Juergen May 3, 2006 8:44 AM

I somehow completely fail to see a reason to panic – after all, worst case is that somebody can get a useless piece of plastic where he shouldn’t 🙂

What good is a weapon without any ammo, after all?

Anonymous May 3, 2006 8:52 AM

I call BS. Same paranoia has surrounded “plastic” pistols like Glocks. ALL guns have SIGNIFICANT amounts of steel in their construction

This rifle was reviewed in 2000:

“The uninformed may make the false claim that the carbon fiber frame of the Carbon IS makes it “invisible to metal detectors”-as they did with the introduction of polymer-frame hand guns. We photographed the Carbon 15 Type 97 through an X-ray machine to demonstrate that such a claim would be ludicrous. The majority of the Type 97’s internal parts are of steel and would be readily detected-provided the machine is turned on and the operator awake.”

Gatac May 3, 2006 8:53 AM

While the reduced X-Ray profile of this gun is indeed worrying, it doesn’t look like a very practical firearm – it’s basically a very cut-down AR-15 clone. As far as I know, the extremely short barrel on these results in a very poor muzzle velocity, making it basically a popgun that’s bigger, heavier and less lethal than a typical 9mm. You can’t aim it effectively, the muzzle flash is gargantuan. The reference to “using the same ammo as the US Military” is technically correct, but given that the 5,56mm is already not satisfactory fired from the M4 (a shortened M16, whose barrel is still much longer than this one’s), one can hardly expect any serious armor-penetration here.

Sure, being able to smuggle firearms through security checkpoints is a bad thing, but I don’t see the construction techniques used in this gun being applicable to a handgun that is actually, you know, useful. Even so, it’s not the amount of metal, but the arrangement – not very surprising, considering that this is a very unusual weapon in itself. Even then, you’re only through the X-Ray – this thing will set off a metal detector, we don’t have the technology to build a gun that doesn’t.

Chalk it up as oddity.


bob May 3, 2006 8:53 AM

Simple, just rename it from “assault weapon” to “baby seal” and it’ll be harmless.

Mike Sherwood May 3, 2006 8:56 AM

I’ve seen several references to this, but never any of the actual X-rays of this. I’m curious if the buffer spring (in that cylinder sticking out the back) shows up. That tube above the barrel should also be made of metal. That’s the gas tube, which moves hot gas at high pressure back to the carrier to cycle the action. The bolt and bolt carrier are also likely made of metal since they handle the hot gas and keep the thing from detonating when a round is fired.

I’m curious how this could actually present a viable opportunity to get past security. They said that they ran it through an X-ray without the magazine. Most AR15 magazines are aluminum or steel, but there are some polymer magazines. In all cases I’ve seen, the magazines all use metal springs that have a distinctive zig-zag pattern.

There’s also the issue of getting ammunition past security. Polymer cased ammunition (PCA) may present less of a signature on an X-ray, but it still has metal in the base of the case and the bullet. The thing about the ammunition is that you need several rounds to be effective, and that’s going to look weird on an X-ray.

They found this gun in the car of a suspect. No one actually tried to get it past security, but someone had to sensationalize the possibility that it could happen. To get a gun and ammunition past security would require several failures to recognize suspicious items. The barrel is made of steel and has a distinctive profile. I would think any cylinder made of dense metal should raise a concern.

It would be nice if the physical security world could take a few hints from crypo geeks. Sometimes, the best way to see what works is to try and beat the system. If it’s hard to see on an X-ray when it’s assembled, it would be interesting to see what would happen if someone did some minimal disassembly to make the components look like something else. If you can get a 7″ barrel past security without them noticing, the rest should be pretty easy.

t3knomanser May 3, 2006 9:02 AM

That article is FUD. It isn’t a “new” weapon, I know several people that own it. It is little more than a glorified pop-gun in their experience, and it does show up on metal detectors. The stock and trigger do not, but the barrel and all of the firing mechanisms, the magazine, and ammunition will most certainly show up on an xray.

It is a menacing looking weapon, but it isn’t all that menacing. In some states, it isn’t even classified as an assault weapon. The BATF places minimum restrictions on barrel length and metal content, which this gun meets. FUD.

Mike Sherwood May 3, 2006 9:08 AM


The Carbon 15 has a 7.25″ barrel, in comparison with the M4 at 14.5″ and M16A2 at 20″. I couldn’t find muzzle velocity from the short barrel, but it is definitely poor. If my memory is of any use, I want to say it’s below 2000 FPS. For close range use, it’s still a high velocity .22 caliber projectile. However, the decreased muzzle velocity means the bullet won’t yaw and fragment. The resulting wounds are less severe as a result.

I remember the article Anonymous cited. Basically, all of the fire control parts are metal as well, which means that someone would have to ignore the trigger, hammer, bolt/bolt carrier and barrel to miss it on an X-ray. If they’re already that careless, the problem isn’t with the weapon.

Miles May 3, 2006 9:11 AM

The Star-Ledger ran this article on 4/28. They note that this particular weapon is no longer available and that the company went bankrupt in ’03. Bushmaster has their assets now, and a quick call to Bushmaster concerning this article revealed some interesting information.

Seems the TV news covered this story as well, and they included video coverage. This weapon is clearly visible on the x-ray machine, as required by federal law. A careless, unskilled operator may have allowed it to pass.

I wonder if Sheriff Armando Fontoura is running for re-election…

Mike Sherwood May 3, 2006 9:13 AM

@Jim Dermitt

I guess I should have qualified that as being hired and specifically authorized to try and beat the system, with everything thoroughly documented and reviewed with the appropriate authorities. Uncontracted, private security consultants are likely to have A Bad Day if they try doing this on their own. =)

It’s the same concept as in the computer world. If, at the request of my employer, I try to break into systems to test the security of those systems, I’m doing my job. If I do the same thing for another company, without getting paid or being requested to do so, I’m stupid. =)

nick May 3, 2006 9:15 AM

Pssst. It’s not an assault weapon if it can’t go full auto / burst. As others have noted, this is just a funny looking cut down semi-automatic rifle posing as rather sad semi-automatic pistol.

AG May 3, 2006 9:41 AM

I just wanna say one word to you. Just one word.

Are you listening?


Gatac May 3, 2006 10:01 AM

@Mike Sherwood

Yeah, thanks for some hard data on that. So it’s not quite as totally useless as I made it out to be. 🙂

As for the tumbling characteristics, I thought that was already much reduced many years ago when the ammo and twist rates were switched. My primary concern was the decreased muzzle velocity, as the 5.56 always competed on speed, not bullet mass.

Still, if I were an assassin, this wouldn’t be my weapon of choice. (But then again, I probably wouldn’t try to smuggle a firearm through a security checkpoint to begin with.)

Joseph May 3, 2006 10:01 AM

“They are waiting to be asked to look into it. I think I’d just look into it without being asked.”

“Perhaps they’re busy.”

I work around law enforcement every day, and any regular street cop would appreciate the feds asking him before screwing with his investigation. Having a federal agency step on the toes of a small local agency causes lots of resentment, and in the future the small agency just won’t tell the feds what is going on.

Remember, law enforcement is just people, doing a job that is often boring and repetitive. Like any other large multi-tiered organization made up of people, there are rigid social contracts that must be maintained, in order to encourage security through respect.

Jungsonn May 3, 2006 10:12 AM

Well, there is some metal in it. Which is a reason to check out the contents in it’s location. And since it’s a large metal object, they would check it.

antigunBS May 3, 2006 10:20 AM

Come on Bruce! You talk about movie plot threats and you go right along with anti gun rhetoric using terms like “assault weapon” when its actually just a pistol. On top of that its barrell is made from steel along with all of the internal parts like the firing pin. This weapon undoubtably shows up on x-ray machines. By federal law pistols must have a certain amount of metal in them so that they will show up on x-ray machines. What you have here is another case of incompetent law inforcement. They missed it on the x-ray machine so it must be a “composite assault weapon”. Give me a break!

no expert May 3, 2006 10:36 AM

Interesting how many people didn’t read the short article, which says that the metal magazine, and all ammunition, was removed to make it look like a curing iron under x-ray. The gun’s metal magazine full of brass copper and lead rifle rounds would not make it through an x-ray. .The ammunition the gun takes is pretty recondnizable, with it’s long brass body and pointy lead tips:

This seems like a almost total non-issue to me.

Carl May 3, 2006 11:00 AM

This is BS. I worked airport security in college and it was easy to spot a child’s plastic watergun on the x-ray machine. The plastics on this have to be more dense than on a kid’s toy and the x-ray machines are more sophisticated now than they were then.

It might be possible to obscure this gun using other objects, but screeners are instructed to rescan or open bags if objects are obscured. It might be possible to get the gun through if you took it apart and put it in separate bags, but the heavy plastics still show up on the x-ray machine, and ammunition is going to be REALLY obvious. This is more or less a non-issue.

Brianetta May 3, 2006 11:12 AM

Gatac: ” You can’t aim it effectively, the muzzle flash is gargantuan.”

All you need for a good bit of terror. (:

arl May 3, 2006 11:28 AM

He said the weapon’s .223-caliber ammunition travels at a speed of 2,500 feet per second, fast enough to penetrate a bullet-proof vest.

“This a nasty weapon,??? he said. “That’s the ammunition we’re using in Iraq. If we’re not alert, this could go right past security.???

— End quote

Most “bullet-proof vests” can only stop handgun rounds. (bullet resistant would be more accurate). Yes those are the rounds we are using in IRAQ. They are the standard NATO rounds used everywhere. Out of short barrels they tend to not do very well, out of long barrels they don’t do that great.

This is about 100% pure hype and I would expect a few minutes of work with Google would show that.

htttp:// for example.

Rich May 3, 2006 11:30 AM

Attack scenario: take K terrorists then break down multiple guns & ammo, and distribute the pieces across the K terrorists. How big does K have to be for one complete gun to get through? A gun with lots of plastic should help keep K smaller.

Related question: what is the protocol if security finds pieces of a gun?

t3knomanser May 3, 2006 11:49 AM


What’s the purpose of the attack? For example, K can be pretty small if you’re interested in a one-shot zip gun that can be constructed with material from a hardware store, none of which would be recognizable as part of a weapon. There’s just too many variables about that, and really, you wouldn’t even need to bring the plastic parts anyway- they could be improvised from duct tape and packing foam, or whatever. The metal parts on the gun are the important parts of the gun.

bob May 3, 2006 11:59 AM

better scenario: take K terrorists, tell all but one to go away; leaving just one guy. Now have that one guy get a job cleaning airplane potties. Then he can put a fully assembled, cleaned, tested, sighted and loaded H&K MP-5 (or whatever’s popular today) and 2 spare magazines under every seat cushion in the first five rows of coach at 4AM before the first flight of the day and no one will notice. The passengers arent the weakest link; more security on the pax is putting a timelocked bank vault door on a wooden outhouse.

Bruce Schneier May 3, 2006 12:48 PM

“Don’t go to the airport with one and try testing the system. You won’t like what happens.”

It’s always safer to test security with a dummy system in your lab than in a real-world system out in the, um, real world.

dennis May 3, 2006 12:55 PM

Gatac: in early days NATO allies freaked out about the evil tumbling of the 5.56. So we changed the bullet and increased the twist rate. Everybody was happy, but now instead of tumbling it breaks into pieces, and does even more damage. Either way, as you correctly point out, it depends on velocity…below a certain threshold, it doesn’t tumble or break, and just makes little .22 caliber holes. Troops in Iraq with 14″ barrels have trouble with that past 100 yards or so. A 7″ barrel, I don’t know but I’d guess it’s below threshold at point blank. It won’t penetrate a vest, and all but the smallest pistol rounds would do more damage.

Pat Cahalan May 3, 2006 1:09 PM

From the article:

minus its 30-round clip.

Any gun without ammunition is basically a crappy club. Particularly one made from so little metal that it doesn’t show up well on an X-ray. A full wine bottle is a more effective weapon than this (less the ammunition).

And no matter what you do, as Mike pointed out, 30 5.56mm cartridges are going to show up on an X-ray.

Of course, it’s easier to get in-country than an AK-47, but why bother to smuggle guns for anything other than profit? There’s a gun shop in just about any city in America…

@ nick

It’s not an assault weapon if it can’t go full auto / burst.

I wouldn’t be suprised if this was mod-able.

.223 ammunition isn’t particularly frightening, as far as ballistics go. It’s the standard military issue for lots of reasons, range and the weight of cartridges having more to do with its selection than any particular lethality. What makes it great is that infantry can carry a relatively large amount of it, shoot moderate distances with it, and lay down effective suppressing fire with it. Sure you can be killed by a .223 round, like any bullet (or a bb, for that matter, if you’re really unlucky). But for sheer tissue damage against an unarmored target within 60 feet, I’d take a handgun with .44, .45, .357 over .223. If you’re packing a longarm, a shotgun or a SMG like the HK MP5 is better for short range, and a .30-06 or .308 is more deadly for long range.

.223 is a military cartridge for a reason, it works well for military purposes.

Mike Sherwood May 3, 2006 2:44 PM

“Assault weapon” is a term used by the Department of Defense to describe a selective fire weapon. Basically, it means it can fire multiple rounds with one pull of the trigger. This is the original meaning of the term.

The term was co-opted by politicians to mean anything that looked similar to a modern military weapon, regardless of functionality. Any use of the term by the media is there to sensationalize the story. It’s functionally equivalent to sprinkling “drug dealing terrorist child molester” liberally throughout to cover up the lack of a real story.

Arguing which usage is correct is pointless. It’s like trying to get people to differentiate between hacker and cracker. That battle was lost long ago. Language is determined by mob rule, regardless of what the dictionary publishers would like you to believe. =)

Case in point: am I the only person who interprets “terrorists” as “people with differing political or religious beliefs”? It’s applied so broadly now that it’s lost the meaning it had 10 years ago.


You’re not allowed to take any pieces of a gun in carry on luggage. There may not be a regulation they can point to, but I’ve got friends who have been forced to check their baggage for having plastic stocks/handguards in their bag. (One friend’s company molds the pieces, others sell them – there is an actual, legitimate reason why they’re travelling with these parts, they’re not just messing with the security guys.) If security perceives something to be a potential component of a weapon, they’ll make you check your bag or throw the piece out.

Anonymous May 3, 2006 3:08 PM

“It’s always safer to test security with a dummy system in your lab than in a real-world system out in the, um, real world.”

Not least because of the Movie plot threat – “Terrorists hijack security test and get guns onto plane”

Jan Egil Kristiansen May 4, 2006 4:15 AM

I just wonder if I can hide a cartridge inside the barrel of a one-shot pistol?

Even if I can, I do think any metal object as massive as a barrel should raise suspicion.

The Carbon-15 is a kind of toy gun. But a deadly one, and probably the most intimidating handgun in the world, with its bad looks and big flash.

Roger May 4, 2006 4:51 AM

@Mike Sherwood:

“Assault weapon” is a term used by the Department of Defense to describe a selective fire weapon. Basically, it means it can fire multiple rounds with one pull of the trigger. This is the original meaning of the term.

Not quite. You’re thinking of “assault RIFLE”. (And to be pedantic, it has to be chambered for a reduced power cartridge as well as selective fire.) “Assault WEAPON” is the politically constructed phrase, and has never had any DoD or military/technical meaning, but recently has had (inconsistent) legal ones. It seems extremely likely that the phrase “assault weapon” was deliberately constructed to cause just this sort of confusion.


Related question: what is the protocol if security finds pieces of a gun?

I don’t know if the US is the same, but in Australia, any component part legally counts as the whole thing. This can be kind of hard to prove with very basic parts like screws, but if you are found in possession of, say, a pistol sear, you had better have the relevant paperwork squared away for the whole pistol or you’re going to prison.

take K terrorists then break down multiple guns & ammo, and distribute the pieces across the K terrorists. How big does K have to be for one complete gun to get through?

Probably doesn’t work at all. For a start, all firearms have several large components which cannot be further broken down without destroying the firearm, yet are nevertheless still quite readily recognisable to a trained operator. Now, a sear (say) has probably got a better chance of going unnoticed than a complete firearms does, but “better chance” may not be good enough, because of problem two: your problem is not ONE gun getting through, but ALL of them, because if even one of your terrorists are caught it will raise the level of alert and your probabilities will plummet. In particular, if they catch one guy with parts of a pistol, they aren’t going to let anyone on a plane until either ALL the other parts are found, or they’ve at least rounded up all of his buddies. And the larger K is, the greater the chance that at least one will be caught.

You may be able to compensate for the effect of increasing K if the detectability of individual components drops fast enough, but it has to drop really fast to get useful results. For a concrete example, let’s suppose that the chance of an X-ray operator spotting a whole pistol is 80% (based on some actual test runs), and if we divide it into 5 parts, each part ends up with a 40% chance of being spotted. Then as a result of the split up, the probability of your scheme coming undone is now 1 – (1 – 0.4)^5 = 92%, much worse than you started with! The probability of one part being spotted has to drop to ~27% before you’re even as well off as when you started. And I think that even that 40% was probably a very generous assumption; in reality there are several parts which will be almost as easy to spot as the whole pistol, and so the chance of it sneaking past is only if the operator is daydreaming, i.e. the same odds as the whole pistol. If even one part has roughly the same odds of being spotted as a whole pistol, then any subdivision will always worsen your chances.

A gun with lots of plastic should help keep K smaller.

It is a myth that plastics don’t show up on X-rays. In fact plastics show up quite clearly on modern X-ray scanners, and show some types of detail better than even metals do. Of course you could try getting the plastic parts through the magnetometer arch in your pockets, however with the exception of the handgrips most plastic parts on pistols have embedded metal reinforcing plates at wear points.

Dave May 4, 2006 7:58 AM


Roger that, so to speak, on the origins of “assault weapon”. I’ve been told by multiple independent sources that anti-gun activist Josh Sugarmann (of the Violence Policy Center, IIRC) made it up, specifically intending to cause confusion with “assault rifle”, and brags about that great success.

See then click on “guns” (in the topic list) and then on “technical”, to see a list of commonly MIS-used firearm terms. In particular, see the very last one: “X-Ray-Invisible Plastic Terrorist Gun”.

Dave May 4, 2006 8:02 AM


In the US, the “receiver” is counted as a firearm under federal law. State and local law may differ, but I don’t know of any examples. In AR-15-type guns, which have upper and lower receivers, it’s the lower. Anything else can be freely bought, sold, owned, transported, etc., without any of the (federal) hassle attached to guns.

That said, though, I’d think that finding a barrel, cylinder, handle, or any other major gun part, in someone’s carry-on luggage, would be cause for extreme concern!

Dave May 4, 2006 8:07 AM

Come to think of it, the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) has often claimed that any part that makes a machine gun function as such (i.e., in full-auto mode), is legally and forever a machine gun, subject to all the federal laws about such, which are much tighter than for guns in general. This makes some sense when applied to things that have no other purpose, but in other cases has led to some amusing absurdities. For instance, someone rigged up a gun that would be able to fire full-auto so long as there was tension applied between one part and another. This was accomplished with a shoelace. Therefore, that particular shoelace became, in the eyes of the BATFE, a machine gun.

shoobe01 May 4, 2006 1:11 PM

I have also not seen any photos, but some people I peripherally know (but trust) who do see x-ray scanner results say that polymer and carbon-fiber items (like this) are in fact visible. Not as visible as steel, but not clear either.

Of course, lots and lots and lots of steel parts on this gun.

heyjoewhereyougoingwiththatgun May 5, 2006 11:38 AM

-So no way that the ammo can go through security, feh.

substitute paper/plastic for brass casing?
(shotgun shells use paper)

-bust bullets into pieces?

assembling a baby shotgun shell from
little paper-plastic tubes, metal disks and some powder from a can with hard plastic beads or bearings for projectiles
takes a little time.

The zip gun tube mentioned above seems
easy, low teck, easy to engineer a
clever solution, plenty of “ammo” can be made for assembling multiple rounds
in a couple minutes.

“Low velocity?” what a lame argument. who cares from 2ft – 20feet.
Accuracy? who cares from 2-20 feet.
A plane is not big.
you can blow off someones face with baby shotgun shells with several hundred feet per second velocity. or blow holes in a cockpit door. Ask
Dick Cheney and his embassatrix from

Why do you need stylin’ ruggedized automatic, accurate weapons for a 1-3 shot slop job?

M May 6, 2006 2:26 PM


What you are describing is far more complex than you realize.

How are you going to ignite the round? Whatever you choose, you better have 5 9’s reliability. People won’t treat you kindly after a misfire…

Brass is used for a reason. You are dealing with a lot of pressure, a high temperature, a surprisingly exothermic reaction, and chemicals (gunpowder) that require properly pressurized burning to accelerate the bullet.

Even lead in the bullets is pretty much a requirement. The back end melts and expands forming a pressure cap for the gas. Plus the mass. Watch Mythbusters on cable sometime. (The penny drop leaps to mind. Or the killer playing card.) Without a significant mass, properly shaped to avoid air resistance, your “bullets” are going to bounce off folks.

Even if you had a real gun… You muck with your ammo improperly and you could wind up with your bullet stuck in the barrel. Fail to realize that in time, and your next round will ring the barrel (ruining the weapon). Or worse, explode in your hand/face.

Accuracy does count. At 20 feet, it’s surprisingly easy to miss a humanoid target without good sights and lots of practice. Lots and lots of practice. (It’s not nearly as easy as they make it look on tv.)

Merely hitting a humanoid target is not enough. You’d need to be able to kill and kill quickly at that. Time how long it takes you to run 20 feet. It’s a couple of seconds. That’s how long you have. That means hitting something vital. Something small.

Anything less, and with all the adrenalin flowing, your target will never even realize he/she has been shot.

How long is it going to take you to reload? How many targets do you have? Even if you could kill your first target, won’t the second be on top of you before you can respond?

Do you really think that shooting humans is going to be like shooting paper targets? I think people will either take cover, or run you down. Fighting you at close quarters where your weapon is more a liability than an advantage.

Can you MacGyver something up? Yeah. Sure. But it would be a hell of a lot easier, and nearly as effective, to just hang a sign around your neck saying “I’m a terrorist. Please beat me up”.

Martyn Kerr May 13, 2006 2:31 AM

I suppose you could rig up some sort of firearm or explosive device that could get through airport security under the right circumstances, and it wouldn’t necessarily have to be functional. The only thing that really matters is that it looks real, and the victims believe it to be genuine. Spreading rumours about weapons that can pass through X Ray systems may also be quite a good strategy for terrorists, because it increases fear – which is a “victory” in itself – and the authorities will probably respond by upgrading security, leading to more delays, inconvenience and frustration.

I’m a lot more concerned about terrorists getting accomplices with legitimate acccess to aircraft to smuggle weapons on board.

Anonymous May 16, 2006 11:13 AM

Your site is very cool and helpful for a school project….Your very funny too…

mark October 18, 2006 12:29 PM

does a .22 caliber long rifle projectile tumble on impact? or as it leavs the muzzle? or does it spin as rifling would make it?

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