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The Rifle in Dallas – Initial Reports Are Always Wrong

Not an AR-15, not automatic, not an SKS, not an unjustified shooting, not an [insert jumped to conclusion or dramatic speculation for better ratings or political manipulation here]. We can do better.

The Rifle in Dallas – Initial Reports Are Always Wrong

by David Merrill and David Reeder

Initial reports are always wrong. The level of inaccuracy will vary, from something seemingly minor and incomplete to no-shit momentous and absolutely incorrect. There is a mantra certain SOF units have used in the past. It goes, Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted. Although time can certainly be critical in the immediacy of certain events, particularly in a military context, the message conveyed by that phrase holds true with investigations and intelligence gathering as much with a significant events domestically — like police involved shootings and mass murders.

Perhaps the single greatest catalyst of recent protests, violence and renewed gun control efforts is a visceral reaction to incomplete information. Sometimes this is natural and understandable (if not forgivable) — as when people view the shooting of a black suspect on the ground by a white office. Sometimes it's an intentional, calculated use of an event and the emotional response to leverage the event toward a political end.

Initial reports are always wrong. They might be slightly incomplete, they may be utterly mistaken, they might be somewhere between, but they will be wrong. This is why it is so imperative to wait for all the facts before passing judgment. Only when we are in possession of all the facts, viewed through the lens of the events and conditions of the moment but dissected with distance and dispassionate clarity, can we render a truly informed opinion. Not based on the myopic perspective of a single cell phone video or the breathless testimony of panicked victims on scene but on all of it, with time spent digesting it.

This is how criminals are identified and captured. This is how terrorist cells are interdicted. This is how we are able to identify a murder weapon as a shotgun or an MCX instead of an AR-15 or an SKS, or that 2 people were involved in a bombing and not 10. This is how we avoid indicting someone in the lynch mob court of public opinion before a second video and additional witness reports come out.

This is how good news should be reported and it's the only way justice can be served.

Today we're going to illustrate one recent example of this by performing some photo forensics. It might seem insignificant, but it is absolutely not. Facts are what is needed in a criminal investigation, not conjecture. Today we'll look at what might be the weapon used by accused Dallas gunman Micah Xavier Johnson. Initial media coverage Friday night informed the public there were multiple shooters. A little later reports were saying a gunman seen in amateur cellphone video was armed with an AR-15, and that there were purportedly IEDs planted in the area. A day and a half or so later additional imagery, purportedly of the crime scene, made its way into social media. Based on those pictures and more vague reporting news reports began telling the public at large that Johnson was using an SKS.

So lets look at just that as one single example; something symptomatic of the inaccuracy you will get when your analysis is conjecture based on inaccurate intelligence. The rifle in Dallas…which wasn't an AR-15 or an SKS at all.

The Rifle in Dallas – Initial Reports Are Always Wrong

These are purportedly photos of the deceased shooter in Dallas apparently taken at the crime scene and later leaked online. If these are legitimate photographs — and we must make it clear we do not know yet if they are — the weapon is neither AR-15 nor SKS. Is this significant? Damn right it is, on numerous levels.


Here's our best analysis based on the very limited information we have. It appears to be an AK variant. Let's break it down and see what we can suss out based on this limited imagery, with the caveat that we know this just a snapshot from a single perspective and fully knowing we might learn more (or stand corrected) with additional information, imagery and hands-on analysis.

Let's start with the most obvious stuff. It has a 5.45 Tapco magazine, a US PALM AK grip, and a folding Magpul Zhukov stock.


What we're looking at here is Saiga rifle almost certainly chambered in 5.45, though it's possible (if extremely unlikely) it's a 5.56 gun using a 5.45 magazine with a modified follower. These Russian AK variants were originally imported into the United States in a so-called “sporting configuration”. This means no standard capacity magazines, pistol grips, or threaded muzzles like your run of the mill AK rifles. Saiga rifles also have different handguard configurations than standard AKs, resembling something from a more traditional hunting rifle.

Once imported, and provided state laws allowed for it, these “sporting” rifles could be converted to resemble their un-neutered brethren. The trigger guard is moved forward. The proprietary linkages removed from the fire control group. A pistol grip is added. Buttstock swapped out. Appropriate American parts are added for legal reasons, and more. This can either be done by the end purchaser or by the importers themselves. When they were still available, a factory converted Saiga was a tremendous value for the shooter. Oftentimes the original hunter-ish handguards remained unconverted–though the aesthetics may not be as pleasant, functionally it made little difference and it kept the price down.

In the photo below you can see the differences between an original imported configuration and a factory rear-end conversion job. It's noteworthy that the rifle on the bottom also had the extra step of the safety getting a relief cut to act as a manual bolt-hold-open (more on that in a minute).
The base rifle in the purported photograph of the shooter's long arm is decidedly a converted Russian Saiga Rifle. Note the rivets just above the pistol grip at the rear. These are to fill the holes left when the original fire control group was removed during the conversion process. Also the safety lever has the aforementioned relief cut, though not all conversions have that and it's a relatively easy mod to DIY. Some importers did this during the conversion process, however.


The charging handle has a gray rubber cover on it. These are used to protect the charging handle from scuffs and scrapes during shipping because it sticks out from the side of the rifle. While some may claim this is evidence that the rifle is new and planted by some secretive unnamed agency (lizard people?), not everyone removes it upon arrival. Note that the side of the receiver has a line scraped into the finish from use of the selector lever. (The top rifle in the image below is not a Saiga rifle, but it does give a clear example of both the protective cover and wear mark from the selector lever. It also has the selector lever cutout.)


The railed top could not be immediately identified. It has a higher Picatinny rail than common top cover options such as the Texas Weapons Systems, and also has a different profile. While this could simply be a rail welded or otherwise attached to a normal top cover, more likely, it is a Picatinny rail that attaches via the side rail of the Saiga itself. One outlet reported it to be a ZenitCo B-13 rail, but the angle of the front rail itself and where it truncates points to a Midwest Industries AK railed scope mount or similar clone.



Regarding the optic, many had an “ACOG” knee jerk reaction. Upon further inspection it appears to be a Primary Arms PAC5X scope. Though much of it is blown out from the bright light shining on it, note the shadow of the top Picatinny rail below it as well as the mounting screws and the texturing around the rear objective.


The muzzle device is a large affair with double ports on each side for recoil reduction. It may perhaps be a Russian DTK-2 device, as shown overlaid below:


As we get more information and better pictures. Assuming this is a legitimate photograph, then we'll know more. Certainly the Dallas PD and other agencies already have all of the pertinent information, as they have the rifle itself.

Is the specific model of a rifle and its furniture of immediate importance to the people on the receiving end of the guy using it? Probably not. But facts matter, to investigations and to more than one national narrative. Not an AR-15. Not an SKS.

Not a description delivered within the first few minutes of the event.

Initial reports are always wrong. Passing judgement and drawing conclusions from inaccurate, frequently emotional, myopic or limited sources and analyses is not only wrong, it's dangerous and contentious. It diverts resources. It's the catalysts for riots. It slows and misdirects investigations.

It further divides a country

Do not accept what you are told or what you think you see as gospel until you hear other perspectives and watch from different vantage points. Don't be so eager to pass judgment — however difficult it might be to overcome the emotion of the event or the eagerness of the press to make that event fit a narrative, remain aloof, gather intelligence and then make an informed decision.

That's how we get through this.

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