Fifty years ago today, the United States suffered the loss the 35th U.S. President, John F. Kennedy. Since that time, the event has been the subject of thousands of movies, books, documents and articles. Major events often spawn conspiracy theories and Kennedy’s assassination is no exception; in fact, it could be reasonably argued that it is the king of all conspiracy theories. Far too much has been written and argued—both factually based and misinformed—to try and move the needle here. Those who believe always will and skeptics will remain unconvinced, but…
However, there are a few points on interest that both sides can come to agree. Lee Harvey Oswald was involved—perhaps he was the lone shooter, one of many shooters or just a patsy, but involved. Oswald also ordered a 6.5mm Carcano rifle/scope combo from Kleins’ ad in the February 1963 issue of American Rifleman. For just under $20, Oswald received the Carcano with serial number C2766. We also know history was changed on November 22nd 1963.
Initially, American’s mourned the loss and supported the Commission’s conclusions. We still morn the loss, but questions have arisen and as recent as a 2003 survey showed up to 80% of American’s were skeptical. A 2013 survey showed that 59% of Americans still believe President Kennedy’s death was the result of a conspiracy.
Was a Carcano actually used? Was Oswald found with a Carcano in his possession? That is up for some debate. The official government investigation, the Warren Report, was less than complete or at least accurate. The Warren Commission identified the rifle as a Mannlicher–Carcano. Of course, no such rifle exists. There are a few similarities between the Mannilichers and the Carcano rifles, but the differentiation between the two should have been as easy as reading it off the gun.
Conspiracy? Doubtful. Chief Justice Earl Warren chaired the Commission—hence the name Warren Commission. Other members included two Democrats and three Republicans from the House and Senate. John J. McCloy, former president of the World Bank sat on the commission as well. Given the history of politicians, I do not see any gun experts on the list so far. However, there was one more member, Allen Welsh Dulles who it could be argued knew the difference or should have known. At the very least, he should have the knowledge to identify one model of gun from another. Dulles was the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
At a first glance, that statement raises some doubt, but then I looked into Dulles history. He was the first civilian to be named Director of the CIA. His prior accomplishments included banker, lawyer and diplomat. Well connected, but not necessarily a background in firearms or law enforcement.
But I digress… So, how did the name come about? The Mannlicher and the Carcano both use similar clips. The Carcano is loaded top down with up to six rounds where the Mannlicher only holds five. But, the clip for both was—at least occasionally in word and written literature—referred to as the Mannlicher-Carcano clip. It offers a possible explanation, although the connection is pretty thin to conclusively state that was the cause of the error.
This is just one small detail believers of a conspiracy have cited. Here is a list of many more. Most, or more likely all, have been debunked several times, but that has failed to convince the masses and I cannot wholly blame them. Here is a list of a few of my favorites related to firearms.
Claim: The windshield damage to the presidential limo indicates it had been hit from the front, where Kennedy was shot from behind.
In reality, the evidence indicates that a fragment hit the windshield from behind.
Claim: The bullet fired was steel jacketed and could not have been fired from a Carcano.
In fact, the bullet matched Oswald’s rifle in “class characteristics.” This indicates it could have been fired from the Carcano. The bullet was badly mangled though, making a positive identification impossible.
Claim: The rifle recovered on the sixth floor of the Depository was a Mauser versus a Carcano as claimed.
Tom Alyea of WFAA-TV filmed the recovery of the rifle, and his footage shows the rifle to be a Carcano. Here is one frame from his actual footage. It would be easy to confuse the two rifles.
Claim: Oswald’s rifle had a “hair-trigger” that would have made it very difficult to fire accurately.
I seriously doubt any Carcano ever had a hair trigger. It was a cheap surplus rifle with an action that was less than smooth to begin with. The rifle could indeed be fired accurately with the factory trigger. The distance was about 265 feet or 70 yards. Even the worst of the cheap military surplus rifles, with an optic could easily shoot two- to three-inch groups at that distance.
Claim: Oswald had to have taken time to wipe the prints off the rifle, making it impossible for him to have made it downstairs soon enough for his confrontation with Officer Baker.
Have you ever shot or held an old surplus military gun? Few have lacquered coatings. Most are rough and would not hold a print. There were, however, two smudged prints on the trigger guard, so no attempt was made to wipe down the rifle.
Claim: The scope on the Carcano was “mounted for a left-handed shooter.” Oswald was right handed.
There in fact is no such thing as a “scope mounted for a left-handed shooter.” The scope was mounted with an offset to the left to allow the operation of the bolt. This was a popular configuration for military rifles of the period.
Claim: The paraffin test showed that Oswald had not fired a rifle.
The paraffin test was notoriously unreliable. It was common knowledge that it would produce both false positives and false negatives. It was useful as a tool to get suspects to confess.
Claim: Oswald’s rifle was not tested to see whether it had been recently fired.
I have seen a lot of dirty guns, but there was not, and still is not, a test that can determine whether a rifle has been “recently fired.” If you are quick enough, the barrel may still be warm, but that is about it.
Claim: The dented shell casing found in the depository shows a conspiracy, since it could not have been fired from Oswald’s gun.
The casing was most likely dented when it was ejected from the rifle. The Carcano regularly dents ejected hulls—the action simply was not smooth to operate.
Claim: The Carcano had no ammunition clip with it, which means that it could have fired only one round, and not the three that the Warren Commission claimed.
Was the commission guilty of a failure of good documentation? Sure, in more ways than one. Did they lack firearms knowledge? Well, there certainly did not seem to be any experts on the committee, but in fact, the clip was with the rifle when it was recovered, and remained in evidence.
Claim: The Carcano was known in the Italian Army as the “humanitarian rifle” because it never harmed anybody.
It would be hard to say where that whopper originated. The Carcano rifle was the standard Italian Army issue for a half-century, and was an effective infantry weapon—including WWI.
Claim: The Carcano had a rusty firing pin, and therefore could not have been used to shoot Kennedy.
Perhaps the owner was guilty of a little patina, but in a variety of tests, the firing pin proved perfectly functional.
Claim: The Carcano rifle was “well-oiled.” If so, in turn the rifle would have left oil on the paper bag used to carry it to the Depository.
Only the firing pin and spring were described as “well-oiled.” Of course, well oiled translates to a thin, even coat—not submerged or dripping like a French dip or sub sandwich.
Claim: Ammunition for the Carcano had not been manufactured since World War II therefore no reliable rounds would have been available to Oswald.
The ammunition had in actuality been recently manufactured by the Western-Cartridge Company, and was found to be highly reliable in Warren Commission tests, with no misfires in over 100 rounds (Warren Commission Report, pp. 193, 646). Further tests by Lattimer and Nichols confirmed its reliability.
Claim: The Carcano was inaccurate.
Ronald Simmons, of the Army’s Ballistics Research Laboratory, bench tested Oswald’s rifle for the Warren Commission, and found the dispersion to be .29 mils—a figure typical for high-powered rifles — and described it as “quite accurate” (3H442-443).
Claim: Commission Exhibit 399 (the “magic bullet”) is pristine.
In fact, the bullet is quite misshapen when viewed end-on.
Claim: Even if it is not pristine CE399 could not have caused all the non-fatal wounds and emerge in such good condition.
Ballistics tests by Lattimer and Fackler showed that a bullet like Oswald’s round could inflict damage similar to what the Warren Commission’s “Single Bullet” inflicted and emerge in similar condition. The 6.5x52mm used by Oswald main drawback in military use was that the standard Italian service round used a round-nosed, highly-stable bullet that usually did not tumble unless it hit bone, causing many narrow-channel, straight-through wounds.
Claim: There was too much lead in John Connally to have come from CE399, showing that another bullet must have hit him.
The surgeon who removed the lead explained that the fragments were tiny, and would have to be weighed on the same sort of scale used to weigh a postage stamp. House Select Committee experts felt they could have come from CE399.
Claim: The hulls found at the scene of the Tippit shooting were from an automatic or semi-automatic weapon, not the revolver Oswald is supposed to have used.
Police officers at the scene, finding hulls laying around, concluded that they must have been fired from an automatic, which automatically ejects spent cartridges. In fact, witnesses saw Oswald emptying hulls from the revolver.
Claim: The bullets found in Tippit’s body “didn’t match” Oswald’s revolver.
They were perfectly consistent with Oswald’s revolver, but because the revolver had been converted from a .38 into a .38 Special, no bullet fired from it could be positively matched to it.
Claim: The fact that the bullet that hit JFK in the head fragmented showed that it wasn’t a full metal jacket bullet, and thus didn’t match the rounds supposedly fired by Oswald.
Olivier (for the Warren Commission) and John Lattimer (a private researcher) shot skulls with rounds identical to those Oswald used, and the bullets fragmented. Again the bullet was stable and most often did not tumble unless it hit bone.
Claim: The bullet wound in Kennedy’s throat was smaller in diameter than the 6.5 mm caliber of Oswald’s rifle, indicating it must have been fired from a different weapon.
This assertion is based on selective use of the testimony of the doctors who saw the wound, and who in fact gave varying estimates.