Lee Harvey Oswald posing with the murder weapon he bought from an ad in American Rifleman.
An advertisement in the NRA’s American Rifleman led Lee Harvey Oswald to purchase the rifle and scope used in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
by David Robb
If not for the National Rifle Association, November 22, 1963, might today be remembered as the day that Aldus Huxley, author of Brave New World, died in Los Angeles; or the day that C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, died in Oxford, England.
Instead, that date will forever be remembered as the day, 50 years ago, that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
And the NRA played a key supporting role in the President’s murder.
The NRA’s connection to the President’s assassination began one day in early March of 1963 as Lee Harvey Oswald sat at the kitchen table in his little upstairs apartment on West Neely Street in Dallas, browsing through the February issue of American Rifleman, the NRA’s official publication.
He was looking to buy a gun – a high-powered rifle.
Flipping through the magazine’s pages, he came upon a full-page ad placed by Klein’s Sporting Goods Company in Chicago, featuring 10 different rifles for sale. Oswald carefully looked over the small print detailing the specifications of each weapon, and then, always short of cash, decided on the cheapest one – a high-powered, “fast firing,” “ready for shooting,” Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, with scope, for only $19.95, plus $1.50 return postage.
Above is the full-page ad taken out in the February 1963 issue of American Rifleman. The ad for the gun Oswald bought is in the left column, third from the top.
“LATE ISSUE! 6.5 ITALIAN CARBINE,” the ad stated in block letters. “Only 36" overall, weighs only 5 ½ pounds. Shows only slight use, lightly oiled, test fired and head spaced, ready for shooting. Turned down bolt, thumb safety, 6-shot, clip fed. Rear down sight. Fast loading and fast firing. Specially priced…with brand new good quality 4X scope.”
On March 12, Oswald, under the assumed name A. Hidell, mailed the ad’s coupon to Klein’s, along with a money order for $21.45. The rifle – serial number C2766 – was shipped to his post office box – #2915 – in Dallas on March 20, and arrived a few days later. (Oswald had rented the post office box under his own name the previous October.)
Three weeks later, Oswald used the rifle in an attempt to kill General Edwin Walker, a disgraced right-wing Army general who President Kennedy had sacked two years earlier. On the evening of April 10, 1963, as Walker sat in his study, Oswald fired a single shot through Walker’s window, narrowly missing his head. The shooting went unsolved until after the Kennedy assassination, when the bullet was compared to the bullets that killed President Kennedy. Tests showed that it was “extremely likely” that the bullets had been manufactured by the same company, and had been fired by the same weapon. In addition, Oswald’s wife Marina told the Warren Commission that her husband had told her that he and he alone had tried to shoot General Walker that night.
Seven months later, Oswald used that same rifle to shoot President Kennedy.
The 6.5 mm Italian carbine Oswald ordered, its serial number matching the one sold by Klein’s, and found on the sixth floor of the Dallas School Book Depository, with Oswald’s palm print on it.
Ironically, the NRA would also play a supporting role in helping to establish that the rifle sold through its magazine had been the one used by Oswald to assassinate President Kennedy. During the investigation of the assassination, the Warren Commission employed three sharpshooters to determine if Oswald’s rifle could have hit the President at a range of 175-275 feet. In test firings, all but one of the 21 shots fired hit their target. All three sharpshooters had been rated “Master” by the National Rifle Association.
If not for the NRA magazine, Oswald would have certainly never bought that particular rifle, and although he probably would have bought one elsewhere, its aim might not have been as true, its scope as good, and its results as tragic.
Milt Klein, the owner of Klein’s Sporting Goods, sold the company a few years later, and was haunted for the rest of his life by his connection to the crime of the century.
Milt Klein never, ever talked about the gun that killed the President, but his son John wrote a screenplay about his father that tells how his dad felt about it. In the script, the Milt character says: “If I didn’t sell that gun, the assassination wouldn’t have happened.”
And if Oswald hadn’t been leafing through American Rifleman, he wouldn’t have bought that gun.
The NRA and its American Rifleman magazine never expressed any regret about their involvement in the chain of events that led to the assassination of President Kennedy, and they are both still very much in business.