Saturday, February 01, 2003

The NY Times reports that the VPC is making a push for the ban of all .50 caliber rifles, claiming that they are an ideal weapon for terrorists who wish to shoot down planes. They also have a press release stating that .50 caliber rifles are easier to buy than handguns. The press release is being used to promote a 'study' of theirs which supposedly shows the danger of rifles chambered from this cartridge to commercial aircraft.
The good folks over at have a few pages that attempt to counter some of the statements made by the VPC. Start here & at the bottom of the page there'll be other links that follow up on the subject.

Let's deal with just a couple of things from the VPC's 32 page 'study':

The VPC claims the sales are unregulated.

All firearms sales from a licensed dealer are regulated by the GCA of '68 & further by the Brady law. A background check from the FBI must be satisfied for the purchase of any rifle, including .50 caliber rifles.

The VPC claims that due to lax federal record keeping that the number of .50 caliber rifles in civilian hands is unknown.

Actually a federal law prohibits any kind of gun registration on the federal level. The purpose of this law is to keep the government from being in a position to easily disarm the populace. Whether or not you feel that such a law is necessary it is currently a law & the reason for not knowing who owns a firearm or how many specific types of firearms are in civilian hands. So it's not lax federal record keeping that is the cause of this, it's a law.

It is easier to purchase a .50 caliber rifle than it is to purchase a handgun.

Yes it is. However in only two specific ways: according to the GCA of '68 a handgun may not be purchased across state lines. It must be purchased in the state of residence of the buyer. The Brady law, I believe, amended the GCA of '68 to allow the purchase of rifles & shotguns across state lines. The other way handguns are more restricted is that handguns may be purchased only by persons 21 years old & over, where as the age restriction on long arms, which includes the .50 caliber rifles, is only 18.
To put this into perspective, say a terrorist wanted to buy a .50 caliber rifle through a gun store. He must be at least 18 & have a clean enough record to get by the FBI's background check. He must also be a U.S. resident & if not a citizen must have additional approval from several government agencies. Assuming he meets all the criteria he must have the $1,000 to $10,000 to purchase the model of rifle his heart desires, then lug the 35 lb. 4'+ package to wherever he's going.
For a handgun the terrorist must wait until he's 21 & may only purchase at a store in his state of residence & again, must meet all the above requirements. But he need only come up with $150 to $900 again, depending upon his model of choice & then slip it into a bag or pocket after he leaves the store.
The theory is that handguns should be more tightly regulated not because of their power, but because of their concealability. You notice when someone walks around with a 35 lb, 4'+ rifle in their pocket. The same is not true of a handgun. & again, the same background checks & criteria must be met for the purchase of either a handgun or a .50 caliber rifle. So the statement that .50 caliber rifles are easier to obtain than handguns is factually correct. However both are subject to the same background checks & other criteria which take the substance out of their effort to cause alarm over this fact.
& it should be pointed out that the VPC along with other gun control groups, pushed very hard for the passage of the Brady Bill, which instituted these F.B.I. background checks & have repeatedly made claims to their effectiveness in preventing arms from falling into the wrong hands. But it seems that the background checks they demanded are not sufficient for them in the case of .50 BMG rifles.

The VPC claims that such rifles have no sporting use & are a significant danger to commercial aircraft.

People have been using the .50 BMG cartridge chambered in bolt action & semi-automatic rifles for close to twenty years now. In the southwest they are extremely popular among target shooters who use them in competitions up to 2,000 yards. The VPC's assertion that they have no sporting use is false, & is a cleverly designed trap. The GCA of '68, which was written by Sen. Dodd, contains the sporting use test for the importation of arms. Actually the GCA of '68 wasn't the first law to use the sporting use test to determine eligibility for importation. In fact it seems that Senator Dodd lifted the entire language of the GCA of '68 from a Nazi law passed on March 18th of 1938. What the VPC attempts is to cause a debate over whether the .50 caliber rifles do in fact serve a sporting purpose. They obviously hope most will conclude that they do not, but therein lay the trap. If you get so caught up proving or disproving a particular arms sporting purpose, you will accept the sporting purpose clause as a legitimate test. In fact the Constitutions prohibition on the federal government from enacting any laws that interfere with an individuals' ability to own & possess weapons does not mention a sporting clause exception. In fact it asserts that the ownership of weapons is essential for a militia, & therefore it can be correctly assumed that military weapons, or weapons with a non sporting purpose, are the specific objects of protection. So to argue that a .50 caliber weapon has a sporting purpose is irrelevant, as sporting purpose is a clause in a law that is in direct contradiction to the U.S. Constitution.

The VPC's claims that the .50 caliber rifle presents a danger to civilian aircraft.

Again, this is a mis-statement of a fact designed to create a public outcry. A .50 caliber rifle is no danger to anything. A person with a criminal intent is a danger to almost anything.
As for a .50 caliber rifle being the ideal choice for taking out a plane or a helicopter, this is not necessarily the case.
In a purely military function where stealth & secrecy were not an issue, then a .50 caliber rifle could be used to disable aircraft on the ground. Disabling airplanes in flight is possible, but highly unlikely. More or less the plane would have to be coming right at you at a steep angle, say 15 degrees or so. Helicopters would be easier targets, but only if they too were fairly close to the ground & to the rifleman. But before you get to excited keep in mind that these rifles are heavy, designed to be shot from the ground, & fire a single projectile. Airplanes & helicopters travel at some altitude, & travel at a good speed. Skeet shooters aim at a clay target traveling at roughly 30 miles an hour. They use lightweight guns that propel multiple projectiles in a pattern which usually covers a 30 inch circle at 40 yards. They shoot at these targets from between 10 & 50 yards. It takes much practice to develop your skills where you would hit 50% of the targets you aim at. Aiming a 35 lb. rifle that fires a single projectile at a target moving 300+ miles an hour that's anywhere more than 25 yards distant is the epitome of optimism.
Were stealth to be a consideration, it would be much easier & much more effective to use a .30 caliber rifle, similar to the one your granddaddy hunted deer with. They would be just as effective in piercing the aircrafts covering as a .50 BMG rifle, & much easier to move into & out of concealment with. The VPV doesn't mention that a commercial aircraft has a relatively thin covering & that some BB guns could penetrate it.

Again though, we are left with not whether a weapon is dangerous, but whether the owner of said weapon is dangerous. Were the VPC to get their legislative wish then the .50 BMG would pose just as credible a threat to aircraft as it does now. But law abiding civilians would not only be denied a source of enjoyment through extremely long range target shooting, the states respectively would be denied a tool in the hands of their militias.

This push by the VPC for the ban of a particular type of arm is merely a step in pushing for a ban of all civilian possessed arms. They are attempting to create a fear in the public of a rifle that has been legal to own ever since it's creation. & the methods they use, both in the media & in the legislature, will be used again & again until no one owns arms outside of the military & police. The VPC even has a site devoted to the ban of all handguns in civilian possession. It would be illogical to assume that anything short of a complete & total ban on all civilian firearms would appease them. 'Assault weapons' were the first step, then .50 caliber rifles. 'Junk guns', or 'saturday night specials' would be next, followed by all handguns & ultimately all arms.

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