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Weapons in disguise.


GUN CONTROL GROUPS AND POLICE ORganizations have been lobbying for a law that would require a minimum amount of metal to be placed in handguns. Their actions come in response to the production of firearms made primarily of plastic. These firearms can circumvent the use of metal detectors used at airports, prisons, and secure government buildings. In November 1988, President Reagan signed a bill banning the manufacture, sale, or possession of plastic guns or any other firearm that can elude detection, except for guns certified by the Pentagon or the CIA.

Some weapons can bypass even the most sophisticated equipment, such as magnetometers and X-ray machines. Some of these weapons are available commercially and can in many cases be obtained by mail order. Others can be manufactured with common household materials.

The following are just a few examples of such weapons. While some may appear to be absurd, it is important to remember the type of person who would consider using these weapons.

Signal Pistol. A serious concern for everyone involved with weapon screening is the signal pistol. The item is normally used by boaters as an emergency signaling device. The pistol fires a 12-gauge flare 325 ft. into the air, creating a signal that can be seen at a distance of up to 24 miles. Most signal flares are approved by the US Coast Guard. They can be purchased in boating and department stores and by mail order. Used in the way they were designed, they make boating a safer sport.

Used offensively, the 12-gauge signal flare can cause a considerable amount of damage. A signal flare fired at an individual or fired aboard an aircraft could have disastrous results. The signal pistol will also chamber a standard 12-gauge round. Under controlled conditions, I have fired 12-gauge rounds with number 8 shot from this type of device. I did not experience any problems in firing the weapon other than the massive recoil. There was no significant deterioration of the barrel after several rounds had been fired.

The security concern with this device is that it is made almost entirely of plastic. The only metallic parts contained in the pistol are from the firing pin and a spring. A person with braces has more metal in his or her mouth than is contained in an unloaded signal pistol. This low-metal content presents a serious problem. This device will most surely defeat almost any metal detector, even one with a very high sensitivity. One person could take the weapon through the checkpoint, and a confederate could take one shotgun shell through. If the confederate made several trips, the person with the flare device could have, in effect, a 12-gauge shotgun, with a number of rounds, with which to do what he or she pleases.

Magazine shotgun. The magazine shotgun is a device that has been observed by law enforcement officers in some larger US cities. The device consists of a magazine, electrician's tape, a machine screw, and a shotgun shell. The flat portion of the machine screw is attached over the primer on the shotgun shell with the electrician's tape. The screw then acts as the firing pin of the weapon. Next, the magazine is rolled around the shotgun shell, forming the barrel. The last step is to secure the rolled-up magazine with tape. The improvised shotgun is now ready to fire. All that is required is for the user to stand with his or her back against a concrete or brick wall, hold the magazine securely at the base, and strike the machine screw (which is secured to the shotgun shell) against the wall.

The rolled-up magazine protects the user's hand from powder burns. After a number of test firings of the improvised shotgun, I found that very little damage was done to the rolled-up magazine and that I could aim the weapon well enough to hit a person-sized target 15 ft. away.

An alternate method of manufacturing the improvised shotgun is to attach the machine screw to the primer of the shotgun shell with extremely strong glue. This method eliminates the need for the tape. If shotgun shells are discovered with a machine screw or small piece of metal glued to them, the possibility they are intended for use in an improvised shotgun is rather high.

This device constitutes a serious problem for security officers, military security personnel, and law enforcement officers in that a person with a rolled-up magazine is not normally considered a threat. All the components necessary to manufacture the weapon are common household items. The weapon itself will not alarm a metal detector, and the amount of metal in a single shotgun shell is relatively small.

Pen guns. Many devices on the market will fire a charge of tear gas. Tear gas actually consists of a number of small particles suspended in gas or smoke. It can be loaded into cartridges of various calibers, allowing it to be fired from a variety of firearms. Tear gas cartridges have been designed to be fired from a pen-like device that fits into the breast pocket of a standard dress shirt. When placed in the pocket, such a device looks like a pen or marker. Tear gas pens are designed not to take a standard bullet cartridge. The tear gas cartridge usually screws onto the firing mechanism. When fired, the cartridge portion of the pen is thrown away.

The security concern here is that with a small amount of modification, a tear gas device can also fire a projectile or bullet. The disposable cartridge can be modified with the type of machinery available in many high school shop classes to accept a standard projectile cartridge or bullet. It then becomes a single-shot, reloadable handgun that can be carried unnoticed in a shirt pocket.

Glock 17. The Glock 17 is a semi-automatic pistol that has been identified as "the all-plastic gun," "the terrorist's special," and "the gun that can beat metal detectors." Because the grip and trigger guard are made of a hightech plastic, the gun looks and feels as though it is made almost totally of plastic. In reality, the barrel, slide, and some of the internal parts are made of hardened steel. An unloaded Glock 17 contains 17 ounces of steel, which accounts for 71 percent of its total weight. With a full magazine of ammunition, the gun's metallic content rises to 24 oz. Even the amount of metal in an unloaded Glock 17 should set off any metal detector used for weapon screening. Of course, a magnetometer, or metal detector, is only as good as the individual operating it. If the sensitivity of the magnetometer is set at the lower end of the spectrum, then any number of metallic weapons could pass this type of security screening.

Replicas. Replicas of handguns and shoulder weapons are also a concern to both security and law enforcement personnel. These items can be purchased by anyone regardless of age or criminal background. They mimic the various models of firearms so closely that it is difficult to discern whether an item is real or fake. Many replicas function just like the actual weapon and in some cases fire blank cartridges and eject empties. Ads for replicas boast of the "same weight and feel" of the real McCoy. Fortunately, there is a sufficient quantity of metal in these items to alarm a metal detector, eliminating the possibility of their being smuggled past security checkpoints.

Some US legislators have discussed enacting a law that would require replicas to be somehow distinguishable--perhaps by having orange grips or stocks. I do not believe that will solve the problem with replicas. In fact, it may create more problems. The stocks and grips of real weapons could be painted orange, making them appear harmless.

Bladed Weapons

Ballistic knife. The ballistic knife has been advertised as "the knife that shoots." The knife is alleged to have originated in the USSR as a specialized weapon developed for the Spetsnaz or elite forces. Not only can the weapon be used as a fighting blade, but it also can be used to fire the blade at a target. Imagine the problem that could arise when a security law enforcement officer is 15 ft. from a person wielding what looks like an ordinary knife. The officer might believe he or she is safe, unaware that the blade can be fired accurately at up to 20 ft.

The blade is double-sided, 4 1/2-in. long, and attached to a tube. The handle fits over the tube attached to the knife and also houses an industrial-strength spring, which can propel the knife anywhere from 30 to 40 ft. At a distance of 15 to 20 ft., the knife can be fired accurately into a wooden, man-sized target. The knife has a firing latch or trigger that is located on top and activated by the thumb. The safety consists of a ring-and-pin assembly like the one on a hand grenade. The pin is jammed under the trigger and must be removed before the knife may fire. A cylindrical sheath fits over the blade, making the weapon appear to be a billy club. For identifying purposes, the most distinctive feature of the ballistic knife is the trigger on the handle and the ring-and-pin safety.

This weapon has been made illegal by Congress, and its sale has been prohibited. However, the knife can still be obtained from a number of suppliers without the spring. I purchased one of these knives without the spring by mail. The knife arrived, and in conformance with the law there was no spring. It was a legal, hollow-handled knife. At the bottom of the package, on a small scrap of paper, were the name, address, and cost of the industrial-strength spring necessary to make my knife into a fully operational ballistic knife.

Space-age plastic. The plastics industry has developed plastics that are harder, more durable, and more useful than ever before. Many beneficial items have been developed that today's industries could not do without. Unfortunately, advances in plastics have also resulted in weapons that are very frustrating to security and law enforcement personnel.

Plastic knives have been developed that have the strength to be driven through a 3/4-in. piece of plywood. They can hold an edge that will cut paper. Even more disconcerting to security people, they can totally defeat any metal detector.

These knives come in a variety of sizes and shapes. One model is advertised as a CIA knife. Another calls itself an executive letter opener. Still another model claims to be an ice scraper. Configured like an ice scraper, it has a grip that requires it to be held like a cutting weapon, not a tool. The ad states that it can hold an edge that will cut paper. I have never found it necessary for an ice scraper to be sharp enough to cut paper.

Pointed Weapons

Sword umbrella. The sword umbrella does not actually contain a sword; rather, it houses a 10-in., surgical stainless steel foil. It is advertised as "all-weather protection." The item is an excellent, fully operational umbrella that has the look of an expensive executive's umbrella. The point is extremely sharp. The ad states that the manufacturer drove the tip through a steel helmet with no deformation to the point or shaft.

Recognizing the umbrella for what it really is is most difficult. The only distinctive characteristic is the double metal joint at the handle, which separates the umbrella from the sword. The weapon has a locking mechanism that prohibits someone who is unfamiliar with the opening technique from actually opening the sword.

Using a metal detector to discover this weapon is useless because of the quantity of metal normally found in an umbrella. I have also used an X-ray machine on the umbrella with negative results. Even someone who knows there is a foil or blade in the umbrella cannot clearly see a difference between the shaft of the umbrella and the shaft of the sword.

Ice pick weapons. Many types of ice pick weapons are available from a variety of sources. One item looks like a pen when carried in a shirt pocket. When removed from the pocket, it still looks like a pen, even down to the clip on its shaft. The clip, however, is actually a trigger. When the trigger is depressed, a 4 1/2-in. ice pick shaft is mechanically driven out of the end. It locks into place, giving the weapon an overall length of approximately 9 in. The weapon is supposed to be safe when the clip/trigger is placed in the shirt pocket with material between the shaft and the clip. However, with some experimentation I found that is not always the case.

This weapon would seem to fall under the switchblade or spring-operated blade law. The weapon gets around the law by not being a blade. It is in fact a shaft with a point. Unfortunately, no law prohibits a mechanically operated ice pick.

Another type of ice pick weapon is a clone of a type of felt-tipped pen available at most stationery stores. This "pen" has a 4-in. ice pick in place of the ink cartridge.

Unusual Weapons

Dummy grenades. Dummy hand grenades, both the pineapple and more modern baseball type, are available from a variety of sources. They can be obtained from military surplus stores and mail order houses. Made safe by removing the fuse, removing the powder, and drilling a hole in the base, they are sold as military memorabilia and paperweights.

While dummy hand grenades actually fall under the category of replicas they may be used in ways other than simply to threaten and terrorize. The dummy grenades can be made into fully operational fragmentation grenades with a minimal amount of modification.

The modification is accomplished by first plugging the hole in the bottom of the grenade with a bolt, nut, and several washers. Next, rifle powder is obtained either from a sporting goods store that carries ammunition reloading supplies or by emptying factory-manufactured cartridges. The powder is then placed in the grenade. The next step is to obtain a military type of smoke grenade. These can be purchased from military surplus stores and from some mail order companies. The spoon (the handle that springs up) and the fuse assembly are removed from the smoke grenade and carefully screwed into the dummy grenade. The user now has a fully operational fragmentation grenade. The only difference between this modified grenade and a manufactured one is that there is no delay when the pin is pulled. This weapon can be employed as a booby trap. It can also be used by a suicide bomber or fanatic.

Extreme caution should be exercised if a suspected dummy grenade is discovered. It may have been modified and made fully operational. If there is any doubt, the finder should call a qualified military or law enforcement bomb technician to declare the device safe or render it so.

Liquor bottle. Liquor bottles are a security concern at airports, among other places. A bottle filled with gasoline or 100 percent alcohol can be a devastating weapon, especially aboard an aircraft. Personnel at airport security checkpoints are generally watchful of bottles discovered in carry-on luggage by X-ray equipment. When they observe a bottle in luggage, they ask the person to remove the bottle so they can examine it more closely. They smell the bottle to see if it contains an accelerant. This method is successful in most cases, but it can be beaten.

A smaller liquor bottle is obtained, and the tax stamp is carefully removed. The contents of the bottle are then poured out and replaced with an accelerant. The bottle is resealed with the cap, and the tax stamp is reapplied. Next the person places the bottle in the pocket of an item of clothing he or she is wearing. The person can then walk through the metal detector with the bottle without creating an alarm.

Could a dog or electronic sniffer discover this ruse? In most cases, the answer, of course, is yes. But how often are dogs or sniffers actually used in airports or secure buildings?

Misdirection. Misdirection is a technique a magician can use to accomplish a trick. The magician makes you look at one action (the diversion) while he or she actually accomplishes the trick with another action.

Misdirection can also be used to bypass countermeasures at a security checkpoint. For example, a person can obtain several weapons such as a single-shot pen gun and a mechanically operated ice pick. These weapons are placed in a pocket protector along with several actual pens and markers. The person then places the loaded pocket protector in a shirt pocket. He or she might also wear a large metal belt buckle.

Security checkpoints, especially those at locations where many people must be processed through a metal detection system, use containers in which people can place small metallic objects so those items will not alarm the detector. The containers are passed around the detector to the other side of the checkpoint. This step speeds processing as just about every person has some item that will alarm the detector.

As the person approaches the checkpoint, he or she removes the pocket protector containing the weapons and pens and places it in the container. Next the person removes keys and coins from his or her pants pockets and places them on top of the pocket protector in the container. He or she then proceeds through the metal detector. The detector alarms because of the belt buckle (the misdirection). The person removes the buckle, commenting to the security people that he or she should get a smaller belt buckle, and reenters the metal detector. No alarm sounds this time, and the person collects his or her belongings, including the weapons, and continues on past the checkpoint.

Misdirection also includes the use of clothing, speech, and manner to disguise actual purpose. Who is the security officer more likely to question--the well-spoken person in a business suit or the grubby, unkempt person with an antieverything slogan emblazoned across his or her shirt?

Awareness that these types of weapons exist and are readily available is the most effective deterrent of their use. Security personnel cannot rely wholly on electronic countermeasures such as metal detectors, X-ray machines, or sniffers.

Two years ago I began to teach a block of instruction in a police academy to new recruits and seasoned police officers on the subject of unusual and disguised weapons. The block lasted about 45 minutes, during which time I talked about and demonstrated 30 to 35 weapons. Since that time, the block of instruction has expanded to a solid four hours, covering more than 120 weapons.

I have given this training program for a number of agencies, including local, federal, and military groups as well as a number of security professionals in a variety of proprietary and contract security services. I usually get a reaction of surprise--not that someone has come up with a new type of weapon, but that the devices are so readily available to the public.

Some new item is constantly being developed or modified into a weapon. Many of my associates are aware of my interest in disguised weapons. Not a week goes by without a call or letter from one of them about still another disguised weapon. Recently I received an ad from a former attendee of one of my classes. It was for an item called a zap cap. It was a baseball cap with about 4 oz. of lead sewed into the rear of the cap. The user can grab the bill of the cap and swing the hat (and the lead) into the face of an attacker.

The trick is to stay current with these devices, and, through the use of initial and ancillary training, to keep line officers--security, law enforcement, and military--informed of the devices.

PHOTO : Top, the "executive letter opener" opens much more than letters; moreover, it passes metal

PHOTO : detectors. Bottom, the pen may be mightier than the sword, but can it stand up to an ice

PHOTO : pick?

PHOTO : Top, this flare pistol, made almost entirely of plastic, can also chamber a 12-guage

PHOTO : round. Middle, ballistic knife can be used for hand-to-hand combat, but when trigger is

PHOTO : pressed, blade flies 30 ft. Bottom, deadly umbrella looks like normal one under

PHOTO : X-rays--also keeps rain off.

Patrick Jones, CPP, is director of the technical investigation division of Forest Security Systems Inc. in River Grove, IL. He is also chairman of the Chicago Chapter of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Jones, Patrick
Publication:Security Management
Date:Feb 1, 1989
Previous Article:Why classify?
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