The Story Behind The Gun That Brought Us The Crime Of The Century In Dallas


The assassination of John F. Kennedy managed to be both the crime of the century and a typical act of gun violence. The story of that killing, told here in episode one of Collateral Damage, tracks both the wanderings and escalating violence of a man who went by the alias Alek Hidell, as well as the political calculations that led to this very dysfunctional man having very functional - and cheap - weapons.

Hidell was a man of reinventions - changing occupations, homes, and identities at will - becoming more lethal at each iteration. He attempted, but failed, to assassinate a right wing agitator and future presidential candidate named Major General Edwin Walker. He plotted the death of then former Vice President Richard Nixon, but abandoned the plot. He traveled and regrouped.

The rifle that Hidell used - the Mannlicher Carcano -  was also well traveled. It began as a NATO rifle, but was deemed insufficient in the waging of the escalating Cold War. Hundreds of thousands of the rifle were declared obsolete - though fully functional - then sold to American gun dealers for pennies on the dollar. Hidell bought his for $19.95 (including the scope).

By November 1963, he had come into his own. He returned to his home town and using his real name - Lee Harvey Oswald - he began work at the book depository building in Dealey Plaza in Dallas. The rest is history, but that history is often viewed in exceptional terms -  grand conspiracies and the like - but, for the purposes of this series, what is most compelling is just how typical the crime, the criminal and the government’s response were.

After debate, investigations, inquiries and lobbying, the impact of the murder of President Kennedy on gun policy was minimal. Guns could no longer be bought by mail - and it took another five years to get that change made.