Rocket Launchers At LA Gun Buyback? Give me a break!

December 29th, 2012
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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)

Via NBC News:

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.

As a former marine put it:

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.

A couple of quick web searches found one surplus dealer selling inert AT-4 tubes for $350 and another for $250.  One could almost certainly find it for much less with enough shopping around.


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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25 Responses to “Rocket Launchers At LA Gun Buyback? Give me a break!”

  1. 1
    Rocket Launchers At LA Gun Buyback? Give me a break! | Says:

    [...] Depleted Cranium [...]


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  2. 2
    Mark Says:

    Par for the course.

    How could they possibly pass up an opertunity as good as this to make a news story that implies the city is under threat of rocket launchers?


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  3. 3
    Mitch Says:

    In other words, they’re just dummies, both the launcher and authorities!


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  4. 4
    Kent Says:

    OK…OK…I think the buy backs are wonderful!!..My question is, when are they going to offer a buy back for my Inter-Continnental Ballistic Missiles? Or how about my Captain Kirk Death Ray I picked up while visiting Planet Pluto? Hummmmmm, one more thing; How many people actually beleieve this crap the LAPD is dishing out? Those are the ones you have to watch, word has it their even allowed to reproduce……


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  5. 5
    Anon Says:

            Kent said:

    My question is, when are they going to offer a buy back for my Inter-Continnental Ballistic Missiles?

    You’d probably get more profit if you used them to sell launch services.

    Voluntary gun buybacks tend to be a pretty crappy deal paying far less than market value anyway.


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  6. 6
    BMS Says:

            Anon said:

    Voluntary gun buybacks tend to be a pretty crappy deal paying far less than market value anyway.

    Depends on the circumstances.

    Just shot someone while sticking up a 7-11? Why not make an easy $100 while you get rid of the evidence? Sounds like a good deal to me.


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  7. 7
    drbuzz0 Says:

    Yeah, the logic of the buyback programs is questionable. One problem is that some have offered up to $200 cash for firearms. (In some cases this is not tax money but private donations). But still, there is an issue with this.

    You can obtain a cheap gun for much less than $200.

    These buyback programs are extremely lax in what they will accept. It could be a non-functional gun and I’d expect they probably will take BB and pelet guns too. It would not surprise me if they took a realistic-looking toy gun.

    There’s quite an opertunity to make a profit there, especially since some will let you bring up to three guns to sell to them at a fixed price of $100-$200


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  8. 8
    DV82XL Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    Yeah, the logic of the buyback programs is questionable.

    Is there any evidence to suggest these programs are effective in reducing firearm related crime?


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  9. 9
    drbuzz0 Says:

            DV82XL said:

    Is there any evidence to suggest these programs are effective in reducing firearm related crime?

    I did look into this. There are many claims of success, where police departments say that they started a gun buyback program a few years ago and within that time frame, there was a drop in gun-related crime. However, in most such cases, there were other factors, like it was part of a much broader initiative.

    In fact, there is no empirical data to show that this is effective at all. About the best that can be said about it is that we can’t be 100% sure that it does not work at all. But that’s pretty weak. Most of the major national law enforcement agencies and experts who have looked into it regard it as ineffective and a waste of money.


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  10. 10
    Peebs Says:

    Over here, if anyone shows any form of weapon; assault, shotgun, pistol or big tube looking like an anti tank missile is automatically deemed a criminal offence.

    I can see no reason to have a semi or full automatic just to protect the house.

    And why should you need one to go hunting?

    Sorry, but you’re Second Amendment really, really, really requires an amendment.


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  11. 11
    jerry Says:

    The LAPD and media love hyping paperweights to scare everyone. I saw this article on twitter and the writer pokes all kinds of holes in the LA Times story in the same fashion you did. Also offered good advice to media covering weapons. Basically said they need to really get educated.

    http://teopespin.com/2012/12/29/uninformed-media-more-dangerous-than-rocket-launchers/


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  12. 12
    Kent Says:

            jerry said:

    The LAPD and media love hyping paperweights to scare everyone. I saw this article on twitter and the writer pokes all kinds of holes in the LA Times story in the same fashion you did. Also offered good advice to media covering weapons. Basically said they need to really get educated.

    http://teopespin.com/2012/12/29/uninformed-media-more-dangerous-than-rocket-launchers/

    Scare tactics have been used for decades against the public, & with great success. Hitler for example used them along with his Brown coats to reach his objectives. I fail seeing any differences when it comes to the propaganda machine our elected officals are using to reach their objectives.


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  13. 13
    Anon Says:

            Kent said:

    Hitler

    Not even two days, that was pretty quick.


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  14. 14
    Martin Says:

    I asked a buddy of mine who is a marine about this. He thought it was laughable. The rocket launcher is actually not regarded as a launcher. It’s regarded as a spent round. So basically it’s like if you fire a bullet and there is a shell left behind, that’s what this is. It’s just an empty cartridge that the weapon came on.

    Regarding whether or not they are training or the real thing, he did say if it has the band on it then its inter, but that does not mean it was not real at one time. Apparently sometimes the training units they use are real launch tubes that have been used. Sometimes when these are fired they recycle the empty tube into a training unit.

    He also said that a lot of the inert units used for training at bases in the United States (probably most of them) were not really fired but were real launch tubes. If the rocket gets too old and then they are considered unreliable or obsolete, they have to be removed from the launcher and then the launch tube is considered garbage, but it might be recycled into an inert trainer. Also, this is probably where most of the surplus ones come from, because some contractor is assigned to remove the rocket and then they paint a stripe on the launch tube, because that is protocol, to make sure it is not mistaken for live. Then they can just sell it to a surplus dealer and then collectors can buy it.

    He also said he could probably get me one of these if he asked around. He does not actually work fire them but he knows people who do and they are not terribly hard to get.


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  15. 15
    Chris Says:

            Peebs said:

    Over here, if anyone shows any form of weapon; assault, shotgun, pistol or big tube looking like an anti tank missile is automatically deemed a criminal offence.

    I can see no reason to have a semi or full automatic just to protect the house.

    And why should you need one to go hunting?

    Sorry, but you’re Second Amendment really, really, really requires an amendment.

    Actually the second amendment is not really the issue. The courts have long held that the “right” to bear arms is a collective right which can be limited (see miller case linked above). The “individual right” as often trumped by the NRA and others did not in fact exist until 2007 and the Heller decision. The Heller decision is an open question at this point because the full implications have yet to be realized – for example is it still legal for local governments to prevent the mentally ill from owning guns? For now yes – under Heller probably not.

    One vote on the court changed the constitution under the Heller decision. The vote might be different today.


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  16. 16
    Sigivald Says:

    It cannot be reloaded with a new rocket.

    And even if it could, you can’t get one – an AT-4 rocket is, under the National Firearms Act, a “destructive device”, which requires a $200 tax stamp and FBI background check to acquire.

    That is, if there were any for sale under the NFA registry, which as far as I know there never have been. And equally I’ve never heard of such a thing being used illegally in a criminal act in the US.

    (If it ever does, I’m 100% sure it’ll be either stolen from the Armed Forces, or smuggled in via Mexico after being stolen from the military down South; the paltry number of legally owned DDs in the United States are never used illicitly, being owned only by serious collectors, not criminals.)

    (Full disclosure: I own an equally scary and equally harmless M-72 LAW tube.)

    (Kent: Brownshirts. “Browncoats” are from modern fiction, and are more or less exactly the opposite of Fascists.)


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  17. 17
    Sheriffs called out to fight the law - Page 4 - M14 Forum Says:

    [...] I am sceptical: http://depletedcranium.com/rocket-la…ak/#more-12961 [...]


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  18. 18
    Stan Says:

    WOW!
    A piece of pipe….


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  19. 19
    Matte Says:

    As pointed out earlier, yellow stripe would indicate to me that the round is/was live at one point (not sure in what configuration the AT-4 is exported or manufactured under license to/in the US though). However I would find it very hard to believe that a fully functional AT-4 would find it’s way into the hands of criminals in the US.

    Here in Sweden on the other hand we have had quite a few incidents of motorcycle gangs shooting at each other with these things in the 1990-ies. They managed to steal them from ammunition storage facilities scattered around the country in preparation for an invasion (yes, you can blame the Russkies!). Fortunately the idiots didn’t know about arming distances of the projectile, so nobody got seriously hurt (fortune is a relative concept in this context, I would not mind if ‘HA’ or ‘B’ and similar ilk had their ranks decimated violently).

    No I was never allowed to fire a live one, it was deemed too dangerous for us conscripts (too expensive anyway) and yes I am a bit bitter about it.


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  20. 20
    PsihoKekec Says:

    IIRC they still managed to kill something like dozen of eachother. I remember news from back then, seeing discarded AT-4 on some rooftop and wondering why only scumbags get the cool toys (I was gun nut kid).


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  21. 21
    magnemoe Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    Yeah, the logic of the buyback programs is questionable. One problem is that some have offered up to $200 cash for firearms.

    (In some cases this is not tax money but private donations).

    But still, there is an issue with this.

    You can obtain a cheap gun for much less than $200.

    These buyback programs are extremely lax in what they will accept.

    It could be a non-functional gun and I’d expect they probably will take BB and pelet guns too.

    It would not surprise me if they took a realistic-looking toy gun.

    There’s quite an opertunity to make a profit there, especially since some will let you bring up to three guns to sell to them at a fixed price of $100-$200

    Yes lots of the stuff is broken or in very bad quality, most people would sell an gun they did not wanted anymore if it was worth more than 200$. But they have also got 10.000$ rifles or shotguns, this is mostly from people who have inherited some expensive guns and don’t know their value or that to do with them. Hope the police tell them that they should sell them.

    For criminals, yes they can get cash from an hot weapon but they will get an new one afterward. The only benefit is to remove unwanted weapons who is inherited or found. An finish guy once told the police to come to him as he had an WW2 Russian tank he got his hand on during the war, this is an special issue as unlike an gun you can not easily dump it in an container.

    I actually had an M72 launcher, before giving it away as an toy.

    Hand grenades are fun, lots of people steal the blue training grenades and pant them green, sometimes they are thrown away or lost and the bomb team has to remove them.
    A bit stupid, don’t think they have found real grenades on the ground anytime. Add that if the splint is in its harmless, if the splint is out assume it’s an painted training one.
    Chance its an real defect grenade is pretty low. If they run into some WW2 stuff on the other hand I would call the bomb team; higher chance for it being both real and unstable.


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  22. 22
    I'mnotreallyhere Says:

            BMS said:

    Just shot someone while sticking up a 7-11? Why not make an easy $100 while you get rid of the evidence? Sounds like a good deal to me.

            magnemoe said:

    For criminals, yes they can get cash from an hot weapon but they will get an new one afterward.

    Do they not ask for ID when paying out for guns and check them all for precisely this sort of situation? Surely it’s not difficult to simply log all the guns as they come in, along with details of who brought them in?


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  23. 23
    BMS Says:

            I’mnotreallyhere said:

    Do they not ask for ID when paying out for guns and check them all for precisely this sort of situation? Surely it’s not difficult to simply log all the guns as they come in, along with details of who brought them in?

    It’s “no questions asked.”

    If they ever did something like this, how many guns do you think would be handed in the next time they do a buyback?

    The logic is that it gets guns off of the street. Stolen or otherwise tainted guns are more likely to be in the hands of criminals.

    I suppose that the police write down the serial number (assuming that it has not been filed off or otherwise removed) so that there is a record that the gun has been destroyed.


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  24. 24
    I'mnotreallyhere Says:

            BMS said:

    It’s “no questions asked.”

    If they ever did something like this, how many guns do you think would be handed in the next time they do a buyback?

    Balls. Just deleted a lengthy response to this. Straight to the point :

    1) To me, it sounds pretty daft to go for a paid-up amnesty for weapons without any checks – that said, I think it’s pretty daft to allow people to own them in the first place. Culture I grew up with. Checks wouldn’t dissuade innocents handing in guns they don’t want, and avoids them ever being stolen and getting on to the black market.

    2) But it is precisely what the LAPD do – to a point. Website here : http://www.lapdonline.org/valley_bureau/news_view/52628. No ID, no photos, no questions. People drive up and police officers take guns out of the trunk and hand out gift cards. [i]No ballistics tests will be carried out. [/i]That said, it’s possible that guns are treated a bit like evidence, bagged up, serial numbers recorded and could be cleaned out by a forensics team at a later date if a dead body shows up (especially one with an M-136 rocket embedded in the skull).

    Interesting detail here :
    “All weapons will be checked for lost and/or stolen status. Every effort will be made to return lost and/or stolen firearms to their rightful owners. “

    3) There are only three workable conclusions :
    i) LAPD Buyback works – [i]the investigative argument[/i] : because the murder weapon isn’t as essential a part of an investigation as the media (news coverage as much as fiction) would have us believe – in coastal city with a river through it, the lack of murder weapon might well be the norm;
    ii) LAPD Buyback works – [i]the economics-of-crime argument[/i] : the effective drop in crime rate associated with removing a gun from the street is worth more than the potentially failed investigation due to not finding the murder weapon – and also more than the negative PR that might come up if a murderer was discovered to have avoided conviction (or nearly avoided conviction) thanks to the buyback programme;
    iii) LAPD Buyback doesn’t work – [i]the police-are-wrong argument[/i] : the LAPD are idiotic to be handing over cash (or a cash equivalent) to criminals for whom they’re also disposing of incriminating evidence – possibly due to falsely over-estimating the benefits from point (ii) or underestimating the costs in point (i).

    I’m no expert, so perhaps (i) and/or (ii) are correct. Then again I’m sure even the experts disagree, so point (iii) could be right. It’s going to be very difficult to ever really say. Intriguing situation though.


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  25. 25
    I'mnotreallyhere Says:

    Gah, formatting failure there. Can you fix that Steve?


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