Suspect’s Gun Proved Easy to Obtain
Published: May 5, 2010
The mammoth clock-to-wire-to-gasoline-to-propane car bomb that the authorities said Faisal Shahzad hoped would claim many lives in Times Square has been analyzed, diagrammed, prodded and examined. But not long before his arrest, Mr. Shahzad was also equipped with a less-eccentric — and yet more dependably lethal — weapon. And he owned it legally.
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It is fearsome looking, a carbine hybrid of a pistol and a long gun with a mouthful of a name: the Kel-Tec Sub Rifle 2000. Mr. Shahzad bought it, new, in March for about $400. It was found in the Isuzu Trooper that he drove to Kennedy International Airport on Monday, loaded, with multiple extra clips.
Because the Kel-Tec Sub Rifle 2000 is classified as a rifle, it required no permit, as pistols do in Connecticut. But with its folding stock, hand grip and appetite for pistol ammunition and not rifle ammunition, the Kel-Tec was about as close as one could get to a pistol that is not technically one.
The authorities have not disclosed, if they have learned, what Mr. Shahzad planned to do with that gun. But some law enforcement experts have surmised that he had it to fire at officers in case he was pulled over.
The Kel-Tec was briefly center stage in Washington on Wednesday as New York’s police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, addressed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He said that Mr. Shahzad bought the gun while obtaining supplies for the bomb.
“It appears from some of his other activities that March is when he decided to put this plan in motion,” Mr. Kelly told the committee. Of the gun, he said, “It may well have been an indicator of putting something catastrophic in motion.”
The terrorists in Mumbai, India, in 2008 carried out a rampage that killed more than 160 people chiefly with the use of automatic weapons. The guns were much more powerful than the one Mr. Shahzad bought, and the strategy was simple: kill as many people as possible in a city crowded with tourists and residents.
Mr. Shahzad — whom the authorities have described as bent on taking American lives — made missteps while he was designing and building his bomb, including buying what looks to be the wrong kind of fertilizer aimed at making the explosion more powerful. But all along he possessed a weapon that could have easily done extreme damage, one rapidly fired round at a time.
The Kel-Tec, while not being capable of producing the far-reaching devastation of a well-constructed car bomb, at least might have produced a measure of Mr. Shahzad’s desired effect.
It was about two months ago when he walked into Valley Firearms in Shelton, Conn., which is on a downtown street beside a tattoo parlor and beneath a karate studio. Two American flags fly in front of the gun store.
Inside were the urban parapets of the trade: metal prison bars behind the windows, glass cases securing the guns. He had not lived in Shelton for nine months, having had lost his home there to foreclosure while on a long trip to Pakistan. For the last month, he had lived 12 miles away, in an apartment in Bridgeport.
On its recording to callers to the store, Valley Firearms described itself as “the area’s largest used gun buyer.”
Mr. Shahzad made his choice of gun and produced his Connecticut driver’s license. He left for a two-week waiting period, and returned March 15, putting down about $400 not for a used gun, but for a new rifle, serial number E7L98, according to a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives tracing report.
The gun was manufactured by Kel-Tec CNC Industries, founded 19 years ago in Cocoa, Fla., which makes semiautomatic pistols, rifles and the Sub 2000, a combination of the two. The gun was designed by George Kellgren, perhaps best known for having designed early versions of the Tec-9 handgun that became a favorite of street criminals and was later banned.
The Kel-Tec gun is about two and a half feet long, but for storage or carrying, the barrel can be folded back over the stock, cutting its length almost in half.
It weighs four pounds unloaded, has front and rear sights for aiming and a grip like one on a pistol. The rifle is unusual in that it fires pistol rounds — in this particular gun’s case, 9-millimeter rounds. It fires as quickly as one can pull the trigger; it is not a machine gun. The number of bullets it holds varies with the size of the magazine. Kel-Tec sells it with 10-round magazines.
It is, in effect, a low-powered rifle. Unlike those of some rifles, its bullets probably would not penetrate a police officer’s bullet-resistant vest, a law enforcement official said.
It was unclear what attracted Mr. Shahzad to that particular gun. “Why not just get a pistol if somebody wants a handgun round?” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the case.
One theory: “It looks more intimidating than a pistol. It’s an intimidating-looking contraption. It’s black, it has some plastic and polymer — it has that military look, but all it really is a really big handgun.”
Unlike the Tec-9, it is not frequently used by criminals, the official said. The manufacturer said the long barrel increases accuracy and range. “The superior precision is also very useful against small or partially covered targets at shorter range,” Kel-Tec said on its Web site. “The amount of training to master the SUB 2000 is only a fraction of that required for a handgun.”
A Kel-Tec customer service representative named Bill — company policy allows employees to use first names only so that they cannot be identified and threatened by someone who wants guns — said the Sub 2000 is good for hunting and target shooting. The company sells 2,000 or 3,000 of them a year.
Suggested retail price: $390.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in his testimony on Wednesday before the Senate committee, urged that suspects on terrorism watch lists be blocked from buying guns and explosives.
“When gun dealers run background checks, should F.B.I. agents have the authority to block sales of guns and explosives to those on the terror watch lists — and deemed too dangerous to fly?” the mayor asked. “I believe strongly that they should.”
On Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office released data showing that suspects on the terror watch lists were able to buy guns and explosives from licensed dealers in the United States more than 1,100 times from 2004 to 2010. Such a statistic seems irrelevant in Mr. Shahzad’s case, as he was on no such list in March.
It is unclear whether, in the 50 days Mr. Shahzad was a registered gun owner, he ever once pulled the trigger.