It is important that you watch the ABC News segment, “How to get a grenade launcher” before you read this so that you will be in the proper frame of reference.
Paul Harvey had it right with his famous tagline, “And now for the rest of the story.”
To begin with I have to say that I still am perplexed as to why they bothered with the story at all. Early last week a Sailor, Absent Without Leave from the Navy was apprehended by the Police while in the possession of two Bushmaster carbines with the serial numbers removed as well as a “grenade launcher” initially believed to be an M-203 but later determined to be a 37mm flare launcher by the ATF. It is my understanding that ABC News was told repeatedly that the item at issue was not a weapon at all but rather a novelty item, a flare gun built to resemble a military issue M203 grenade launcher. ATF does not classify the 37mm flare launcher as a weapon.
I spoke with the segment’s producer Lauren Pearl, and she was very polite but I could tell she was agitated that I had contacted her. Fair enough and I can appreciate that. No one wants to explain why they did things the way that they did and that is precisely what I asked of her. Her initial answer was that there was only one minute to present the data but after pressing her on the issue, she stated, “I don’t know why.”
At the crux of this issue is how the information was presented. After watching the piece I came away with the impression that you could do an internet search, pick up the phone and just buy one of these “killer weapons.” However, after doing some checking, I have found that this is hardly the case.
Ms Pearl did tell me that the information in the piece was correct and she is right. They did seek out the assistance of an expert. The Sportsman Channel’s “Ammunition Expert”, Larry Vickers is well known in the small arms industry and deals with far more than ammunition. In fact, he’s an internationally recognized expert and the host of two TV shows dealing with small arms. Unfortunately, after showing 12 seconds of expert testimony on how difficult it is to purchase a grenade launcher, the segment’s host, David Cuomo essentially refuted Vickers’ assertions by telling us that a vendor selling destructive devices said that “the only restrictions were that a buyer had to be a resident of a state that allows them to have a grenade launcher, and most states do, and they need a gun permit.”
So, in order to find out if the information presented to me was true, I did exactly the same thing the correspondent did in the segment. I googled “Grenade Launcher” and came up with well over one million hits. Then I googled “Grenade Launcher for sale” and only came up with 181,000 choices. Of those only a few were actually for the sale of real honest-to-goodness grenade launchers. The rest offered airsoft versions or the dreaded 37mm flare launchers that inspired the piece.
After some checking, I was able to ascertain that Mr Cuomo was seeking information on the DD1-152 M203 Grenade launcher offered for sale by Autoweapons.com. What makes this story even more convoluted is that the model that he chose was built specifically to fit on a rare foreign weapon; the AK4 Swedish variant of the HK G3. This makes it even more useless to the casual buyer as one would then need to purchase the proper base weapon to mount the M203 to, in this case an AK4. Naturally, this means more red tape and rules.
And purchasing an actual M-203 40mm grenade launcher is hardly the end of it. To make it a “killer weapon” one would require ammunition. Each round requires exactly the same process to purchase as the launcher itself. That’s right, $200 tax stamp for each individual round, more fingerprints, more background checks, more waiting. This may be why you don’t see neighbors blowing each other up with 40mm grenades. The ATF does a great job of regulating the transfer of these devices. The reality is that they are far from easy to purchase, and you certainly can’t order one over the phone or internet.
If the problem with the segment was that there was only one minute to present the data, then perhaps the answer was to provide more time so that terms like “gun permit” could be adequately explained as an ATF Form 4, payment of a $200 transfer stamp, background check to include fingerprints, and a wait of several months while a national agency check is conducted and the application is processed. And, on top of all of this, you have to be in a state that allows the individual to possess a destructive device like a grenade launcher. Or, maybe if the one minute is not negotiable an alternative would be to perhaps let the expert speak rather than some talking head ask about color options like he is picking out a new scooter. Either one of these options would have resulted in more facts being presented.
In the end, the ABC piece is much ado about nothing. They were informed by experts that there was no story there yet they proceeded anyway. However, I will admit that they did do their research and they did tell us that in order to purchase a grenade launcher “the only restrictions were that a buyer had to be a resident of a state that allows them to have a grenade launcher, and most states do, and they need a gun permit.” They just failed to explain what that meant leading viewers to the false conclusion that grenade launchers are as simple to purchase as a pair of shoes. They also failed to mention that while most states allow private ownership of destructive devices, neither New York City, where ABC News is located, nor the state of New Jersey where the AWOL Sailor was apprehended do. Too bad they didn’t have more time to more accurately portray the issue.
So what is the verdict? Can individuals run out and purchase grenade launchers? No.