SELLING HIGH POWERED MILITARY WEAPONS IN THE SUBURBS The Threat of .50 Caliber Armor-Piecing Sniper Rifles In 1987, Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Inc., patented its self-described "armor-penetrating" .50 caliber BMG sniper rifle. Capable of destroying armored personnel carriers, aircraft and bulk fuel and ammunition sites, the .50 caliber sniper rifle is now proliferating in the civilian market. Accurate at up to 2,000 yards (20 football fields end-to-end) it can inflict effective damage to targets over four miles away. With more power on impact then any other semi-automatic rifle legally available on the civilian market, the .50 caliber represents a serious threat to our local law enforcement and national security. First used by the military during the Gulf War, the .50 caliber BMG anti-armor sniper rifle is no ordinary rifle. Its design enables the destruction of military aircraft and heavy machinery from long ranges. The concept of discrete shooting distances shaped its use and image as an ideal sniper weapon. The .50 caliber was designed with the most exceptional power, accuracy and destructive characteristics of all semi-automatic rifles. The key to its lethality is the .50 caliber bullet. Although the size of the rounds is alarming, it is the energy at impact (ft-lb) that makes the rounds so destructive. Fifty caliber ammunition has more than 7 times the power on impact as the .30-06, 5 times that of the .308 and over three times that of the .338. The deadliest .50 caliber ammunition is the Raufoss multi-purpose round. These bullets combine armor-piercing, explosive, and incendiary effects for maximum destruction. The United States Marine Corps notes that the Raufoss multi-purpose round can penetrate an inch of steel at 2000 yards. Additionally, International Defense Review estimates that the round is "probably capable of disabling a man wearing body armor who is standing behind the wall of a house at 2,000 meters." The impact of these rounds are so horrific that in 1998 the International Committee of the Red Cross tried to have the round declared an "exploding bullet" banned under international law. An excerpt from Sniper: The Skills, the Weapons, and the Experience provides an example of how the U.S. military exploited its tremendous firepower during the Gulf War: "The Barrett M82A1 was used in the Gulf War; a hundred rifles were rushed to the Marine Corps in time to see action in the desert. In one engagement, Sergeant Kenneth Terry of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, hit and knocked out an Iraqi BMP armored personnel carrier with two armor-piercing incendiary rounds at a range of 1100 meters." The most regularly used round of .50 caliber ammunition is called the "ball." According to the U.S. Army, ball ammunition is so powerful it can penetrate one inch of concrete, six inches of sand, and 21 inches of clay at a range of 1,640 yards. At a range of 38 yards it can penetrate an inch of armor plate and 16 inches of log wall. Armor-piercing and incendiary ammunition is another basic .50 caliber round which the U.S. Army uses against armored aircrafts and lightly armored vehicles. The armor piercing incendiary rounds are tipped with phosphorous that explodes on impact and burns at 3,000 degrees. These rounds will ignite almost any fuel they encounter, and if shot into a tree will set the tree on fire. Sale to Civilian Population Although primarily used by militaries around the world, the .50 caliber sniper rifle and its various types of ammunition are readily available to the public. Forbes Magazine noted that in recent years the number of manufacturers of the sniper rifles for civilians has increased from one in 1987 to possibly as many as 24 today. The boom in interest in the weapon propels this increased number of manufacturers. Drastic reduction in price of the .50 caliber rifle has stimulated increased sale and access to the weapons. The increase in sales is most apparent at the lower end of the price spectrum. A .50 caliber BMG sniper rifle can be purchased online for just over $1,000. While there is no evidence that the .50 caliber sniper rifle was designed for recreational use, its manufacturers have often labeled it as a sporting rifle to legitimize their sale of this deadly weapon to the public. Curt Bartlett, Chief of the Firearms Technical Branch at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms', illustrated just how inappropriate the .50 caliber sniper rifle is for sport when he said, "anything bigger would be getting into the range of cannons." Unfortunately, along with everyday citizens, potential terrorists, militia members and other violent individuals also have easy access to both the armor piercing ammunition and the sniper rifles at gun stores, over the internet, at gun shows and through person to person sales. Marketing to the Snipers and Terrorists Sales literature from Barrett Firearms Manufacturing and E.D.M. Arms, respectively, tout the .50 caliber sniper rifle as capable of "destroying multimillion dollar aircraft with a single hit delivered to a vital area" and to "attack various material targets such as parked aircraft, radar sites ammunition, petroleum and various thin-skinned material targets." Additionally, manufacturers themselves advertise these weapons as "sniper" rifles and use slogans such as "When your mission objective is further than the eye can see." The World's Sniping Rifles, a catalogue of various caliber rifles and accessories, explains how the Barrett Company even promoted the weapon's ability to destroy jet aircraft: "There was a good deal of skepticism at the thought of using such a heavy weapon for sniping but, after Barrett pointed out that the object was to wreck several million dollars' worth of jet aircraft with one or two dollars' worth of cartridge, the whole thing began to make more sense and the idea spread." Opponents of regulating the sniper rifle repeatedly claim that they are used exclusively for target shooting by sports enthusiasts. This is an effort to hide from the American public the devastating capabilities of .50 caliber rifles proliferating in their backyards. The apparent disregard for the safety of the community was not lost on GAO investigators who were hastened by dealers to buy their weapons soon because of the possibility that fifty caliber rifles would be banned in the future as a result of their power. One dealer stated to a GAO investigator: "You'd better buy one soon. It's only a matter of time before someone lets a round go on a range that travels so far, it hits a school bus full of kids. The government will definitely ban .50 calibers. The gun is just too powerful."  Also, proponents argue that .50 caliber BMG rifles are huge, heavy, and clumsy and unlikely to be used in either terrorists or criminal acts. This argument rings hollow when they continue to design weapons such as the Windrunner XM-107 and the Windrunner M96 .50 Caliber BMG which EDM Arms advertises as a "lightweight tactical takedown .50 Cal. BMG bolt-action repeating rifle" capable of being broken down and collapsing into a "very small inconspicuous package". The Windrunner M96 can be taken-down into 5 pieces in less than 1 minute. Terrorist and Criminal Use of .50 Caliber Sniper Rifles According, to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), the .50 caliber sniper rifle has a dangerous history of criminal misuse. This can only worsen as the weapon becomes cheaper and more readily available. BATF has linked .50 caliber BMG sniper rifles to drug dealers, international drug cartels, militia and terrorist groups and a religious cult. Additionally, a 1999 report by the General Accounting Office, "Criminal Activity Associated with .50 Caliber Semiautomatic Rifles," stated that of 27 traces involving the Barrett M82A1 (one of the most popular .50 caliber rifles on the market) 18 (66%) were associated with criminal activity. As part of its investigation for the Committee on Government Reform, GAO investigators traced .50 caliber sniper rifles seized from crime suspects and found that many of the weapons were discovered in what they described as "the scene of some extremely troubling criminal activities" including international terrorism and foreign drug cartels. GAO investigators concluded that, "the accessibility of these weapons in the United States is becoming known worldwide." The following summarizes a few cases in which .50 caliber sniper rifles have been identified. Drug dealers in California, Missouri and Indiana were in possession of .50 caliber sniper rifles that were recovered by state police authorities using search warrants. An international drug cartel in Mexico was discovered with a .50 caliber sniper rifle and 100 AK47s at the scene of a multiple homicide shootout. The Los Angeles Police Department assisted Mexican authorities in tracing the .50 caliber sniper rifle to a gun dealer in Wyoming. Three members of the radical North American Militia arrested in a plot to bomb federal office buildings, destroy highways, utilities and public roads, and assassinate the state's governor, senior U.S. Senator, federal judges and other federal officials had a .50 caliber sniper rifle in their possession. All were ultimately convicted. A member of the radical Mountaineer Militia in West Virginia was arrested by federal agents in a plot to bomb an FBI office. A search of the suspect's home recovered a .50 caliber sniper rifle. Seven suspects with two .50 caliber sniper rifles were arrested by the U.S. Coast Guard in the Caribbean in a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro by using the .50 caliber sniper rifles to shoot down his plane off the coast of Venezuela.[11 & 13] Canadian officials found a .50 caliber sniper rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition for it, along with explosives, at a remote site. A Texas militia group was suspected of running an illegal training camp. BATF agents reported that the Branch Davidians at Waco fired .50 caliber sniper rifles at BATF agents attempting to execute a search warrant. BATF had requested the use of Bradley Fighting Vehicles to execute the search warrant because the Bradley is believed capable of withstanding .50 caliber firearms. But the Bradley's were not used and four agents were killed. Two members of a doomsday religious cult in Montana that build underground bunkers were convicted for using false identification to stockpile ten .50 caliber sniper rifles along with other firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition. A survivalist/tax protester in Georgia who had stockpiled firearms including two .50 caliber sniper rifles purchased with false identification was arrested in a joint raid by BATF and the IRS. The suspect also had 100,000 rounds of ammunition, silencers and $400,000 in gold, jewelry and cash.[11 & 13] A .50-caliber sniper rifle, smuggled out of the United States, was used by the Irish Republican Army to kill a large number of British soldiers. Federal law Despite their destructive threat .50 caliber sniper rifles are only subject to the same minimal federal regulations as shotguns, hunting rifles and smaller target rifles. You only need to show a driver's license, be 18 years of age and pass a minimal background check in order to buy the .50 caliber sniper rifle. No federal limits exist on the purchase of armor-piercing ammunition for the .50 caliber rifle. There are no federal limits on resale of the firearm. The buyer is not even subject to a background check unless the gun is being resold by a federal gun dealer. Pending Legislation Related to .50 Caliber BMG Sniper Rifles In recent years a push to curb the proliferation of the .50 caliber rifles has been underway. On February 23, 2003, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced federal legislation to curb the sale of the powerful .50 caliber military sniper rifle, making it more difficult for terrorists, criminals, and members of doomsday cults to obtain these deadly weapons. In addition to federal legislation, states, cities and counties are also responding to the threat posed by these weapons. Maryland restricts the Barrett model 82A1 .50 caliber sniper rifle. Legislation has been introduced in California, Illinois, New York and Virginia to prohibit the sale of .50 caliber sniper rifles. Los Angeles has prohibited the sale of .50 caliber sniper rifles. The Terrorist Threat Everyday life in America changed forever on September 11, 2001. Americans lost the ability to close our eyes to the potential of criminal or terrorist use of high-powered weapons for mass destruction and chaos. Steps have been taken at all levels of government to make us safer. We encounter extra security at airports, bridges and ports and increased police deployments. Fifty caliber sniper rifles are just the type of weapons we should be protecting ourselves against. Criminals, terrorists and violent individuals have easy access to the .50 caliber BMG sniper rifle. Banning the importation and transfer of .50 caliber BMG armor-piecing sniper rifles is a sensible step, which could save countless lives. The .50 caliber BMG armor-piercing rifle is designed for sniper accuracy over great distance with devastating impact. There is no justification for allowing such a powerful and deadly weapon to be sold in our neighborhoods. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Endnotes: Pouzzner, Daniel "An Investigation of the Fifty Caliber Rifle Capabilities" March, 26, 2001. Distributed by the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association U.S Marine Corps, Department of the Navy Warfaring Publication 3-35.3, Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain, Appendix B, "Employment and Effects of Weapons", B-8 "Change Driven by New Ammunition." International Defense Review, June 1, 1994, 71 International Efforts to Restrict or Prohibit Military Small Arms, presentation by W. Hays Parks, Office of The Judge Advocate General of the Army, International and Operational Law Division, to 2000 Joint Services Small Arms Symposium, August 28-31, 2000, http://www.dtic.mil/ndia/smallarms/ on September 23, 2001. Adrian Gilbert, Sniper: The Skills, the Weapons, and the Experiences, 214, St. Martin's Press (New York 1994). U.S. Department of the Army, Field Manual 23-65, Browning Machine Gun Caliber .50 HB, M2 (June 1991), Chapter 1, Table1-6, "Maximum penetration for ball cartridge." "Size Matters," Forbes Magazine, 1 October 2001, p. 109. Wald, Matthew L. "Citing Danger to Planes Group Seeks Ban on a Sniper Rifle." New York Times Feb. 31, 2003, A-13 Christensen Arms advertisement of CarbonRanger .50 BMG rifle in Very High Power, The Magazine of the Fifty Caliber Shooters Association. 2002-2 p. 45 Ian V. Hogg, The World's Sniping Rifles, with Sighting Systems and Ammunition, 108, Stackpole Books (Pennsylvania 1998). Long Range Fifty Caliber Sniper Weapons, prepared by Government Accounting Office for U.S. House of Representative, Committee on Government Reform. May 3, 1999. EDM Arms homepage: www.edmarms.com/main.htm Office of Special Investigations, U.S. General Accounting Office, Briefing Paper: Criminal Activity Associated with .50 Caliber Semiautomatic Rifles, Number GAO/OSI-99-15R, presented to representatives of the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform, 15 July 1999. Tom Diaz, Voting From the Rooftops, Violence Policy Center, 2001.