Rose French / The Associated Press & ICHV – 2005-11-29 08:47:58
Barrett Firearms founder Ronnie Barrett shows off his company’s 50-caliber rifle. Photo by Christopher Berkey, Associated Press. Click here for image.
Tennessee Company’s Rifle Triggers Terrorist Fears
Rose French / The Associated Press
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (November 26, 2005) — When US soldiers need to penetrate a tank’s armor from a mile away, they count on a weapon that evolved from the garage tinkering of a former wedding photographer.
The .50-caliber rifle created by Ronnie Barrett and sold by his company, Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Inc., is the most powerful firearm civilians can buy. It weighs about 30 pounds and can hit targets up to 2,000 yards away with armor-piercing bullets.
That kind of power has drawn a customer base of gun enthusiasts, Hollywood actors and Barrett’s most loyal buyer, the US military, which has been buying Barrett’s rifles since the 1980s and using them in combat from the 1991 Gulf War to the present.
But the powerful gun has drawn plenty of critics, who say the rifle could be used by terrorists to bring down commercial airliners or penetrate rail cars and storage plants holding hazardous materials.
For years some state and federal lawmakers have sought to limit or ban the gun’s sale, as California did this year.
Tom Diaz, a senior policy analyst with the Washington-based Violence Policy Center, says the guns should be more regulated and harder to purchase. The gun can now be bought by anyone 18 or older who passes a background check.
“They’re (.50-caliber) easier to buy than a handgun,” Mr. Diaz said. “These are ideal weapons of terrorist attack. Very dangerous elements gravitate toward these weapons.”
The majority of Barrett’s sales come from military orders, for armed forces and police departments in some 50 allied countries. Every branch of the US military uses the rifles, and the Department of Defense last year spent about $8 million on his firearms, Barrett said.
Mr. Barrett estimates about 1,000 of his rifles — which each cost between $3,500 and $10,000 — have been used in both the 1991 Gulf War and the current war in Iraq.
The guns are used by most civilians for hunting big game and in marksmanship competitions. Civilian sales are crucial to business because military and police orders can fluctuate year to year, Mr. Barrett said.
“It’s like, what does a 55-year-old man do with a Corvette? You drive it around and enjoy it,” said Mr. Barrett, 51, whose customers include doctors, lawyers, movie makers and actors. “I know all the current actors who are Barrett rifle shooters, some Academy Award-winning people. But they don’t publicize it. They love to play with them and have fun. Shooting is very fun.”
A 1999 investigation by the US General Accounting Office found the rifles were available on civilian markets with fewer restrictions than those placed on handguns. Ammunition dealers were willing to sell armor-piercing bullets even when an agent pretending to be a buyer said he wanted the ammunition for use against armored limousines or “to take a helicopter down.”
Other reports have observed the rifles have made their way to terrorists, drug cartels and survivalists.
Joseph King, a terrorism expert at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said terrorists could use the weapon to take out a plane.
“I don’t understand what good a .50-caliber is going to do you,” Mr. King said. “I don’t understand any civilian use of it. The only thing it’s good for is for military or police application. You can’t really hunt with it because it would destroy most of the meat.”
Mr. Barrett and gun advocates say the gun’s power has been exaggerated and doesn’t pose a threat to citizens because the weapons are too expensive and heavy to be used by criminals.
Mr. Barrett and other gun advocacy groups heavily lobbied the state of California, the first state to pass a law making it illegal to make and sell the gun. Several other states and some federal lawmakers have introduced similar legislation.
Despite these efforts, Mr. Barrett says sales are up nearly $6 million from last year thanks to recent military and police orders.
The New York City Police Department recently announced it’s training officers in its aviation unit to use the rifles, which will be on board some of the department’s helicopters to intercept potential attacks from boats or airplanes. In 2002, the Army placed an order for 4,200 of the guns, Mr. Barrett said.
Other manufacturers now make the gun, but Barrett dominates the market.
In the next few years, he said he plans to more than double the current number of employees, 80, and the size of his 20,000-square-foot gun-making facility located in Murfreesboro, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville.
A lifelong gun enthusiast, Mr. Barrett never went to college and worked as a commercial photographer and reserve deputy for years before he started tinkering with the .50-caliber Browning Machine Gun in the early 1980s.
The heavy recoil of the Browning made it nearly impossible to shoot without it being mounted on a turret, but Mr. Barrett’s rifle reduces recoil to the point where it can be shoulder-fired, while the weapon rests on a bipod.
Mr. Barrett says he was nearly $1.5 million in debt at one point trying to get the business on its feet. He sold his first guns to the military in the late 1980s and the long-range weapons gained popularity after they were used to attack Iraqi tanks in the 1991 war.
Mr. Barrett’s son, Chris, who works with his sister at their father’s business, said he watched his dad build the gun in the family garage and is not surprised by the growth and success of his father’s business.
“He’s worked hard all his life. I think he would do as well at anything he pursued,” Chris Barrett said. “He’s not one of these big suits, a CEO at the top of one these big money machines. He’s not one to back down. He can make anything work, no matter what he’s doing.”
Deadly Fifty-Caliber Sniper Rifles Threaten Homeland Security
Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence http://www.ichv.org/PressReleases.htm
(July 22nd, 2005) — Fifty-caliber sniper rifles pose a serious threat to America’s national security, according to the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (ICHV). Joined by representatives from the Illinois state police, local law enforcement, and state and federal representatives, advocates from ICHV engaged in a five-city media tour to Champaign-Urbana, St. Louis, Quincy, Rock Island-Moline, and Peoria to highlight a national study reporting the dangers that .50-caliber sniper rifles pose to national security and the general public.
The study, “Clear and Present Danger: National Security Experts Warn About the Danger of Unrestricted Sales of 50-caliber Anti-Armor Sniper Rifles to Civilians,” was released July 19th and conducted by the Washington, DC-based Violence Policy Center (www.vpc.org/studies/50danger.pdf ).
Fifty caliber sniper rifles were designed as battlefield rifles to destroy aircraft, puncture armor, attack fuel depots and other materiel targets, and to be used for assassination due to the rifle’s astonishing range and firepower. These high-powered sniper rifles can also fire highly lethal armor piercing and incendiary ammunition, which are currently legal and easily obtained.
It was the terrorist threat of .50-caliber sniper rifles that prompted Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign legislation in California to restrict the .50-caliber rifle to military and law enforcement officials only.
“The combination of distance, firepower, and lethal ammunition put .50-caliber sniper rifles in a class of their own,” said Thom Mannard, Executive Director for ICHV. “It should be the priority of every lawmaker to protect our residents and families from the dangers posed by these powerful sniper rifles.”
Quincy Deputy Chief of Police Ron Dreyer attended the July 20th press event at the Quincy Police Department. “This isn’t about the 2nd Amendment,” stated Deputy Chief Dreyer, “this is about protecting our citizens from terrorism.”
Perhaps the starkest wake-up call to anti-terrorism officials is the admission by the inventor and leading manufacturer of the weapon, Barrett Firearms, that the rifle can take down jet aircraft. A Barrett Firearms marketing brochure from the late 1980’s boasts 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 brochure continues: “The cost-effectiveness of the Model 82A1 [50-caliber sniper rifle] cannot be overemphasized when a round of ammunition purchased for less than $10 can be used to destroy or disable a modern jet aircraft.”
In addition to the threat to modern airplanes, .50-caliber sniper rifles also pose a significant threat to our state’s many nuclear power and chemical plants.
“Illinois houses several chemical plants and 11 nuclear power plants, many of which are located in or near densely populated areas,” Mannard stated. “If terrorists obtain .50-caliber sniper rifles, our state’s nuclear power and chemical plants would be easy targets for attacks, and the damage done would be devastating and likely irreversible.”
Phil Hare, District Representative for Congressman Lane Evans (D-17th), attended the July 21st press conference in Moline, Illinois on behalf of the Congressman.
“We’re spending billions of dollars on homeland security to prevent terrorist attacks, yet we’re allowing these weapons to be sold on the open market,” Hare remarked. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
“Fifty caliber weapons pose a huge threat to the safety and security of our state and our nation, and they serve no legitimate civilian function. There are too many airports, too many vulnerable chemical and nuclear plants and other high-profile targets in Illinois for us to do nothing about the threat posed by these weapons,” said Mannard. “We must take action now to stop would be terrorists and criminals from getting these weapons before it’s too late. This is about our national security and preventing terrorism.”
For more information visit www.50caliberterror.com or www.ichv.org.