ATF firearms examiners, he described as "experts in this area."
Riehl displayed four rifles and four cartridges similar to the type believe to have been used by the murderer. He was careful to categorize the weapons and ammunition as "samples."
"We have laid out four samples of ammunition that are possibly used in these shootings. In addition, there are four firearms that are consistent, that are able, again, just samples, that are able to accept these particular rounds of ammunition," he explained. "This is not all of the firearms; there's a list of forearms that would accept these rounds of ammunition. It is too great a list to lay everything out."
At the urging of a reporter, Riehl picked up a Colt AR-15, which he properly identified as a semi-automatic rifle, and held it as he answered questions. He then lifted a bolt-action .223 caliber rifle and compared it to the AR-15.
"This is actually just a bolt-action rifle. This particular weapon could be used for target shooting, possibly hunting and it would not be considered the same as you would some of the other assault weapons," he said, gesturing to the semi-automatic AR-15.
Again, Chambers said the terminology used is simply wrong.
"They're classifying the civilian version of the military M-16, which is the AR-15, as an assault weapon, which is bogus," he said. "The AR-15 is not an assault weapon; it's a semi-automatic or auto-loading firearm ... one bullet per trigger pull."
The press conference apparently did not clear up the misconceptions. Friday afternoon, MSNBC reporter Jennifer Johnson described the weapon with similarly inaccurate terminology.
"The shooter used a high-powered assault weapon or some kind of high powered hunting rifle in all of the cases," she said.
Chambers noted the insistence of the establishment media personalities that the firearm used in the murders was an "assault weapon."
'Media definition'
"The 'assault' term is a media definition for any firearm with certain appendages on it. Our definition, and the military definition of an 'assault weapon' is a fully automatic weapon," he explained.
The .223 cartridge, he continued, is accurately referred to as a "high-velocity" round, because the bullet travels at between 3000 and 3200 feet per second, depending on the weapon from which it is fired and the amount and type of powder loaded into the shell casing.
The bullet is deadly, he added, not because it is fired from a so-called "assault weapon," but because of its accuracy and the characteristics of the wound it creates.
"It is a very accurate round when used by someone with a great deal of experience. You can make very accurate shots from fairly long ranges, out to 500 yards," he said. "That particular bullet when it hits has a tendency as it enters to do some tumbling or rolling, which creates a great deal of [damage]."
Gun industry representatives, who spoke with on condition of anonymity, said they believe the law enforcement officials who used the incorrect terminology probably did so under the stress of the investigation and the media scrutiny, not in an attempt to intentionally mislead the public.
They were not, however, so forgiving of the establishment media. One such representative said the misuse of the terms "assault weapon" and "high-powered" was "part of an intentional effort to scare people, to make the public afraid of guns."
Inaccurate reporting on firearms issues by the so-called "mainstream" media is something Chambers said he simply expects.
"How the media is reporting this does not surprise me in the least," he said. "I have seen this over, and over and over again, and I don't expect any changes in the near future."\Nation\archive\200210\NAT20021007c.html


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