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What is the Lone Gunman Theory?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Lone Gunman Theory is the official explanation for the John F. Kennedy assassination, as arrived at by the Warren Commission after a review of the available evidence. According to this theory, the 1963 assassination involved a single gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, who was deemed “emotionally disturbed.” This theory has been challenged by people who suspect that a conspiracy surrounds the Kennedy assassination.

According to the Warren Commission's conclusions, the Lone Gunman fired three bullets. One of his shots missed, while another hit President Kennedy's neck, passing through him and into the body of Governor John Connally. The third bullet penetrated his skull, causing a fatal head wound. This conclusion was arrived at on the basis of witness testimony and analysis of the forensic evidence, including bullets and fragments recovered from the scene.

Conspiracy theorists have challenged many aspects of the Lone Gunman theory. The magical “single bullet” which managed to hit both the President and the Governor has been questioned, under the argument that available information suggests that the trajectory needed to hit both men would have been physically impossible. Other theorists have said that multiple gunmen must have been involved in the assassination, arguing that Lee Harvey Oswald could not have fired all of the bullets from his stated position in the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building. Some people also believe that the wounds on the body of the President are inconsistent with the conclusions of the Warren Commission.

In the eyes of conspiracy theorists, the Lone Gunman theory has some major inconsistencies which make it implausible. Witness testimony in the case was quite varied and in some cases contradictory, lending further credence to suggestions that there may have been a conspiracy and cover up. All sorts of theories about who really killed John F. Kennedy have been bandied about, and some people treat the assassination as an unsolved case, despite the fact that the Warren Commission was evidently satisfied with its results.

As often happens in controversial and very public criminal cases, not all of the evidence from the JFK assassination matches. Witnesses can become confused, especially as the length of time after the event increases, and it is perhaps not surprising that there are conflicts in testimony. Forensic techniques in the 1960s also left something to be desired, making it hard to rely on the reliability of forensic evidence. The events of the Kennedy assassination riveted the attention of the nation, which may explain the long-lasting fascination with the case, even among people who were not even alive at the time of the event.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By anon191469 — On Jun 28, 2011

I have seen professional recreations with trained sharpshooters, and they have been able to duplicate Oswald's alleged actions that day. Squeezing off three shots with an inexpensive bolt action rifle was possible within the accepted timeline, but accuracy was a matter of the shooter's innate skill.

Oswald's shooting records from the Marine Corps show he was capable of hitting targets at much greater distances than JFK's limo in the plaza. The rifle's sites were found to be off by a few inches, but a good shooter could compensate for that with practice.

He did miss the first shot, but I believe the driver slowed down at first to figure out what was going on, giving Oswald more time to steady himself on the second and third shots. Once he saw the effects of the third shot, he knew he could stop shooting and flee the building.

By anon90592 — On Jun 16, 2010

It's not hard to believe that Oswald really did it, but it is very hard to believe that he did it for reasons of his own.

Of course, the assassination was a conspiracy, just not in this instance. The New Orleans/Dallas mob (run by the same man) had the President killed, as a result of his brother Bobby Kennedy's war on organized crime.

As Carlos Marcello so poetically put it, if a dog's bothering you, cutting off the tail (Bobby) won't do anything; you have to cut off the head (JFK).

By anon72223 — On Mar 22, 2010

i don't understand how he could have been so accurate and fast with a bolt action rifle. can anyone explain how that would be possible?

By anon53766 — On Nov 24, 2009

you do realize that Oswald was a compulsive liar right? there isn't a whole lot that he didn't lie about. Arguing about it now won't do anything. Oswald is dead.

By anon49959 — On Oct 24, 2009

I have always been convinced that lee harvey oswald was just a patsy, as he said! Now Im from the swamp-land in the deep south. I grew up hunting all types of game with all type of guns. Here's a possibility no one seems to consider: a muzzle suppressor, a.k.a. silencer. it seems everyone assumes they have to hear the blast to count and space the shots etc. If you watch the Zapruder tape at the time of the head-shot, don't focus on jfk's head. watch his right arm and shoulder- as it reacts to the force of the bullet's impact! jfk is lifted up and to the left, which can only result from a shot from below and to his right, not the grassy knoll, but the storm drain! Which explains how 35 percent of the top of jfk's head is blown off!

By anon42395 — On Aug 20, 2009

Lee Harvey Oswald didn't do it.

By anon39505 — On Aug 02, 2009

I don't think that Oswald did it. I don't think that the lone gunman theory is right. I believe that there is a conspiracy with the JFK assassination.

By anon29793 — On Apr 08, 2009

So where is the rest of the evidence proving that Oswald really killed John F. Kennedy?

Concerned College Student.

Thank You.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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