01 December 2009

Are .50 Calibre Sniper rifles used in crimes?

Really now!

The .50 BMG cartridge is used in long-range target and sniper rifles. A skilled sniper using this round can effectively neutralize an infantry unit by eliminating several targets (soldiers or equipment) without revealing his precise location. The long range (1 mile+) between firing position and target allows time for the sniper to avoid enemy retribution by either changing positions repeatedly, or by safely retreating.

A McMillan Tac-50 .50 BMG sniper rifle was used by Canadian Corporal Rob Furlong to bring off the longest-range confirmed sniper kill in history, when he shot a Taliban combatant at 2,430 meters (2,657 yards) during the 2002 campaign in Afghanistan.

Wouldn't it make sense that criminals and others who might have less than noble intent be interested in such a weapon?

The Violence Policy Center documents 4 actual uses of .50 BMG rifles by criminals as well as 18 additional cases in which a .50 caliber rifle was recovered from the possession of a criminal without the gun having been used in a crime. The General Accounting Office report "Weaponry: .50 Caliber Rifle Crime," GAO Office of Special Investigations letter, August 4, 1999, stated that there was a nexus between the .50 and terrorism, outlaw motorcycle gangs, international and domestic drug trafficking, and violent crime.

While these rifles may be large and difficult to conceal, they are still usable by terrorists and those who would want either high-powered destructive capability (i.e., they are used for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)) .

This destructive ability can be utilised by terrorists to destroy chemical plants and refineries. For example:

In a May 2005 report to Rhode Island’s attorney general, former National Security Adviser Richard A. Clarke warned about the potential use of 50s by terrorists in attacks on liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and tankers in the United States, “Weapons and other capabilities needed to conduct an attack on an urban LNG off loading facility or an LNG tanker can be readily obtained in the US, according to US Government reports....Fifty caliber rifles with antiarmor shells are readily available in the US.”

In April 2006, it was inadvertently revealed on an Air Force base website that government security entities specifically identified 50 caliber sniper rifles as a threat to the oxygen tanks that supply the medical facilities aboard Air Force One.

A Barrett Firearms marketing brochure from the late 80's boasted that its 50 caliber sniper rifles were capable of destroying aircraft with a single shot. The company brochure released by the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence stated that jet engines and helicopters "are likely targets for the weapon [50 caliber sniper rifle], making it capable of destroying multi-million dollar aircraft with a single hit delivered to a vital area."

The marketing brochure has now become a damning and embarrassing admission by the gun lobby and 50 caliber manufacturers who are now attempting to deny and obfuscate the terrorist threat posed by these lethal weapons. Although Barrett Firearms still markets and sells the model 82-A1 .50 caliber sniper rifle -- the model highlighted in the company's brochure -- Barrett Firearms has tried to mislead the media by stating that the brochure referred to rifles only available to the military, an assertion that is simply not true, these weapons are available with little or no restrictions.

The .50 round was used by the Branch Davidian cult members in Waco, Texas where four ATF agents were killed. The Davidians fired 50 caliber sniper rifles at federal ATF agents during their initial gun battle on February 28, 1993. The weapons' ability to penetrate tactical vehicles prompted the agency to request military armored vehicles to give agents adequate protection from the .50 caliber rifles and other more powerful weapons the Branch Davidians might also have possessed.

In addition to the criminal misuses and terrorist interest, we have incidents such as the one at the Texas Motor Speedway in early November 2008 where Jill King Moss, 62, was hit in her arm by a .50-caliber bullet that pierced the roof of her RV. Fort Worth police investigators had reason to believe the bullet came from a long distance away given the bullet’s trajectory. A person who was target shooting five miles away from Texas Motor Speedway between 10 and 11 a.m might have been the shooter!

The answer is "yes" these weapons have been used and are possessed by criminals. Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network bought 25 Barrett .50 Caliber sniper rifles in the late 1980s. We can only guess as to when one will be used by a terrorist. It doesn't take too much intelligence to know how much havoc a sniper can cause. After all, Ten people were killed and three others critically injured in various locations throughout the Washington Metropolitan Area and along Interstate 95 in Virginia during a three week period in October 2002. Don't you think that terrorists would do this again in the US?

The question is really why would anyone defend unrestricted civilian ownership of such a rifle given its potential for misuse? Additionally, if there are terrorist uses of this weapon in the United States, as there have been in other countries, how will those who defend access react?