Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, Texas, moments after JFK was shot on Nov. 22, 1963

What if Hickey Didn’t Pull the Trigger?

Bonar Menninger
9 min readApr 16, 2019


By Bonar Menninger

This story offers additional information about the theory that President John F. Kennedy was inadvertently shot by one of his own Secret Service agents, as chronicled in the 1992 book, Mortal Error, and reported in the October 2017 Medium story, Hidden in Plain Sight.

From the moment Baltimore gunsmith Howard Donahue reluctantly concluded in 1977 that ballistic evidence proved President Kennedy was mistakenly shot by Secret Service agent George Hickey on November 22, 1963, he assumed the agent had involuntarily squeezed the trigger of his AR15 as he lost his balance in the back of the open follow-up car amid the bedlam of Lee Harvey Oswald’s attack.

Donahue’s theory upended conventional wisdom about the assassination, etched the president’s death in the darkest of irony and raised questions about what might have been. Had the presidential limousine not braked suddenly after Oswald opened fire, the chain reaction that led to Hickey’s shot might not have occurred.

But a little-known defect in the earliest model AR15 now raises the possibility that Hickey may not have been directly responsible for the accident after all. Rather, his firearm may have discharged on its own, without the agent ever touching the trigger. The design flaw — recently brought to light by a retired Southern California law enforcement officer — produced a phenomenon known as slamfire, or the unintended discharge of a cartridge as the rifle’s bolt closes but before the trigger is pulled.

The prospect that Hickey’s rifle went off without warning just as he stood and cocked the weapon offers an alternative explanation for why ballistic evidence from Kennedy’s head wound points to an AR15 .223 bullet and not the 6.5-millimeter projectile Oswald fired. The scenario may also help explain why Hickey chose never to speak of the events in Dallas nor personally respond to Donahue’s allegations.

A revolutionary weapon

Originally developed in the mid-1950s by ArmaLite, a small, California-based division of Fairchild Industries, the AR15 was a breakthrough infantry weapon that incorporated lightweight aircraft materials, including aluminum and high-strength plastic, in its construction. The idea was to create a light (6.5 pounds)…



Bonar Menninger

Kansas City-based freelance writer