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“This is no professional”

So says Neil Morris, a Marine sniper with two decades experience in an interview done by Fox News. Neil adds:

“Anything the sniper does or fails to do that give his position away to the threat, snipers don’t do that, They don’t leave brass laying around, and they damn sure don’t leave tarot cards.”

Chuck Mawhinney, another professional with up to 300 battlefield kills to his credit told the interviewer the calibre is wrong:

The Washington killer has been using a .223 caliber projectile, which some have called a standard sniper bullet. But Mawhinney, who lives in Baker City, Ore., said a professional sniper would use a heavier load, at least a .30 caliber.

The one statement I have my doubts about comes from someone who should certainly know better than I. Eric Haney, one of the Delta Force founders, says 100 yard kills are no big deal:

“It’s the kind of thing that if you’ve never shot a rifle before in your life, you and I could spend 90 minutes together and you can do this,”

I think he’s exaggerating a little here. I’m only a casual shooter with no training beyond a basic Army Rifle Qual 30 years ago, but I’ve done a fair amount of “plinking” over the years prior to moving to GunFree Northern Ireland. I seriously doubt I could rack up 11 of 12 hits and 9 of 11 kills at 100 yards under stressful conditions… even with 90 minutes of Delta Force training.

The pros think it is two young men working together. One is a driver/spotter who stays calm; the other makes the kill. They might swap places.

A terrorist motivation still makes more sense to me than anything else. These “two” are equal opportunity killers. That scratches the homegrown Neo-Nutsies from the list – unless they are working for someone else. If not military professionals, the shooters are at least calm planners of reasonable markmanship. If they are both truly crazy, they are crazy in a calm and emotionless way.

One has to ask, “what is the point?” If they are psychotics it could be just racking up the score. Perhaps they are environuts out to cull the herd; or losers out for excitement and To Go Down in a final Bon Jovi Blaze of Glory.

My personal thoughts? Pro shooters or not, I think it is an al Qaeda attack. The tactical goal is to spread fear and create chaos in their enemy’s capitol. The logic of a low-investment high-return attack for al Qaeda is so strong that even if they had not considered it before, they must certainly see the possibilities now.

I said it over a year ago: we’re all soldiers now. If this is an attack, and if – at low cost – it is followed up by more such, there will be little choice for Americans but to go about daily business with a gun close to hand.

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22 comments to “This is no professional”

  • Bill OH

    You seem to be spot on. It appears the gun controlists are attempting to make some points out this madness while defenseless citizens are dying. How brave would the white van killers be if the victims or witnesses could shoot back? Perhaps the thrill would be less than they are currently experiencing. Some brave politician (now, there’s an oxymoron if I ever said one) could make their own points by advocating the arming of the citizenry in the DC area.

    Our asinine local newscasters pointed out that this bullet caliber was illegal for deer hunting in Ohio, he neglected to say why, leaving the impression that the .223 is something akin to cop killer bullets. I suspect the truth is that it is too light to make an effective one shot kill on a deer, leading the animal to suffer while it leads the hunter on a merry, bloody chase throught the fields and woods until it expires or gets away with a nasty, but not fatal wound.

    My secret wish is the killers are caught and turn out to be Iraqis related to Saddam so the bombing can start tomorrow.

    Bill OH

  • kps

    Spent brass suggests a semi-automatic rifle, not to mention foolish carelessness. AFAIK all dedicated sniper rifles use a bolt action, since one doesn’t want parts of the gun moving about before the bullet leaves the barrel.
    Current Western military sniper rifles mostly use the 7.62×51 (.308 Winchester) cartridge; the very long range ones use .50 caliber.

    100 yards is hunting range, not sniping range — try 1.5 miles.

  • Perhaps. I don’t really have much data about snipings, but most serial murderers in the U.S. are white males. I’m not saying gun nuts, neonazies, or anything like that. There are just a lot of crazies out there. I’m more willing to accept a simple explanation like “some psychotic” than “evil al quaeda terrorists.” Just the scientist in me, I guess.

    In any case, this does nothing for the gun control people. People can murder others with diesel and fertilizer, or knives. Should those be illegal?

    Of course gun control zealots would respond that those are useful commodities, while guns have no other use than to kill. Well, that’s just not true. They’re very fun to shoot, and many people get a sense of security from owning one. Saying that is like saying that drugs have no purpose other than to cause brain damage.

  • Brian Micklethwait

    Bill OH: I’m totally on your side on the right to carry a gun, but I don’t see how this would defend a person against a sniper. Surely the victims never saw what hit them, so would hardly have been able to shoot back. As for witnesses, surely the sniping is done in such a way, and from such a place, that there are no witnesses.

  • I blogged similar thoughts about why a sniper wannabe would probably use a .30 caliber weapon. Somebody commented on my post, making the point that .223 is favored for urban settings by police marksmen and that the murderer might therefore be a “police wannabe.” I think this is a reasonable point.

    I also wrote, and still think likely, that the killer is most likely a domestic nut, as Al Qaeda tends to favor high-bang-for-buck mass killings and assassinations over cat-and-mouse games. Certainly it could be Islamists, but the simplest explanation is that it’s not.

  • Dale Amon

    Interesting point about police using the .223, but I wonder how often the police are actually going for a clean kill. On occasion I suppose, but in most cases I’d presume they would prefer the target end up in a court room rather than a morgue if at all possible. The military guys are going for the higher calibre for the very reason that they do want a single shot kill.

    As to al Qaeda choices, keep in mind this is a war and the goal is to cause maximum damage. Random internal disruption in the US is a “good” tactic for them under current circumstances. It could also have the side effect of diverting attention from other preperations; they might consider it a tactic for sapping the will to fight.

    We’ll know when authorities finally corner the rats. They’ll have to catch them unaware though. I expect them to go out with a bang if they have any choice in the matter.

    As to what good armed citizens would be… well, it doesn’t help the target. But there have been sightings by witnesses apparently. And just because there hasn’t been a case yet where someone could fight back doesn’t mean there won’t be.

  • I would have said the terrorist theory was ridiculous if it was not for one thing….The lack of a photofit picture of the shooter.

    There have been witnesses who could give some kind of image.

    If the photofit turned out to be of a dark skinned guy with a long beard the general public would be rounding up and lynching everyone of that description. This is a situation that the authorities just could not cope with.

    It is just a hunch but I will be shouting from the rooftops if it is right.

  • Tom

    “Interesting point about police using the .223, but I wonder how often the police are actually going for a clean kill. On occasion I suppose, but in most cases I’d presume they would prefer the target end up in a court room rather than a morgue if at all possible. The military guys are going for the higher calibre for the very reason that they do want a single shot kill.”

    No. Generally speaking, when trained snipers fire, whether police or military, they shoot to kill. This “shoot to wound” fantasy is pure BS. 5.56mm is rather frowned upon in sniping circles, but cops can get away with that caliber since they are most often employed in barricade situations, and their typical engagement ranges in urban areas are almost always less than 100 meters. Police are usually going for a surgical shot (i.e. medula oblongata) to protect hostages. Law enforcement snipers cannot afford to miss. 7.62 is still the more common caliber used by professionals.

    Larger calibers are used by military snipers because their preferred engagement ranges are much, much further. It is not always a major catastrophe if a military sniper misses his first shot or does not make a super precision, instant kill shot.

    100 meters is spitting distance with regards to rifles. I have shot handguns at that distance (and further). It appears to be difficult for the non-shooting public to believe, but many target competitions don’t even begin at ranges of less than 200 meters. 500 meters with iron sights is most certainly possible with very minimal training, just ask any USMC recruit.

    Semper Fidelis.

  • .223 is used by police officers because it is effective at police-type ranges (typically <75 yards), and it does not penetrate walls well, which is a Bad Thing in urban settings.

    I agree that the weapon profile doesn’t match a ‘sniper wannabe’.

    I’m hard-pressed to believe that between bullet fragments w/rifling (the .223 round often breaks up) and brass, they haven’t identified the weapon make and model, and wonder why it isn’t plastered all over the media.

    I’ll point out that they’re travelling in a van for chrissakes; they could have 32 guns in there, one for every occasion, so the ‘AK variant to use in CQB’ doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense…


  • Donut

    Brass droppings? I bet they are a plant. If I was doing this kind of thing, I would use a .220 swift or a .22-250, and then drop random bought-used-from-the-gun-range brass all over the place. Policing brass is a basic skill, and if this guy made that mistake…

    This guy, tango or not, has his shit together. Being able to egress quickly in an urban environment…time after time. That is some training, some serious planning, and some significant resources.

    The last one (at the Home Depot) sounds sloppy, though. Too many witnesses. Or…on purpose? Disguise? Change your race, throw them off? Hmmm…

    Donut, after too many “Bob the Nailer” books.

  • Tom

    “This guy, tango or not, has his shit together. Being able to egress quickly in an urban environment…time after time. That is some training, some serious planning, and some significant resources.”

    No. This guy or guys are preying on clueless citizens accustomed to life in condition white. What is so difficult about that? Sophisticated planning and significant resources would be, let’s say… putting a glowing, radioactive hole where the White House used to be, for example.

    Perhaps the public has gotten accustomed to hearing about the spray and pray tactics of drive by shootings, and so by comparison, these look like sophisticated sniper attacks. It is probably more comforting to think that this is the work of terrorist genius, but the fact is that pretty much any yahoo with half a brain could pull this off without too much effort or planning. A lot of luck doesn’t hurt either.

    Maybe this is a deliberate terrorist attack, but the odds are that it’s a domestic nutcase(s). With the limited information being released it’s hard to really say with 100% certainty either way. It just irks me to hear people attribute skill and genius to what is more likely the work of some cunning, deranged, pimply faced reject who is thoroughly enjoying all the speculation, especially when the attacks are regarded as “skillful”, “expertly executed”, “obviously the work of an evil genius”… blah, blah ad nauseum…

    …more like Harris and Klebold with a twist.

  • What Tom said. What seems remarkable is not that it’s happening, but that this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often. The fact that it doesn’t is positive, reflecting the decency of the overwhelming majority of people who know in theory how to pull something like this off. Too bad the press doesn’t make this point instead of hyping the murders and thereby encouraging the murderers and perhaps copycats.

  • Dale Amon

    Yeah, I laughed a little at the news comments on egress myself. All it takes is planning, a map and perhaps some reconoitering of primary and backup routes at the appropriate time of day and week or else intimate knowledge of the local roads or else “just work near an Interstate and run for it” blind luck…

    Anyone who has read anything in this area knows this is possible. I remember reading comments at least 30 years ago or more that a sniper could take down a random person and get away with it. Murders have a high clearance rate but they are as often solved by motive and relationships as by pure forensics.

    I agree that lots of people could do this. Hell, I could do it with nothing more than a brain transplant – the model I’ve got now is programmed with “Thou Shalt Not Kill (except in self defense) – and a month of practice to get the 100 yard range trained in enough to override the stress and emotional load of “combat”. The reason almost no one does is evolution tends to weed this sort of monster out of the gene pool very quickly… unless they are doing it for their own tribe.

  • Dale Amon

    Glenn Reynolds posted a pointer to this, which covers the terrorism angle. It is being looked at very seriously it appears.

    Also, there has been quite a discussion going on over on Rand Simberg’s Transterrestrial Musings about the ammo and weapon types. There are suggestions it might be an AK-74 converted for .223 rounds. They might be just blowing wind, but it’s quite good information.

  • Jabba the Tutt

    “It’s the kind of thing that if you’ve never shot a rifle before in your life, you and I could spend 90 minutes together and you can do this,”

    I think he’s exaggerating a little here.

    Well, a Fox News babe, who had never before shot a firearm outside of a carnival midway, shot the target in the neck on her first shot without any instruction. After a minute of instruction, she shot the target silhouette in the head. This was at 25 yards.

  • Dale Amon

    Perhaps. And I can shoot a beer bottle off a fence at 100+ feet with an iron sight with fair regularity (even after creating the supply of targets). That doesn’t mean I could do the same in a “combat” situation, nor that I could do it shot after shot.

    It’s easy to hit things when you’re in a calm target range environment with friends having a jolly. It’s not so easy in cluttered reality. Ask any deerhunter. I grew up in Western PA where just about everyone hunted. (I didn’t, I just shot beer bottles or tennis ball pendulums 🙂

    Also, since we are talking about this so much, do we really know that all these shots have been made at 300 feet or more or have they sometimes been at shorter range than the length of an American football field?

  • Ken Hagler

    I’ve seen a few news stories saying that some of the shots might have been up to 500 yards. I gather the police don’t really know.

  • Donut

    I stand by my planning/egress/smart tango comment. Doing this once or twice would not require too much planning or smarts to get away with it. After 11 shootings, though, the fact that there is huge media hype and public awareness would mean that not everyone is sitting around in condition white, some of those on the small end of the curve would actually be a lot more aware of their surroundings.

    With 11 shots, the possibility that a freak occurance before, during, or after the engagement that would give the shooter away, or give the police a lot of evidence, is very high. A lot of crimes are solved by “random person noticed something and told police”. Multiply that chance by 11. This guy (or guys) have avoided stupid mistakes that would get them caught up to this point. They change their MO, they change their ride, the change their location, and up to the Home Depot shot, they were very careful. That is why I suspect the sloppiness may have been done on purpose.

    Again, doing this once or twice and getting away is relatively easy. Doing it 11 times in an 70 mile wide urban area over 2 weeks is pretty damn remarkable.

    I hope they kill him slow.


    ps. I bet we never see a white van again…

  • Dale Amon

    Just to play the devils advocate… apparently they have made mistakes. They were seen twice after the Franklin kill. Once they got blocked in a parking lot and the fellow said a Middle Eastern looking guy in the van seemed very agitated… and then someone saw the same license plated van do a U turn across a median to escape the traffic (the article may have said there was a roadblock further up, but I don’t remember which article so I won’t stand by that.)

    If they are doing it “professionally”, I’d guess they pick a target location, pick a shooting spot and do a dry run in another vehicle.

    If they could have set up all these locations weeks in advance so long as they check for road works and such before their attack…. Not that I really believe this is the case. Personally I think they pick a new target based on intelligence they collect from the media, plan off some good maps, perhaps do a quick pass in another vehicle. They might have a second team that does the check. They could have a second team running point for them if they are indeed terrorists. A few innocent words on a mobile phone is all it would take to warn them off an escape route or cause a switch to a secondary target.

  • Sandy

    After the latest murder of an FBI analyst, our boy is lying low. We’re calling in the heavy tech. Hope my tax dollars were spent mostly wisely.

  • George

    Just a few comments.

    1) for those saying that the use of .223 proves he isn’t a police wanabee.

    Pardon me, but night after night I keep seeing the Va. and MD. swat guys on TV carrying .223 weapons. Point made I hope.

    2) “being able to egress in an urban envoironment” means this sniper has his “$hit together.”

    This is an uniformeded statement. Firstly the environement is not urban, but settled suburban, characterized by massive amounts of roads, crowds of vehicles to get lost in, etc. IE, this is an easy area to get out of.

    3)He is a good shot.

    This is also uniformed. Traning a complete gun neophyte to hit a target at 75 yards with no scope would take abut an hour. If this gun has a scope my 7 year old could have made these shots.

    ALL evidence in these shootings are that all the head shots are less than 75 meters, and shots at 100 meters, have been misses and torso hits.

    Remember this nut is not shooting at specific people. A poilice sniper has to make decisions about avoiding killing civilians, how much threat a possible target is showing, etc. This person is just setting a kill zone. Nothing could be easier.

    4) lastly I would just say the more I think about the amatuer nature of these killings makes think the Al Queada angle is less likely. I remember Kansi, the pakistani from the shootout at langley. He had his $hit together. He methodically shot only hte drivers of the cars surrounding his target and then killed his target. Incidently he bought his ak47 assualt legally three days before.

  • Tom

    “Pardon me, but night after night I keep seeing the Va. and MD. swat guys on TV carrying .223 weapons. Point made I hope.”

    Not really. .223 is a common target and small game cartrige. Also, while entry teams use .223, actual trained, professional snipers use .308 or larger weapons.

    On the rest of the points I am in total agreement. All the speculation is entertaining, but is really pointless. Regardless of whether it is actual terrorists (not likely), terrorist sympathizers (also not likely) or just your local neighborhood sociopathic fruitcake the results are the same.

    Is anyone else bothered by how it seems like the public is hindering rather than helping catch this clown? Everything from giving him (them) new and innovative ideas on tactics all over the internet to actually lying to police. WTF, over?