"slaughter" committed by "high caliber" "automatics"

Yet another inaccurate and misleading front page Inquirer story attempting to vilify guns instead of the criminals who misuse them.

And yet another meaningless series of corrections by a mean-spirited gun nut whose corrections would only matter to other mean-spirited gun nuts (and possibly a few kooks who dare worry about inaccuracy or bias in the media while people are dying):

In a city plagued by epidemic violence, certain slayings always stand out: the grandmother killed in a parked car by Wild West-style gunfire; the parent senselessly gunned down while minding her kids on the street.

Amid the drumbeat of homicides this year - already at 95, a record for recent years - the slaughter of innocents resonates most deeply.

Kingsessing neighbors say Jovonne Stelly, 28, was just such an innocent mother. She was killed in broad daylight Sunday by an errant gunshot during a battle that police say involved at least four people using high-caliber automatic pistols on Pentridge Street in Southwest Philadelphia. The area, a homicide hot spot, was already the site of increased police patrols.

The slaughter of innocents? Is this reporting or editorializing? If this woman had nothing to do with any of the shooters and was in fact caught in crossfire, that would be murder, but isn't it a bit argumentative to call it a "slaughter"?

According to an earlier report, one of the shooters was her nephew, and the confrontation "had begun the night before and reignited about 4:30 p.m.":

A 17-year-old youth was shot in the arm, and a 19-year-old man was shot in the leg. They were taken to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Stelly's relatives said the 17-year-old was her nephew.

The shooting occurred in the 12th Police District, the same neighborhood where Mayor Street and Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson less than two weeks ago announced plans to assign 80 additional officers in an effort to curb a surge in violence.

The effort, which started March 14, targets a district that "has been troubled by gun violence," Street said, and is viewed as one of the most dangerous areas in the city.

Another article said the shooting involved a family feud:
The gun battle between two feuding families took the life of 28-year-old Jovanne Stelly.

"The commissioner and all the deputies will be working the streets of Philadelphia in uniform," said Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. "[What happened in Kingsessing this weekend] was a gun fight between two groups, like what used to be the wild west. But Philadelphia is not a wild west city."

Today's front page article is the only one which supplies any detail about the firearms used. We are told there were "at least four people using high-caliber automatic pistols." First of all, I doubt they were using automatic pistols. While such things do exist, they are not legal to buy or possess without a special license. Ordinary street criminals would tend not to have them, because they're so rare that they'd cost a small fortune.

But what about the phrase "high caliber"? As Dave Kopel points out elsewhere, the phrase is often misused. As this site explains, it's a non-descriptive term:

The high-caliber rifle is an invention by the news media. Bullets are propelled by a chemical explosion that can be of high-power or low-power.

Caliber is the bore diameter in decimal-inches. You could theoretically refer to a gun with a wide barrel as large-caliber. From my time at aberdeen proving grounds, large caliber is generally a tank round.

Snipers use a range of bullet diameters, some of them up to 0.50 caliber. While that is large-caliber for a rifle, it is peanuts compared to an artillery piece. The also tend to use high-power ammunition to travel long distances.

So you can have high or low power and large or small caliber. But high-caliber is nonsense unless, perhaps, you are referring to the fine workmanship that went into it.

There's a longstanding debate among firearms enthusiasts over weapon caliber, and the .44 or .45 is considered to have considerably more stopping power than, say, a 9mm. However, the proper term would be "large caliber," because caliber is a measurement of bullet diameter. "High" is used to describe power or velocity, and involves the overall cartridge (not bullet) size, and how much gunpowder is inside it. Thus, an AR-15 firing a .223 would be properly called a small caliber, high power weapon.

If we assume (as I think we must) that the guns used in the latest shooting were semi-automatic handguns, then they would not be high-velocity, so, giving the writer the benefit of the doubt, it is fair to assume than when he says "high caliber," he means "large caliber."

The problem with that is there's no indication in today's story that large caliber bullets were used. Instead, there's this reference to a 9mm (which happens to be the most commonly available handgun):

Hearing shots fired around 4:30 p.m., Stelly rushed to the street to retrieve two of her children when a bullet crashed through her skull. Two teens, including Stelly's 17-year-old nephew Kendall Sterns, were wounded in the fusillade of as many as 40 rounds unleashed in minutes, police said yesterday.

Investigators did not elaborate on their initial statement that the violence sprang from a lingering dispute that apparently resurfaced.

"She truly didn't deserve to die like this. All she ever wanted was a chance to bring up her babies," said Gregory Burnside, 46, recalling Stelly's devotion to her four children: Rashiek, 9; Curtise, 7; Jaylah, 3, and Naj, just a few months old.

"We need help. When Rizzo was in, there was fear that kept us straight," Burnside said, referring to the hard-line police commissioner and mayor. "That's the help we need. It's way too easy to walk around here with a 9mm."

While it's probably as easy to walk around with a 9mm as with a .22 or a .44, his use of the term (and the ubiquity of the round) makes me think that in all probability, the weapons involved in the shooting were standard, garden-variety 9mm.

Not high power, and not large caliber.

I can only conclude that the writer used the term "high caliber" in the same way he used the word "slaughter" -- as rhetorical hyperbole.

I am, however, fascinated by the statement that "when Rizzo was in, there was fear that kept us straight," because I remember Frank Rizzo quite well. He epitomized law and order, was much feared by criminals, and the left absolutely hated him. I think he'd probably be elected overwhelmingly were he alive today, because he'd promise to clean up the crime, and based on his track record, people would believe him.

I doubt he'd focus on guns as the cause, as this administration is doing. And if he did, he'd know the difference between large and small caliber weapons, and probably between automatic and semi-automatic. The article continues:

Johnson said an officer was about a half-block away when Sunday's gunfire erupted and arrived at Pentridge Street about the time the first call to 911 came in. He said shootings and violent crime were down compared with last year, even though the number of homicides is up.

Among the factors that could account for that, he said, were the increased use of automatic weapons (which fire more bullets and faster), and the question of whether a victim can get to one of the city's hospitals that is best equipped to handle gunshot wounds.

Increased use of automatic weapons? Is that really what he means? Is that what he even said? I don't know, but again, he would be talking about semi-automatic weapons. They can "fire more bullets and faster" than revolvers, but the technology is a century old, and whether their use is on the increase or not, the fact that "as many as 40 rounds" were "unleashed in minutes" is not remarkable considering that there were four shooters. Even if they'd all been using 6-shot revolvers, they'd have had plenty of time to reload. In another article, the homicide sergeant was quoted as saying that we know that five guns were used in the shootout but no guns were recovered." (Any five functional handguns could easily discharge 40 rounds in a period of minutes.)

There's no question that this death was tragic, but what I want to know is why there has been no discussion of the shooters. Were any arrests made? Why not? Considering all the discussion, speculation, and outright mischaracterization of firearms, and the use of the word "slaughter," why is it that nowhere (in any of the articles I've seen) do the words "suspect" or "arrest" occur? And why is it that no reward has been offered?

You'd almost think the guns were the only suspects. Or is there some rule of which I'm unaware that murders committed in the course of family feuds are the fault of the guns?

Were the Hatfields and the McCoys an argument for gun control?

Who knew?

posted by Eric on 03.27.07 at 09:15 AM


In Los Angeles shootings used to be gangs of one particular ethnic group (Blacks, Latinos) struggling within that group for dominance. Bloods vs. Crips, that sort of thing. To control drugs, prostitution, protection rackets.

Now in LA the shootings are part of ethnic cleansing, the limitless manpower of Latino gangs (always new hard boy gunmen from Mexico or Central America) pushing out the limited manpower of Black gangs (only so many black young men in LA).

Strategically, Black Gangsters made a huge mistake. They pushed for Mayor Tony Villaraigosa, a longtime La Raza supporter AND for a restrictive Police Commission to essentially conduct Kangaroo Courts for any police shootings of Black Gangsters. The case of 13 year old Devin Brown, out at 3 AM with a stolen car trying to run over a policeman who then shot him, is instructive. The Police Board of Review cleared the officer but the Police Commission made up of Black Civil Rights and ex-Gang member "community activists" plus the usual white liberal lawyers charged the officer with murder. Result?

"Drive and wave." Police officers know any confrontation with a gangster can quickly escalate to force or deadly force and they will be hung out to dry. So they simply drive and wave.

The net result is a free-fire zone in LA with the Latino gangs able to outshoot by superior numbers the Black gang soldiers. And IMHO deliberate targeting of innocent victims (schoolgirls, elderly women, etc) by Latino gang members.

COULD the same thing be happening in the City of Brotherly Love? I've heard that Latino presence in the city is rapidly increasing. Perhaps an ethnic struggle by Latinos to push Blacks out by killings of innocents? After all such a strategy is cost-free. No comeback given the civil rights emphasis, PC racial attitudes, etc.

The campaign against "guns" is easy because it avoids the political difficulties. Which is the freedom of action given to the gangsters by handcuffing the police, and responding to any and every civil rights activist who stirs up trouble.

Organizationally IMHO the Philly PD won't take action unless it's officers are convinced they won't be hung out to dry, which takes raw political courage by the entire city admin (since the Mayor or whoever can sabotage any such stand).

I think Philly is just going to have to accept these deaths until one gang completely wins.

Jim Rockford   ·  March 28, 2007 12:03 AM

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