Assm Eddington Takes Aim at .50 Caliber Guns

By Greg Hitchcock

It is 6:30 on a lovely Friday morning at Albany International Airport. As Delta Air Lines Flight DL 2705 taxis to the runway, the passengers are peacefully anticipating an early morning commute to Newark. As the plane takes off, a shot is heard in the distance which rips through the plane, causing it to crash and burn. A victim of a terrorist using a .50 caliber rifle.

This scenario, or a similar attack on a train or fuel depot, has raised concerns regarding the high power, high accuracy weapon. In a series of gun control bills passed by the New York State Assembly on March 15, 2004, A.7039 would prohibit the possession, use, transport, disposal, defacing or sale of .50 caliber weapons. This bill would institute a reimbursement program where dealers would be entitled to return these weapons to manufacturers for a refund or credit equal to the purchase price. Also eligible for reimbursement under the program would be any person lawfully possessing .50 caliber weapons prior to the bill's enactment. Weapons could be surrendered to state police for a fair-market-value rate of up to $8,500.

NY Assmblywoman Patricial Eddington.jpg - 4.43 K

NY Assemblywoman Patricia A. Eddington
(D, I, WFP) - 3rd District

"The .50 caliber sniper rifle is the weapon of choice for terrorists," stated Assemblywoman Patricia Eddington (D/I/WFP-3rd District), who sponsored the bill. She said, "Twenty five rifles were sold to the Al Qaeda terrorist network and the Branch Davidian cult had these rifles in the standoff with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in Waco, Texas." According to the Violence Policy Center, a national non-profit education foundation that conducts research on violence in America and works to develop violence reduction policies and proposals, there is no way of knowing how many other sniper rifles have been sold to Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations. However, at least two, and probably more, Barret .50 caliber rifles were sold to the Irish Republican Army which used them to assassinate British troops and Irish constables in Northern Ireland.

Visiting Eddington in her office, I was shown a Marine training film which showed the firepower of the weapon which went through 3.5 inches of armor plating. With a scope, the distance is accurate up to 2,000 yards and up to 7,000 yards traveling at a speed of 4,000 feet per second. "The distance is as long as 75 football fields," Eddington emphasized. "I started to take serious thought on banning a weapon of this sort when the Federal Aviation Administration said its greatest fear was from a .50 caliber sniper rifle capable of shooting down a plane. The bullet can go right through a fuselage of a plane," she said.

Fifty caliber rifles, used by our troops in Iraq and around the world, can penetrate armor plating, yet they are as easy to buy as a hunting rifle, and less restricted than handguns. The .50 caliber market has exploded. There is an array of new manufacturers, a proliferation of models, and a dramatic reduction in price. Today, .50 caliber rifles are still easier to buy than handguns: a youth of 18 years old can legally buy a sniper rifle, but cannot buy a handgun until age 21.

Eddington strongly believes that if we don't ban the weapons now, it will just make it more accessible to terrorists. "The police force are supportive of the bill because the bullets go through armor plating," she states. "There are no statistics on the number of killed by .50 caliber rifles, but why do we wait until something happens. We should prevent it beforehand. You don't have to jump off the Empire State Building to find out what will happen," Eddington said. "My opinion is we should be protective, proactive, and preventive."

Those that oppose banning .50 caliber rifles do so for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a perceived infringement of the 2nd Amendment, which guarantees citizens the right to keep and bear arms. According to the National Rifle Association, anti-gun organizations like the Violence Policy Center are not interested in restricting .50 caliber rifles alone. They are trying to create a bogus .50 caliber rifle "issue", hoping to use it to achieve what they really want: to have the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms given regulatory authority to ban all handguns and to ban or severely restrict all other firearms. The NRA also cite that .50 caliber rifles are not used in crimes. Costing thousands of dollars, measuring 4 to 5 feet in length, and weighing 22 to 34 pounds, they're way too expensive and cumbersome for run-of-the-mill criminals.

For more than a century, long range target shooting competitions have attracted the interest of marksmen, and modern .50 caliber rifles are among the most accurate for long range shooting. The rifles are also the most expensive made, confining their purchase to dedicated marksmen and collectors. "For the past ten to fifteen years, there have been approximately 1500 New Yorkers competing in .50 caliber rifle competitions," said Thomas King, President of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association. "The anti-gun advocates are just building on the public's terrorism hysteria to ban guns," stated King. "This is the first attempt by the state to confiscate personal property and will set a serious precedent. For example, if they get a big enough constituency, will they start banning SUVs?"

The guns have already been banned in Los Angeles and Contra Costa County, California. Nationally, Representative James P. Moran (D-VA) introduced a bill (H.R. 4292) to ban the commercial sale of .50 caliber sniper rifles, with exceptions for military and law enforcement use. In New York, a vote is pending in the State Senate.