Gun Profile: Carcano Model 91/38 – The Rifle Used to Kill Kennedy

November 20 2013
by GSL Staff
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AS the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy approaches, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at the firearm used in the incident.

Or should we say the gun that was allegedly used to kill Kennedy? Much to the dismay of the conspiracy theorists out there, we’re going to assume Oswald acted alone and shot Kennedy using a Carcano Model 91/38 from the book depository.

Oswald’s rifle a cheap, military surplus rifle which was bought by mail order – The Carcano Model 91/38 (aka Mannlicher-Carcano).

Here is a copy of the ad that Oswald ordered his rifle from (3rd from top left). It cost him $19.95+shipping and handling (try not to drool over those 1960’s mail order prices too much, I’ll take a few of those Garands at $89.99 please).

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The Carcano Model 91/38 is part of a family of rifles, regularly referred to as Carcano Rifles, that were in service in Italy from 1891 all the way through 1981 by some parts of the government. The rifles continue to be used in 3rd world conflicts today where older, military surplus rifles are common.

The rifle has been used in a number of conflicts by several different countries, including seeing wide use in World War II.

By some estimates, there were between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 of all variants of the rifle made.

While the original models used the 6.5x52mm round, later versions were made to fire 7.35×51mm Carcano, 7.92×57mm Mauser, and even 6.5×50mm Arisaka.


Oswald’s Carcano Model 91/38 fired a 6.5x52mm round.

The round dates back to the late 1880’s, so even at the time of the JFK assassination it could hardly be considered a revolutionary cartridge.

The ballistics are fairly impressive for the round’s age. The round could fire a 162gr bullet at up to 2,300 feet per second, producing almost 1,900 pounds of force.

Certainly respectable, but still well below many large rifle cartridges developed in the 20th century. For instance, the .300 Winchester round, developed in (coincidentally) 1963, is capable of firing 165 – 220gr bullets at velocities between 2,850 – 3,260 feet per second, producing up to 4,100 lbs of force.

The round would prove to be lethal to the president at under 100 yards.


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The rifle was a bolt action with a 6 round fixed magazine and a wood stock.

The Model 91/38 was one of the shorter Carcano varieties. The rifle measured 40.2 inches.

The rifle featured a side-mounted Ordnance Optics 4 × 18 scope that was attached to the rifle by the gunsmith at the retailer where Oswald ordered the gun.


For all of the talk about modern sporting rifles by gun control proponents, it’s important to remember that a bolt action, fixed magazine rifle, originally designed in the late 1800’s changed our country forever.

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