Wednesday, January 12, 2005


I can't say I would be greatly bothered if this one were banned. It is handguns that are needed for citizen protection. Getting them made legal in all jurisdictions is clearly the top priority

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger decided there's a weapon that's too dangerous to be in the hands of private citizens. This past week, a new law went into effect in California banning that weapon. It's the .50-caliber rifle, the Rolls Royce of sniper rifles. It's a big gun, a favorite of armies around the world, and it's still available in 49 states in this country to anyone over 18 with a clean record. It is, without a doubt, the most powerful weapon you can buy. And, as Correspondent Ed Bradley reports, it's powerful enough to kill a man or pierce armor from more than a mile away. A Senate report said that a bullet from a .50-caliber rifle, even at 1.5 miles, crashes into a target with more energy than a bullet fired at point-blank range from Dirty Harry's famous .44 Magnum.

The .50-caliber rifle, one of the world's best combat weapons, was invented 22 years ago in Murfreesboro, Tenn., by Ronnie Barrett. How did he come up with the idea? "I was just a 26-year-old kid, and didn't know any better," he says. But he knew enough to design a weapon that today is used by the armed forces of 35 different countries. He showed 60 Minutes a semi-automatic 82A1 rifle. "This was the first rifle that I designed, and has been our most popular rifle," he says. "This is the one that the United States Army ordered. Matter of fact, this is a U.S. Army rifle here."

Even though the .50-caliber rifle is a military-grade weapon, federal gun laws treat it like any other hunting rifle, and Barrett can sell the gun to civilians. He says he needs to, because military sales vary widely from year to year. "If it weren't for the civilian sales, I wouldn't be here. There's a lot of defense contractors that would not be here," says Barrett. He has sold thousands of .50-caliber rifles to private citizens who, he says, want the guns for target shooting and big game hunting.

But he scoffs at critics who claim that .50-caliber rifles are too dangerous in the hands of civilians. "The .50 has an excellent record. You know, as far as the abuses with .50-caliber rifles, they are so few, if any, that all other calibers ought to aspire to have as good a record as it has," says Barrett. "And it's a long rifle. When you hear people say it's a criminal's weapon, this is 5-and-a-half feet tall, or something like that. This is not a weapon that a criminal would use."

It's not convenience store robberies that worry Tom Diaz, a gun control advocate who was an expert witness in the California campaign to ban the gun. Diaz says the .50-caliber rifle made by Barrett and other manufacturers is a menace in the hands of terrorists. "This gun is designed and built to smash things up and to set things on fire," says Diaz. "It's a battlefield weapon. Yet it is sold as freely on the American civilian market as a .22 bolt action rifle."

What's wrong with Barrett's product? "I'm glad Ronnie Barrett makes his rifle for our military forces. I think it's a great thing on the battlefield," says Diaz. "I just think that there are certain occasions when we say in our society, this product is such a threat to our health and safety, and in this case, our national security, we will not allow it."

But isn't any gun in the hands of a terrorist a threat? "Well of course any gun is. But it is a gun that is unparalleled by any other small arm available to civilians," says Diaz. "We control every other kind of weapon of war you can think of - machine guns, plastic explosives, rockets. But this thing has flown under the radar for about 20 years."

Why would you need a weapon this powerful if you're not fighting a war? "It's a target rifle. It's a toy," says Barrett. "It's a high-end adult recreational toy. Any rifle in the hands of a terrorist is a deadly weapon."

More here

South Africa: Gun lobby vows court action against license rules : "The chaos surrounding the relicensing of legal firearms deepened yesterday with promises that the standards to apply to existing owners would be challenged in court if left as published by the National Qualifications Authority. There have also been charges that standards for the relicensing of existing weapons are being manipulated to make it as difficult as possible to challenge them. The draft unit standard for an individual to renew a gun licence was published only in mid-December while the time allocated for public comment runs out this Sunday."

Suspended sentence for man with guns: "A one-year suspended sentence has been handed to a former Saskatoon police staff sergeant who illegally stored guns in his home. Thomas Vanin had previously pleaded guilty to three weapons offences. Nearly 100 guns were discovered in his house and on his property more than four years ago. The 61-year-old man collected the weapons when he was in charge of destroying illegal firearms."

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