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February 15, 2023

Marine Colonel Tarnishes Tin Eagles with False Testimony

By Mark Oliva

Retired Marine Colonel Craig Tucker is throwing in his 25 years of Marine Corps service, combat experience and military expertise to deny Californians their Second Amendment rights. The problem is, he’s doing it on a bed of verifiably false allegations of what today’s Modern Sporting Rifle (MSR) is and isn’t. He discloses that he’s being compensated for his “expert” opinion at $200 an hour.

Colonel Tucker, a former Commander of the Corps’ Regimental Combat Team 7 that fought in the 2004 Battle of Fallujah, filed expert testimony in Rupp v. Bonta, the case that California’s Attorney General Robert Bonta is desperately trying to keep California’s “assault weapon” ban alive. That case was originally filed in 2017. In June of last year, the U.S. District Court’s order was vacated by U.S. Courts of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit and remanded back to the District Court given the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, which expressly forbids the court from using an “interest balancing” test to decide Constitutionality of Second Amendment-related cases.

Justice Clarence Thomas expressly forbid the practice in Bruen, writing in the majority opinion, “The Second Amendment ‘is the very product of an interest balancing by the people’ and it ‘surely elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms’ for self-defense.”

Attorney General Bonta is scrambling to salvage what’s left of California’s unconstitutional ban on the most popular-selling semiautomatic rifle in America. There are over 24.4 million of these rifles – AR-15s and AK-47s – in circulation today. They discharge one cartridge for each pull of the trigger – no different than popular semiautomatic duck hunting shotguns or personal defense handguns.

Colonel Tucker argues that these are firearms only meant for military use. I’m not writing to impugn the colonel’s character. Like him, I’ve served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. I carried the M-4, firing the 5.56mm cartridge. I own several MSRs, chambered to accept .223 Remington/5.56mm and 6.5mm Creedmoor ammunition. Like him, I’ve got extensive experience with the Colt 1911 .45 caliber handgun as well as multiple handguns chambered for 9mm, including Beretta’s M-9.

The facts he presents to the court, however, are verifiably false.

Mythical M-4 & 5.56mm

Colonel Tucker qualified MSRs as “assault weapons” based on California’s list of cosmetic characteristics that have nothing to do whatsoever with the rifle’s actual functions. He testifies that the selector switch that renders an M-4 capable of automatic fire is a “picayune” or “petty or worthless” difference. By that definition, Colonel Tucker would classify any semiautomatic firearm as a “weapon of war.”

But he goes further.

“A single round is capable of severing the upper body from the lower body, or decapitation. The round is designed to kill, not wound, and both the AR-15 and M4 contain barrel rifling to make the round tumble upon impact and cause more severe injury.”

I’m not doubting the colonel’s combat acumen. I certainly can’t say that’s what I saw in combat. I never witnessed a single 5.56mm round fired at the enemy decapitate or sever a human body in half. If this were true of the 5.56mm cartridge, it would beg the question why the military is spending millions to move to the 6.8mm Next Generation Squad Weapon, using a heavier caliber that carries more kinetic energy downrange. It would also beg the question of why the military also uses 7.62x51mm, .300 Winchester Magnum, .338 Lapua Magnum and .50 BMG caliber ammunition. If the 5.56mm cartridge were that devastating, there would clearly be no additional need for heavier bullets with more gunpowder behind them.

I’ve killed coyotes and prairie dogs with both 5.56mm and .223 Remington. Nothing of what Colonel Tucker describes ever happened on these much smaller targets. In fact, in my home state, the .223/5.56mm cartridge isn’t considered powerful enough for an ethical harvest of whitetail deer.

Rifling, Stocks & Grips

The rifle barreling remark is odd too, especially coming from an infantry officer. I have studied firearms and it is common knowledge that rifling is designed to improve accuracy by stabilizing the bullet in flight as it travels toward the target, not to make it tumble upon impact. Artillery tubes have rifling for the same reason.

Colonel Tucker’s military expertise isn’t done, though. He claims that pistol grips and adjustable stocks on rifles are especially deadly.

“It is my opinion, based on my military service, that these features, individually and in combination, make semiautomatic rifles more lethal and most useful in combat settings, as described in more detail below,” Colonel Tucker testified.

Those are also the same features which allow for greater control and more accuracy when firing. That’s safer shooting. The adjustable stock makes it so my wife can fit the same MSR to her body that I fit to mine, with minor adjustments of the length of the stock. Adjusting stocks to be customized to the shooter is not a new concept. Rifle and shotgun shooters have been doing it forever.

This isn’t the first time Colonel Tucker’s taken on lawful firearm ownership. He coauthored an article in 2017 with two other Marines, one of whom I personally served with in the Corps. The column attacked the NRA for what they termed as “engaging in shameless fear tactics.” They added, “We believe that ALL of our civil liberties are worth defending for ALL Americans—including protection from the use of excessive lethal force by those sworn to protect and serve our communities.”

That’s all rights, except the full spectrum of Second Amendment rights, apparently.

Full Semiautomatic

It’s not the first time military officers used rank to present themselves as an authority on firearms. Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling did this with CNN following the tragedies in Parkland, Fla., when he explained to a reporter that he was going to fire on full semiautomatic.” That was lampooned, not just because of the ill-turn of phrase, but because of the intentional narrative twisting. Military officers are using their former ranks to tell the American public they can’t be trusted to possess commonly-owned and commonly-used firearms.

I’m proud of my service. I’m proud of the Marines I served with, including Marines like Colonel Tucker, with whom I passionately disagree on this issue. The American public should be keenly aware that the U.S. military is very good at what it does. That’s control. That control, however, should never be exerted on the American public, especially when it is presented as “expert testimony” that is dubious at best and verifiably false at worst.

The American public generally respects and admires military leaders. But, we should not be blinded to the facts by military brass.

Apparently, at $200 an hour California is getting a steal on this testimony and Second Amendment rights.

About the Author
Mark Oliva is NSSF’s Managing Director of Public Affairs. He is a retired Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant with 25 years of service, including tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Albania, and Zaire.

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