HOW LONG WOULD THE ALLEGED LONE-GUNMAN HAVE HAD TO FIRE?

PROBLEMS WITH THE CURRENT LONE-GUNMAN SHOOTING SCENARIO AND MORE EVIDENCE OF CONSPIRACY IN THE JFK ASSASSINATION

Michael T. Griffith

1999

@All Rights Reserved

Revised and Expanded on 7/3/2001

For years nearly all supporters of the Warren Commission (WC) assumed that Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy by scoring two hits out of three shots in 5.6 seconds as he allegedly fired from the southeast corner window of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository Building (TSBD).

But soon after the WC released its report, critics raised questions about the Commission's version of the shooting. They noted the evidence indicated Oswald was a rather poor shot. They cited the fact that none of the experienced, expert shooters who took part in the government's assassination reenactments of the shooting was actually able to duplicate Oswald's alleged performance. They pointed out that Oswald had little target practice in the four years leading up to the assassination, and that he apparently had no target practice whatsoever in the 40 days preceding the shooting.

The extreme unlikelihood of the 2 hits/3 shots/6 seconds scenario was highlighted in the 1967 CBS rifle test. Eleven highly skilled marksmen participated in a fairly (though not totally) realistic simulation of the conditions under which Oswald would have had to fire. Not one of the eleven expert shooters managed to score two hits on his first attempt—and Oswald would have had only one attempt. In fact, of the eleven CBS shooters, seven failed to score two hits on any of their attempts.

As it has become increasingly apparent that no gunman, no matter how skilled, could have scored two hits in three shots in 5.6 seconds on his first attempt, lone-gunman theorists have sought to "expand" the supposed single assassin's firing time to over 8 seconds. Some WC supporters say he would have had 8.2 seconds, while others put the time at 8.4 seconds. However, the only way WC supporters can increase the time span is to assume their lone gunman fired at around frame 160 of the Zapruder film (Z160) and that he completely missed, not only Kennedy, but the entire huge limousine.

By any objective standard, this is an extremely farfetched suggestion. At Z160 the sixth-floor gunman would have been firing at the limousine from a distance of less than 140 feet, and from 60 feet up. How could even a mediocre rifleman have possibly missed the entire car from such a distance? One can imagine that the gunman could have completely missed Kennedy: Perhaps he fired at Kennedy's head and just missed the target by a fraction of an inch. But the entire limousine? How?

Obviously, the issue of how the shooting was accomplished is a crucial matter. For if no gunman could have done what the Commission said Oswald did, then this would constitute further evidence of conspiracy in the shooting.

Let's be clear about what would constitute "duplicating" Oswald's alleged feat: Oswald would have had one and only one attempt. No practice rounds. No previous shooting series. No chance to zero his rifle that morning. No nothing. Supposedly, he took the disassembled rifle to work that morning, reassembled it, and then, when the motorcade drove by the sixth-floor window, whipped off two hits out of three shots in no more than 8.4 seconds. On his first and only attempt.

I believe the evidence strongly indicates that no rifleman of average ability could have scored two hits out of three shots in 8.2 to 8.4 seconds (or even in 10 seconds, since the gunman still would have had only 5.6 seconds for his final two shots). And, as discussed above, the whole expanded-time shooting scenario is based on the extremely unlikely assumption that the sixth-floor gunman fired at around Z160 and completely missed, not only Kennedy, but the entire limousine.

I am perfectly willing to believe that a shot or two was fired from the identified TSBD sniper's nest. I seriously doubt, however, that three shots were fired from that window, and I don't believe Oswald was in the sniper's nest during the shooting. If, on the other hand, one assumes there was only one gunman, that he fired three shots from the sixth-floor window, and that that gunman was Oswald, then the new single-assassin shooting scenario becomes all the more untenable because the evidence indicates Oswald was a rather poor shot—not just a mediocre shot, but a rather poor one.

The new lone-gunman shooting scenario is in some ways even more unlikely and implausible than the initial WC scenario of two hits out of three shots in 5.6 seconds. At least the Commission admitted it was hard to believe the alleged lone gunman could have missed the entire limousine with his first and closest shot, and the Commission also noted that the first shot was usually the most accurate.

What is often not appreciated is that any lone-gunman shooting scenario requires us to believe that one of the shots completely missed the entire limousine. How could even an average marksman have missed the whole limousine with any of his shots?

Most WC supporters now claim that the Carcano's firing time has been reduced to 1.66 seconds per shot. Says Gerald Posner,

According to the Warren Commission, the fastest he [the alleged lone assassin] could have fired all three shots was 4.5 seconds. However, that minimum is now out of date. CBS reconstructed the shooting for a 1975 documentary. Eleven volunteer marksmen took turns firing clips of three bullets at a moving target. None of them had dry runs with the Carcano's bolt action, as Oswald had had almost daily while in New Orleans. Yet the times ranged from 4.1 seconds, almost half a second faster than what the Warren Commission thought was possible, to slightly more than 6 seconds, with the average being 5.6 seconds, and two out of three hits on the target. Based on its 1977 reconstruction tests, the House Select Committee lowered the time between shots on the Carcano to 1.66 seconds, with the shooter hitting all the targets. (Posner, Case Closed, p. 318)

Posner makes several errors here that need to be corrected, and he also omits important information:

* All of the eleven marksmen in the CBS test were experienced, expert riflemen.

* The shooters in the CBS test did in fact practice working the Carcano's bolt prior to the simulation (Menninger, Mortal Error, pp. 7-8).

* The CBS shooters did not fire from a window that was at least halfway closed, as Oswald would have had to do; rather, they fired from a window that was wide open.

* The best of the CBS shooters, Howard Donahue, did not score at least two hits out of three shots in less than 6 seconds until his third attempt (Menninger, Mortal Error, pp. 8-10). (Donahue scored three hits on his third attempt.)

* The HSCA's shooters fired at stationary targets and merely point aimed for their fastest time.

* The HSCA's shooters did not actually score two hits out of three shots while firing at a rate of 1.66 seconds per shot (8 HSCA 185; Henry Hurt, Reasonable Doubt, p. 101). Even though the committee's chief counsel tried to put the best possible face on this fact, he stated that this feat was "difficult" and admitted that none of the committee's shooters actually accomplished it:

It is apparently difficult, but not impossible--at least with only minimal practice with the firearm used--to fire 3 shots, at least two of which score "kills," with an elapsed time of 1.7 seconds or less between any two shots, even though in the limited testing conducted, no shooter achieved this degree of proficiency. (8 HSCA 185, emphasis added)

I would add that in the HSCA's tests, any shot that landed anywhere in the silhouette targets, which portrayed a man from waist to head, was counted as a "hit" (or "kill") (8 HSCA 184).

* Neither the CBS nor the HSCA riflemen used the sixth-floor Carcano. They used other Carcanos.

This last point brings us to the biggest problem with the claim that the Carcano's firing time has been reduced below 2.3 seconds per shot, namely, that the sixth-floor Carcano itself was not used in any the tests in which the firing time was lowered. In the only tests where the alleged murder weapon itself was used, the fastest firing time that could be achieved, by expert rifleman, was 2.25 seconds per shot (which is usually rounded up to the figure of 2.3 seconds).

What follows are excerpts from dialogues I have had with WC supporters as they attempted to defend the new lone-gunman shooting scenario.

If Oswald fired at Z160 and missed, then he would have had over 8 seconds to shoot. That would have given him 5.6 seconds to fire his next two shots.

First, allow me to address the theory that the sixth-floor gunman completely missed, not only Kennedy, but the entire limousine with his first and closest shot (the first shot, by the way, is normally the most accurate, especially when you have the opportunity to track and draw aim on the target, as the gunman would have been able to do for a Z145-160 shot).

Even the WC labeled as an "improbability" the idea that its lone gunman would have completely missed the entire limousine with his first and closest shot. It is extremely hard to believe that any halfway competent gunman in the sixth-floor window could have missed the whole car from 60 feet up and from less than 140 feet away—and using a scope no less.

A second-shot miss, which the WC favored, would have been more plausible (or at least not as implausible) because (1) the target was farther away, and (2) the target had just reemerged from beneath the oak tree. The gunman would have had to take at least 1 second to reacquire the reemerging target (i.e., to spot it and then aim at it). It takes the human eye 1/6th/sec just to register and react to data. Seeing that the car had cleared the tree, the gunman could not have known that it wouldn't suddenly speed off down the road. He would have wanted to get the first post-tree shot off as quickly as possible, as opposed to the first shot where he would have had plenty of opportunity to draw aim on Kennedy as the car had slowed down markedly to make the turn onto Elm Street (which also makes it very hard to understand how he could have managed to completely miss the vehicle).

However, you're still stuck with trying to explain how any bullet fired from the sixth-floor window could have missed the whole car. This is one of the many weaknesses of the lone-gunman scenario. A shot fired from any number of alternate locations in the plaza could have just barely missed Kennedy's head and quite easily have missed the limousine as well. Yet, while one can understand how the sixth-floor gunman could have missed Kennedy with his second shot, one cannot understand how he could have missed the whole car—with any of his shots. That's the problem for the WC's scenario. No such wild miss from the sixth-floor window makes sense.

In my article "Extra Bullets and Missed Shots in Dealey Plaza," I document evidence that more than three shots were fired.

Why not? What rule of nature is there that says such a shot [an early, Z160 shot from the sixth-floor window] had to hit? When one takes into account the tension felt by Lee Harvey Oswald [LHO] as he got himself ready, or the possibility of the shot being deflected by the tree, this is no great mystery.

You must realize that the first shot did not come at Z160, but at around Z145. This is one reason that the tree-deflection theory is wholly untenable, and perhaps why it has been repudiated by some lone-gunman theorists. If the first shot wasn't fired until Z160, how, then, do you explain Kennedy's rapid turn to the right at Z154, the blur at Z155, the splice from Z154-156, and the eyewitness testimony that the first shot occurred as or just after the limo turned onto Elm Street?

Also, Governor John Connally, sitting in front of JFK, turns his head rapidly to the right at Z162. Are we supposed to believe that Connally (1) heard the shot, and (2) managed to begin to turn his head, in just 1/9th of a second? The fastest reflex reaction known to man is the eyeblink, which takes 40-50 milliseconds, or about one Z frame. The classic hot-stove reaction, that of pulling the hand away after touching a hot object, takes a minimum of 268 milliseconds, or about 4.5 Zapruder frames. It is virtually certain that Connally was reacting to a shot that was fired at least five frames earlier, and quite possibly ten to twenty frames earlier. As you can see from CE 889, the tree branches would not have in any way obscured the sixth-floor gunman's view of Kennedy until Z166 (WCR, p. 100).

The CBS shooters were limited to 6 seconds because CBS's technicians, along with everybody else, didn't give a moment's serious consideration to the idea that the sixth-floor gunman missed the whole limo with a first shot at Z145-160. In fact, Dan Rather correctly called the 2 hits/3 shots/6 seconds scenario "the WC's scenario." He said that because that's what it was, and everybody knew that was what it was, since nobody, until fairly recently, took seriously the idea that "Oswald," or any other gunman who wasn't legally blind, could have missed the whole car from less than 140 feet.

Moreover, JFK shows signs of reactions to severe external stimulus at around Z200, as HSCA’s photographic evidence panel determined, and as everyone from Richard Trask to Howard Donahue to Raymond Marcus has likewise noted. This is also the time frame (around Z188-200) when others in the film seem to react to the sound of a shot as well. And, it is right around this time when there's a very strong blur episode. You take the early shot at Z145-160, the shot at Z188-200, the hit on Connally at Z234-237, and the head shot at Z313, and you have four shots.

What of the alleged hit at Z224? One thing is certain: If Connally was hit in this frame, he was not struck by the same bullet that hit Kennedy at around Z188. In order for Kennedy and Connally to have been hit by the same missile, Connally would have had to be sitting 10-12 inches to Kennedy's left and would have had to be rotated some 20 degrees to his right, as shown in the single-bullet trajectories proposed by Posner, by NOVA, and by the HSCA. Yet, Z224 clearly shows Connally's shoulders rotated only slightly to the right, and he is not seated far enough to the left to make a single-bullet trajectory from Kennedy's throat possible. So clear is the Zapruder film on this point that even the FBI's Lyndal Shaneyfelt acknowledged to the WC that in the frames immediately following Z222 Connally was facing pretty much straight ahead. Leaving aside the alignment problem, there is also the fact that to accept the idea that Connally was hit at Z224, we would have to believe that he showed no obvious reaction to his severe wounds until 50-52 frames, or nearly 3 seconds, after they occurred. Connally himself, after studying high-quality enlargements of the Zapruder film at Life magazine, insisted he was positive he was not hit prior to Z231. It's possible, though, that the Z236-238 reaction was a continuation of a reaction that started just after Z224. I don't dismiss this possibility. Regardless of when this bullet struck, it could not have been the same missile that hit Kennedy.

5.6 seconds for two shots is not unremarkable for a sharpshooter Marine, and the fact that the target was much clearer while proceeding away in a straight line gave him a better angle.

Let's assume the gunman was Oswald, who was at the very most a mediocre shot. It would have taken Oswald at least 1 second, and quite possibly 2 seconds, to reacquire Kennedy's upper body as it reemerged from beneath the tree. As mentioned, when I say "reacquire," I'm talking about spotting the target's general location and then drawing aim on it. Let's say it took "Oswald" only 1 second to spot and aim at Kennedy's head or upper back. One second is 18 frames, so now he's only got 4.6 seconds left, and he hasn't squeezed the trigger for his second shot yet. OK, so he pulls the Carcano's trigger, which had an odd pull to it. But never mind that--he squeezes the trigger, since he couldn't just jerk it down, for that would have thrown off his aim. Let's say it took him only half a second to squeeze the trigger, which is rather fast. Anyway, so now he has used up 27 of his 103 frames, and he's only just now gotten off his "second" shot. He's got one more shot to get off; his target is moving; and he has 76 frames left, or right around 4 seconds, give or take a few milliseconds. Unlike his first post-tree shot, this time he has to take his eye off the scope, because he has to work the Carcano's difficult bolt, which means he has to reacquire the target all over again. He also has to carefully squeeze the trigger again. Could he have done this in only 4 seconds? Could he, in 4 seconds, have (1) taken his eye off the scope, (2) reworked the difficult bolt, (3) put his eye back on the scope, (4) reacquired the target, and then (5) carefully squeezed the trigger so as to ensure a dead-eye hit on Kennedy's skull? Possibly, but not very likely.

Now, would this have been an "easy" feat? Would it have been easy for "Oswald," or for anybody, to score two hits in two shots in no more than 5.6 seconds? Absolutely not. Two of the WC's three Master-rated shooters fired no faster than 3.35 seconds per shot on their first series. "Oswald" would have had only attempt, and by all accounts he did not target practice for a good month prior to the assassination. Staley took 3.35 seconds per shot, while Hendrix took 4.1 seconds per shot. Purely theoretically speaking, could Oswald have gone two for two in 5.6 seconds? Yes. But is this probable? No, it isn't. If two Master-rated shooters required 3.35 and 4.1 seconds per shot on their first series (and, again, Oswald would have had only one attempt), and 3.2 and 3.5 seconds per shot on their second series, it certainly would have been very difficult for Oswald to go two for two in 5.6 seconds. And was this the same guy who, according to some WC supporters, missed the entire limousine with his first and closest shot?!

Yes, later "Carcano tests" reportedly pushed the firing time down, in one case to as low as 1.6 seconds, but none of these tests used the alleged murder weapon itself, but rather they used different Carcanos. When the WC's three Master-rated test shooters fired the weapon, the fastest among them, Miller, fired at a rate of 2.3 seconds per shot. The FBI's renowned Robert Frazier fired at 2.25 seconds per shot.

And there's the rub: One can't even resort to this expanded-time shooting scenario without making the wholly implausible assumption that the sixth-floor gunman completely missed the limousine with his first and closest shot.

Incidentally, it should be pointed out that the three Master-rated riflemen in the WC's rifle test missed the head and neck area of the target boards 20 out of 21 times, even though the target boards were stationary, even though the riflemen were firing from only 30 feet up, and even though one of them took 8.25 seconds to fire. Some of the misses didn't even strike anywhere in the silhouette area of the target boards. If three Master-rated riflemen missed could only hit the head and neck area of their targets 1 out of 21 times, what are the odds that a mediocre shot like Oswald could have hit the head and neck area of his target 2 out of 3 times on his first and only attempt?

Unless you want to argue for a ground level shot, there is no way that a shot fired from behind JFK could just barely miss his head and still miss the limo. It is far more likely that the gunman would hurry a shot before the target disappeared behind the tree than that he would hurry a shot after the target was completely in the clear.

First, if you want to see, easily and quickly, that there are several alternate shooting locations from which a shot could have barely missed JFK's head and then missed the whole car, take a look at the diagrams and overlaid photos in Shaw's book Cover-Up. And we're not talking only about ground-level shots.

Second, an early first shot from the sixth-floor window would not have been hurried. Indeed, the gunman would have been able to track the limo and take his time in drawing aim on the target therein.

Firing downward from the SN [sniper's nest, i.e., the sixth- floor window] would be extremely awkward especially in light of the fact the window was open only about one foot. LHO would have to raise the butt end of the rifle abruptly which may have caused the window frame to obscure the view through the scope. It may also have caused him to raise up off the boxes that served as his brace.

How would the window have obscured the view through the scope? Unless you want to assume the window was rather dirty, this would not have been a problem. And, if he would have had to raise the butt so high that the window would have become a factor, and if the window was so dirty that it actually obscured his view through the scope, then why in the world would he have taken this shot? How would he have gone 2 for 2 on his last 2 shots?

Even with a markedly obscured view through the scope through the window glass, the outline of the car still would have been quite visible, which again raises the question of how "Oswald" or anyone else could have missed the entire huge limousine. But would the window have come into play? No, as I'll explain in a moment. However, let's assume for the sake of argument that the gunman would have had to aim through the window glass.

When we in the Army fire at targets while wearing our chemical protective masks, we have a severely obscured view through the thick glass of the protective eyeglasses, and we're using iron sights, not scopes. Yet, in spite of these factors, I've personally never seen anyone miss the entire target board, which is much smaller than the limousine.

I really don't think you're stopping to consider just how wild a miss you're advocating here. Do you understand how large the limousine was? This was a three-row, six-to-eight-passenger luxury limousine. The rear hood alone was large enough for a grown man like SSA Clint Hill to lie on, as we see in the Z film. You're talking about missing this entire huge object from no more than 135 away and from 60 feet up. I don't think you grasp just how wild a miss this would have been.

If this would have been a truly "extremely awkward" shot, why wouldn't the gunman have just waited a few seconds? For that matter, why on earth wouldn't he have fired at the limo as it came up Houston Street, which would have been a truly "easy" shot? [Some WC defenders have argued that the gunman didn't fire when the limousine was on Houston Street because he would have been visible to the Secret Service agents. But the gunman could have fired while standing a few feet away from the window. This would have made it difficult for anyone to see him. This would have also made it hard to determine that the shot came from that window, since having the rifle inside the plane of the window would have muffled the sound of the shots.

Now, finally, would the gunman have had to sight the limo through the window glass? The answer to this questions appears to be No. How can we say this? Because of the footage of the WC's reenactment of the shooting. You can see this footage in any number of documentaries on the assassination, such as NOVA's Who Shot President Kennedy?  It seems clear from this footage that the window would not have come between the scope and the limousine. You can also deduce this by comparing CE 887 with the Dillard and Powell photos of the sixth-floor window, which photos were taken within a few minutes of the shooting. CE 887 shows Robert Frazier aiming the rifle through the window with a camera attached to the top of the rifle, and the window is open no higher than it's open in the Dillard and Powell photos. That was the idea, of course--to simulate the view the gunman would have had at the time, so they only had the window open as much as it was during the shooting (or at least so it appears, and so one would presume). Again, to judge from this visual evidence, the window would not have obscured the gunman's view of the limousine, whether he had used the scope or in the unlikely event that, for some reason, he decided to use the iron sights.

An early first shot from the sixth-floor window would have required a sharply downward angle, probably in the unsupported position, but the gunman would have had a clear view of the car, and thus it is very hard to imagine how anyone could possibly have missed the entire limousine. As I've said before, go out to a rifle range, mark off 140 feet, and get a target even just 2/3's the size of the limo, and then fire straight at the target from the unsupported position. Then you'll see why even the WC viewed as improbable the idea that its lone assassin could have missed the entire car with his first and closest shot. You'll see what an utterly unbelievable miss this would have been, and why it's still unbelievable. You'll see that you won't once miss the entire target, that you won't even come close to doing so, even if you fire rapidly with a bolt-action rifle (or simulate this by pulling your eye away from the scope or iron sights for a second and jerk the rifle around). To miss a target this large from such a distance, you would really almost have to try to miss it. And, my goodness, see how impossible it would be to miss so badly while using a scope! It's abject nonsense.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Michael T. Griffith holds a Master’s degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force.  He also holds an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College.  He is a graduate in Arabic and Hebrew of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas.  In addition, he has completed Advanced Hebrew programs at Haifa University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England.  He is the author of five books on Mormonism and ancient texts, including How Firm A Foundation, A Ready Reply, and One Lord, One Faith.  He is also the author of a book on the JFK assassination titled Compelling Evidence (JFK Lancer, 1996).