April 20, 2007

Va Tech Massacre Updates: An Incompetent Retired ATF Agent; and a Dishonest Lede from CBS

Allahpundit has been burning the midnight oil at Hot Air, and has some shocking updates on the Virginia Tech massacre perpetrated by a deranged student, Cho Seung-Hui.

First, NBC is now claiming that Cho had a staggering number of magazines, including extended 33-round magazines:

Virginia State Police say they're nearly done with their on-scene investigation at Virginia Tech. But inside the classroom building, investigators say they found a surprising number of handgun magazines, or clips — 17. Some, officials say, were high-capacity magazines that hold 33 rounds. That means, investigators say, that Cho may have fired at least 200 times during his killing spree on Monday.

As AP notes, this contradicts a WaPo story I cited yesterday, which said:

Cho reloaded several times, using 15-round magazines for the Glock and 10-round magazines for the Walther, investigators said...

I wouldn't be surprised to see that Cho had multiple magazines, but 17 is a huge number of full magazines to carry. If 15 of those were standard 15 round Glock 19 magazines, that would give him 225 rounds, plus 20 in the 2 10-round P22 factory magazines for a total of 245 rounds. If some of those Glock magazines were the extended 31 and 33-round magazines as NBC now claims, he could easily have been carrying in excess of 300 rounds, and that doesn't include any loose or boxed ammunition he may have had.

I'll try to run this down, and see which investigators are getting this story right.

Before I go on, however, I'm going to take issue with retired ATF agent Joseph Vince, who NBC quotes in their article:

In the photos Cho sent to NBC, he showed some of his ammunition — hollow-point rounds, purchased, officials say, in the weeks before the shootings. Law enforcement officials say hollow-points are generally considered more lethal.

Joseph Vince, a retired ATF agent, agrees.

"It's not something that you would need for home protection, because what you are trying to do is eliminate an immediate threat," Vince says. "The idea of killing is what this ammunition portrays to me."

Vince is unequivocally wrong in this instance, and I don't see how he could be misquoted.

Hollowpoint and frangible ammunition is precisely the kind of ammunition you would want for home defense and personal protection.

Vince seems to be implying that FMJ ball, soft-nosed, wadcutter, semi-wadcutter or round-nosed lead bullets would be a more favorable choice for home defense than hollowpoints or frangible ammunition, and that is not only wrong, but ignorant and I'd go as far as to say it is stupid.

FMJ ball, soft-nosed (jacketed bullets with an exposed lead tip), wadcutter, semi-wadcutter or round-nosed lead bullets are solid bullets that do not typically change shape much when encountering human-sized targets or most building materials. As a result, if someone has to fire one of these bullets at a person, only one of two things can happen:

  • The shooter hits his target and the bullet over-penetrates, goes through his target, and runs the risk of going through building materials and other people with enough velocity to kill or wound someone else. Depending on the caliber, these bullets can hit a human and retain enough energy to completely pass through with enough force to go through several more sheetrock walls and still retain enough energy to kill someone else. Because these bullets typically go through a target while still retaining a great amount of energy, they are by definition not translating that energy into stopping power, and cause less damage to the primary target than would hollowpoint or frangible ammunition, which tend to expend more or all of their energy into the target, translating to more stopping power on directly comparable shots.
  • The shooter misses his target, and the bullet goes through multiple layers of building materials. FMJ ball, soft-nosed (jacketed bullets with an exposed lead tip), wadcutter, semi-wadcutter or round-nosed lead bullets will typically retain their shape and energy far better than hollowpoint or frangible ammunition, and will therefore penetrate far more layers of building materials. Many solid centerfire pistol bullets will penetrate more than a dozen layers of sheetrock if they don't encounter something with more mass (a 2x stud, other materials, or a human body).

I recall at least one instance where a home owner in a home invasion scenario fired a FMJ bullet (.45 ACP 230-grain FMJ, I think) that missed his target, exited his home, completely went through another home entirely, and finally lodged in the far bedroom wall of a third home, above a sleeping girl's head. Had she been sitting up, she could have been seriously injured or killed.

Hollowpoints that function as designed open into a mushroom shape, and offer far more surface area for friction to affect once they start encountering other objects. They will not penetrate as far as the various solid bullet designs in identical circumstances as a result. If they hit their human target, the hollowpoint bullet transfers mote energy into a target, and stands greater likelihood of incapacitating the assailant when compared to identical shot placement from any of the solid bullet designs. Likewise, those hollowpoints that completely penetrate the human target will be more likely to stop faster than solid designed when encountering building materials, also because of the wider surface area.

In most (not all) home defense scenarios, frangible ammunition, while far more expensive than either the hollowpoint or solid ammunition designs, is the best option. When a homeowner confronts an assailant and is forced to fire directly at his target with no intervening material separating them, the frangible bullet fragments inside the target, transferring most or all of it's ammunition to its target on a hit. Tests on French alpine goats in the Strasbourg (sp?) tests confirmed that frangible bullet designs are superior to all other bullets designs in incapacitating a human-sized target, with various hollowpoint designs coming in behind, and solid designs behind hollowpoints in terms of effectiveness.

Joseph Vince, retired AFT agent or not, is horribly, horribly wrong here.

Allahpundit goes on to note that if Virginia had forwarded Choo's mental health evaluation to the federal government, Cho should have never been able to buy the Glock:

The magistrate ruled in 2005 that Cho presented “an imminent danger to self or others as a result of mental illness, or is so seriously mentally ill as to be substantially unable to care for self and is incapable of volunteering or unwilling to volunteer for treatment.” He should have been in the FBI’s NICS system, but apparently states don’t always provide mental-health records as fully as they might or should.

If this CBS News story is correct, then Cho bought his Walther P22 online. Horrors!

Oh wait. He didn't. Media ignorance and misrepresentation once again rears its ugly head:

On this same day, the gun was shipped to JND Pawnbrokers in Blacksburg, Va., where Cho picked up the gun two days later. The federally licensed store then did a background check.

First, the sequence of events in paragraph is backwards. Cho could only pick up the gun after the NICS check, and that is what occurred. CBS News ignorance, or purposeful design? You make the call.

The actual sequence of events run in direct opposition to what the article claims in the lede:

On Feb. 2, Cho Seung-Hui bought a Walther .22 caliber pistol from the online retail store It was the first and only time he ever used this particular Web site.

Without a Federal Firearms License (FFL), Cho could not directly by a gun through mail order or online, as the lede improperly states. It isn't until the final paragraph that we learn Cho did not buy the gun from the online site.

Instead, he chose the model he wanted and had it shipped to a business with a FFL, where he then went through the normal purchase process, as you would in any retail firearms purchase.

This tragedy at Virginia Tech is horrible, but the reporting of it thus far is showing us either the professional media is a bunch of bumbling incompetents, or are agenda-driven deceivers.

I'm not sure which possibility frightens me the most.

Update: Ace calls foul. Actually, he calls a word I won't use on a family-friendly blog, but you get the picture. Go read it.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at April 20, 2007 10:21 AM

How much does 300 rounds of that ammo and clips weigh? I would think quite a bit. Yet this gup is walking all over campus with the stuff.

I think the MSM and liberals need to answer how this occured with all the restrictions in place that they desire. Of course they don't want guns at all, but look what happen in Australia when that occured.

Posted by: David Caskey at April 20, 2007 10:39 AM

bunch of bumbling incompetents, or are agenda-driven deceivers

All of the above.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at April 20, 2007 10:45 AM

At least now I understand what a co-worker was blathering on about, "Illegal this and illegal that." I had heard not one word about his purchases being illegal so I didn't have anything usefull to say in response. If she got her "dis-information" from the press it all makes sense now.

Pity his psych records weren't forwarded ("pity" is such an inadequate word for this).

Posted by: DoorHold at April 20, 2007 10:58 AM

Well, he had to lie about the mental illness adjudication on the 4473's, so that was his first felony before he ever owned a gun.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at April 20, 2007 11:23 AM

Well, US Army troops routinely carry at least 210 rounds - one 30rd mag in the rifle, six in the pouches.

Perhaps more if they want to. They may also still be slightly underloading the 30rd mags to avoid jams.

IIRC, each mag is about a pound or two loaded.

Posted by: SGT Jeff (USAR) at April 20, 2007 12:14 PM

"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don't rule out malice. " -- Robert A. Heinlein (also claimed by some others). There's definitely a lot of something going around these days.

I excerpted and linked at VTech+4: Where to from here?

Posted by: Bill Faith at April 20, 2007 12:16 PM

Cho probably DID buy the gun online. He paid the online store for the gun and paid to ship the gun to the FLL near him. He was almost certainly charged a fee by the local FFL to process the paperwork.

It's a technicality, I know, but since you're fussing at the media for getting it wrong, you might want to check with a local gun dealer and find out exactly how they handle such purchases.

Posted by: LibbyLA at April 20, 2007 01:21 PM
It's a technicality, I know, but since you're fussing at the media for getting it wrong, you might want to check with a local gun dealer and find out exactly how they handle such purchases.

Libby, I am a "gun dealer."

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at April 20, 2007 01:49 PM

I wonder if rather than 17 magazines, he had some number of 17 round magazines.

Posted by: Rich at April 20, 2007 02:43 PM

"It's not something that you would need for home protection, because what you are trying to do is eliminate an immediate threat," Vince says. "The idea of killing is what this ammunition portrays to me."

I agree. Therefore, police officers should no longer carried their preferred round, the Federal Hydroshock. It's a menace to the public. Just ask that old black widow lady in Atlanta.

Posted by: HerrMorgenholz at April 20, 2007 02:44 PM

When the M-16 came out years ago, it was decided by the military for humanitarian (Geneva Convention??) reasons that jacketed bullets should be used, not hollow-points. This was because the jacketed bullets did considerably less damage and would typically wound people, removing them from action as well as the people it took to get them off the field of fire for medical treatment. Hollow points are designed to kill-Period.

Posted by: Robert at April 20, 2007 03:46 PM

Robert said:
This was because the jacketed bullets did considerably less damage... Hollow points are designed to kill-Period.

We're talking handgun rounds here, they're not going fast enough to create what's called hydrostatic shock, like a rifle bullet going at near 2,000 ft/sec.

Unless you're shooting stuff designated as Less Lethal - bean bag shotgun, etc. - it's all designed with killing in mind. Within the USA, if you're shooting at somebody, the Goblin must generally be threatening grave bodily harm or death before you open fire. That means anytime you shoot at somebody, you must be justified in killing them - PERIOD. And you need to be able to prove that to a court.

Posted by: James Griffin at April 20, 2007 04:27 PM

By the way, by my scale 300 rounds of 9mm Federal HST +P 124grain hollow point, in original boxes weighs just about 8.72 pounds. Not a great deal. Weight of magazines - non 33 round - is about 3 or 4 ounces each.

Posted by: James Griffin at April 20, 2007 04:40 PM

These are the kinds of stories you get from agenda-driven people who don't know squat about guns.

Very much like the man-made global warming stories written by C-average non-science students.


Posted by: cbe at April 20, 2007 04:44 PM

Ummm, that's cube, not cbe.


Posted by: cube at April 20, 2007 04:45 PM

You are an incorrect.
The ban in international land warfare of “Hollow Points” has nothing to do with the advent of the "M16" (Armalite) series of rifles. The ban on Dum-Dum bullets has been in place for land warfare since the Hague Convention of 1899. In fact the current use of FMJ/AP ammunition is hotly debated as possibly both unnecessary and bad practice amongst combat veterans of the late war. Of course a lot of that talk is from speculation, hyperbole and Soldiers who don’t shoot well or have unrealistic expectations of a hit/kill ratio from *any* round. Further, the “DC Sniper” did a pretty freakin good job of killing people with usually one round fired from an Armalite clone.
Do some homework before you spout, Wiki and Google are free:

Posted by: Moriarti tha Kaffir at April 21, 2007 09:44 AM

Hollowpoint bullets are not all automatically banned from combat. The US military is currently using a 77-grain hollowpoint in 5.56x45 in Iraq and Afghanistan that is Geneva compliant.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at April 21, 2007 11:26 AM

actually, the ban on hollow points, etc., is still in full effect.
though it is true that the mk262 77 grain ammo does have a "hollow tip", that hollow is a result of the bullet manufacturing process. i.e., since the hollow is not intended to cause greater damage, we've authorized ourselves to use it in combat.

Posted by: jk at April 22, 2007 12:02 PM

I too am a retired ATF Special Agent and Joe Vince was my ASAC (Assistant Special Agent in Charge) in Chicago. You are correct on two counts: Joe don't know beans about firearms, and never did, and your assessment of bullet/projectile types is correct.

Posted by: Zebra 54 at April 23, 2007 12:47 PM

Looks like Vince is a ringer. Check this out:

"Well, a quick Google search of the retired ATF agent's name provided the answer in Wikipedia:

"The American Hunters and Shooters Association (AHSA) is an association of hunters and shooters in the United States that was founded in 2005. As an advocacy group it presents itself as a force of moderation and "common sense" in the debate over gun politics in the United States. Its critics say it is a front organization whose real goal is to eliminate the rights of gun owners by driving a wedge into the gun rights movement.

The leaders of the AHSA are:


"* Joseph J. Vince, Jr., a member of the Board of Directors is the former chief of the BATF's crime guns analysis branch. Currently, he is a principal of Crime Gun Solutions. [Handgun Control Inc] has hired Crime Gun Solutions in order to support numerous gun control laws, to support HCI's lawsuits against firearm dealers and he was a signer on a letter submitted to Congress opposing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act."

Posted by: Poshboy at April 23, 2007 10:12 PM