Monday, 8 February 2010

The Guns That Didn't Bark

The assassinations of Jill Dando (BBC TV Presenter) and Yitzhak Rabin (Israeli Prime Minister) actually have one, strikingly anomalous, thing in common: A .380" ACP calibre pistol that didn't make anything like enough noise.

When Mr Rabin was shot, in the middle of a large crowd, there was confusion, even amongst security personnel, because the shots didn't sound loud enough to be real. (And the Israeli public fires probably handguns more often than any other population, except, possibly that of Finland.)

When Jill Dando was shot, a man, working (at a drawing board?) at the front upstairs window of the house opposite, didn't hear a thing, even though he glanced out just before, and just after, the shooting. Gowan Avenue may be fairly "upmarket" by London standards, but it is not a wide boulevard with mansions either side with sweeping drives and acres of front lawn. The houses are Victorian Terraces, albeit fairly large, the front gardens are just a couple of paces wide, and the slightly-recessed front doorway of Miss Dando's house ought, if anything, to have focused the sound of the shot right at the man working opposite.

The .380" ACP (also known as 9mm Browning Short) does make a bang. Years of Gun Magazine articles comparing it against more powerful calibres, such as the 9mm Nato, .38" Colt Super and .357" Remington Magnum (revolver) cartridge may have created an impression of it being relatively less powerful, but it produces almost exactly the same muzzle energy as the .38/200 revolver round that was standard Commonwealth military issue duringthe second world war, and Medawar has never heard anyone describe that as "quiet".

The .380" ACP, in its standard form, projects a 95-grain bullet at 955 feet per second, the .38/200 fires a 200 grain bullet at around 650 feet per second: energy the same. If anything, the .380" ACP makes a sharper noise as the lighter bullet is moving more quickly. This helps to make the .380" ACP accurate, although the close-range "stopping power" of the heavier bullet is well established. The powder charge in a .380" ACP cartridge is between 3 and 4 grains of a fast-burning smokeless propellant.

(A grain is a unit of weight, common to both the Troy and Avoirdupois scales. A Troy pound is 5760 grains and a pound Avoirdupois is 7,000 grains. Troy pounds divide into twelve ounces of 480 grains, a pound Avoirdupois divides into sixteen ounces of 437.5 grains.)

Although the .380" ACP or 9mm Short was a common service cartridge during the Second World War and with European Police Forces thereafter, and has been used in quite a lot of crime over the years, especially in the past, it hasn't been used in all that many professional killings in recent years. To some extent it is being displaced as firearms manufacturers find solutions to the difficulties of making smaller pistols compatible with the higher-pressure 9mm NATO ammunition. After the NAZIs captured the Polish Radom factory, making an improved version of the Walther PPK of James Bond fame, the .380" ACP version of the Radom pistol became standard issue for the Gestapo and other Nazi intelligence agencies. The .380" Radom was about the most powerful, accurate and reliable handgun available at the time that would fit reasonably unobtrusively inside smart civilian clothes of the thirties and forties, although Savage, in Canada, made a similar pistol. (Bond's PPK would have been the smaller .32" version, the Metropolitan Police did issue the .380" Version to some detectives and protection officers in the seventies and eighties.)

So, a generic .380" ACP pistol is probably a sound enough choice for an assassination, mainly, normally, because it is powerful and accurate for its size. It is pretty loud for its size, too. The ammunition used to kill Miss Dando is known to have been customised in some way, presumably to reduce the noise. What was done in Mr Rabin's case isn't publicly known, but many witnesses didn't think the gun was real because the noise wasn't much at all.

Adjusting the ammunition in this way takes a certain amount of expertise (and Miss Dando's alleged and then acquitted killer is mentally retarded) and it's the specific expertise which Medawar sees as a link between two crimes with, otherwise, nothing much to connect them. Certainly not motive.

Unless, of course, one starts looking at Jewish Extremist groups (Mr Rabin's convicted killer was a Jewish Extremist) and what they want to achieve. Everything they, or their financial supporters, want to achieve.

Everyone knows, Jewish Extremist Groups are against any sort of peace deal that surrenders any territory to Palestinians in return for peace, but there is actually a much longer list of things, about which they have very rigid views. More work needs to be done, on what it is they are after, apart from being beastly to Arabs.

It would be bitterly ironic if any conspiracy to murder a prime minister of Israel, was able to hide behind claims that any investigation or debate about it was anti-semetic. Mr Rabin's murder, and with it the denial of any chance for the peace that so many Israeli jews crave, was one of the most anti-semetic acts for a generation.

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