This may be going a bit off topic for a science blog, but this kind of thing really drives me crazy and it seems to be happening more and more. Police and other officials are using extremely scary-sounding items discovered to pat themselves on the back for another victory against terrorism. It could be “chemicals,” “an unidentified white powder,” “radioactive materials” or just about anything else. The problem has become so bad that now nearly every police report of potential weapons or dangerous goods seized must be scrutinized with extreme skepticism.
In this case it’s rocket launchers showing up at a gun buyback program. There is much less to this than it seems.
(For those who might not know, a “Gun Buyback” is an event run by local police with the aim of collecting firearms that are no longer in use or may slip into the wrong hands. They may offer money, gift cards or something else to have the guns turned in. The idea is to reduce the number of guns floating around in the population and potentially available for misuse)
Rocket launchers surface during Los Angeles guns buyback
When Los Angeles police moved up their annual Citywide Gun Buyback program to this week, they collected an arsenal that included 75 assault weapons, 698 rifles, 363 shotguns, 901 handguns and — more surprisingly — two rocket launchers.
The weapons, essentially long metal tubes once capable of firing rockets, lacked the projectiles and parts needed to fire them, but even so had no place on the streets, police said.
“Those are weapons of war, weapons of death,” said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, according to the Los Angeles Times. “These are not hunting guns. These are not target guns. … they have no place in our great city.”
Police said the people who brought in the weapons told police that they came from family members who served in the military and no longer wanted rocket launchers in their homes, the Times reported.
LAPD was planning to check with the military to determine the origins of the launchers, police said.
As it turns out, these were not the first launchers to turn up at a gun buyback. Last May, when the event was timed for Mother’s Day, one of these large firearms surfaced in Los Angeles.
I love the way that they say ” they have no place in our great city.” It almost sounds heroic, as if a great evil has been vanquished.
There are two things left out of most of the reports. The first is that it’s completely legal to own these and the second is that if you wanted to kill someone with them, the only way you might be able to do it is by whacking them over the head.
What these are is actually are is empty AT-4 rocket launchers. The AT-4 is a man-portable anti-armor weapon designed and manufactured in Sweden. They are used by the US military (as well as several other nations). The US military variant is known as the M-136 LAW or Light Antitank Weapon. It is one of the most successful and prolific missiles of this type ever produced.
The launcher for the AT-4 is single use. It cannot be reloaded and is really only there to protect the person firing it from the rocket discharge and to provide a basic means of aiming the rocket. Once the rocket has been fired, the tube is regarded as being spent. It cannot be reloaded with a new rocket.
Without the rocket, the launch tube is not very exciting. It’s basically an aluminum and fiberglass tube with simple electrical switch to trigger the rocket and a pair of cross hairs to provide some ability to aim it. In the United States, it is perfectly legal to own an empty tube. It is legal to own an electrical switch and it is even legal to own crosshairs. Thus, as long as there is no rocket, you can, in fact own the launch tube.
In this case, however, these “launchers” never even launched a missile. That’s because these are not, in fact “inert” versions of the launcher, as indicated by the yellow band on them, meaning they never fired a missile and may not even have the basic electrical connections needed to do so. They are just empty shells, props of the weapon. They would be used for training soldiers on how to properly handle the AT-4, but they are not functional launchers, and even if they were, they would be useless without the rockets.
Another thing that I know firsthand — having myself fired two AT-4 rockets in the Marine Corps — is that working AT-4 launchers are fire and forget. They are not issued in the military in the traditional sense as a rifle or pistol would be, but instead as a single round of ammunition. They are one shot weapons. If it doesn’t have a projectile, then its no longer a weapon.
Once it is fired, it doesn’t ever get reloaded. It gets thrown in a dumpster, or sometimes even taken home as a souvenir.
The turn-in of these expended rockets is the equivalent of me picking up empty shell casings that have been fired, and maybe even the ammunition box they came in, and turning it in for a free gift card.
Given that spent AT-4 launch tubes are basically regarded as trash, they are not hard to come by. The inert, training versions can also be found fairly easily at military surplus dealers. They are bought by collectors and sometimes modified into big paintball guns or firework launchers.
This entry was posted on Saturday, December 29th, 2012 at 8:41 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Culture, Events, Just LAME, Misc, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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