Convicted Of Gun Crime, Over The Shape Of Inert Metal

Mark Witaschek holds his Knight Revolution .50 caliber muzzleloader. This is NOT a firearm under federal or District of Columbia laws.
Mark Witaschek holds his Knight Revolution .50 caliber muzzleloader. This is NOT a firearm under federal or District of Columbia laws.

A poorly-educated District of Columbia judge has found Mark Witaschek guilty of a gun crime because he possessed 25 pieces of metal that were modified cylinders, instead of balls.

Yes, it really was that stupid of a prosecution:

In a surprising twist at the end of a long trial, a District of Columbia judge found Mark Witaschek guilty of “attempted possession of unlawful ammunition” for antique replica muzzleloader bullets.

Judge Robert Morin sentenced Mr. Witaschek to time served, a $50 fine and required him to enroll with the Metropolitan Police Department’s firearm offenders’ registry within 48 hours.

The 25 conical-shaped, .45 caliber bullets, made by Knight out of lead and copper, sat on the judge’s desk. They do not have primer or gunpowder so cannot be propelled. The matching .50 caliber plastic sabots were also in the box.

There was much debate over whether the bullets were legal since D.C. residents are allowed to buy antique replica firearms without registering.

The judge seemed inclined to throw out this charge since he repeatedly asked how the bullets could be illegal if the gun that they go in was not.

During lunch, the government came up with a list from ATF of types of muzzleloader rifles that could be converted to use rimfire ammunition. Not that Mr. Witaschek owned one of these nor was modern ammo at issue in the trial.

Nevertheless Judge Morin said, “I’m persuaded these are bullets. They look like bullets. They are hollow point. They are not musket balls.” He then ruled that Mr. Witaschek had possessed “beyond a reasonable doubt” the metal pieces in D.C.

These are musket balls. These were the traditional projectiles used in muzzleloading rifles up until around the mid-1800s.

musket ball

Musket balls are nothing more than soft balls of lead, historically cast in a simple mold.

In 1847, Claude-Étienne Minié developed a conical-cylindrical soft lead bullet, known as the Minié Ball. The 1861 Springfield that was the primary long-arm used by the Union during the American Civil War and the 1853 Enfield used by the Confederate States both utilized the Minié Ball.

The Minié “Ball,” while no longer a sphere is still just a simple piece of lead, cast in a different mold.


The Minié Ball bullet design became the standard until modern self-contained cartridges were invented. Bullets of this same basic design are still in use in modern muzzleloading rifles to this very day, both for hunting and target shooting, 167 years after they were invented.

Blow is a modern muzzleloading bullet, manufactured by Knight’s Muzzleloading. This many not be the exact Knight’s bullet owned by Mr. Witaschek, but it is representative of the company’s line of muzzleloading bullets, and any differences between this one and the ones used t convict him are too minuscule to note.


While the marketing departments of the various muzzleloading bullets will no doubt disagree with me on the finer points of bullet design, the simply fact of the matter is that the modern muzzeloading bullet is not greatly removed from Minié’s invention.

The main differences from Minié’s 1847 “ball” and the Knight’s projectile are the use of a hollowpoint in the design, the simple addition of a gilding metal plating over the lead core, and the use of a plastic sabot.

The hollowpoint became common in “express” rounds for hunting in the 1870s, and were used on game animals around the world (Mr. Witaschek’s bullets were made expressly for this purpose).

The gilding metal coating, which is now known as a jacket, was invented by Lt. Colonel Eduard Rubin in 1889  to prevent fouling the bore of the rifle. The plastic sabot prevents gases from escaping past the sides of the bullet while in the barrel, and makes the burning propellant charge more efficient. It peels away within yards of leaving the barrel due to air pressure, and has no downrange effect.

In other words, there is very little difference between the round lead projectiles that Judge Robert Morin asserted were legal, and the conical-cylindrical projectiles that he apparently confuses with modern cartridges.

As muzzleloading firearms are not considered “firearms” under Washington, D.C. statutes, then the bullets fired by these antique weapons do not need to be registered under D.C. laws, and in fact, cannot be, since there is no “firearm” (under D.c. statutes) for the bullets to be registered against.

We’re witnessing a clear miscarriage of justice, where an overzealous prosecutor on a witch-hunt seeks to justify a ridiculous raid based upon the flimsiest of charges, and an ignorant judge who knows nothing about firearms or ammunition finds a man guilty of possessing “ammunition” that isn’t ammunition under D.C. statutes, which were written by hysterical hoplophobes too ignorant to even write law competently.

Mr. Witaschek neither broke the letter nor the spirit of the law in possessing these muzzleloading projectiles. All this case has proven is that the lawmakers and judicial system in Washington have proven once again that they meld together a dangerous combination of ignorance, incompetence, and vindictiveness.