Freedom Rings at the Big Gun Shoot

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Freedom Rings at the Big Gun Shoot

by Ari Armstrong, May 17, 2005

My wife, a friend, and I drove out to Cheyenne Wells in eastern Colorado to attend a big-gun shoot organized by the Rocky Mountain Fifty Caliber Shooting Association. The event ran from May 13-15; we went on Saturday. The event raised several thousand dollars for the local fire department. Bob McBride, who organized the event, said this year's shoot featured over 200 shooters (who must register for the event in advance) and over 2,000 attendees.

"It's better than watching the history channel," said one shooter whose group featured a WWI British 4.5 inch Howitzer.


Your tireless author conducts research.

Scores of people camped in the field, mostly in RVs, and families, couples, and groups of friends strolled up and down the line, asking the shooters about their guns and occasionally firing a few rounds. From a platform atop a trailer, the main range officer blared commands through a set of speakers. Line officers paced up and down the range, ensuring a safe firing line.

In an article due out on May 19 in Boulder Weekly, I criticize the recent attempts to demonize .50 caliber shooters and subject them to more taxes and monitoring. I argue that .50 caliber shooting is a great way to bring people together to share experiences and knowledge, and it also serves to keep the country safer by helping people become responsible gun owners who can better resist foreign attacks. My purpose here is to share some photographs and assorted notes of the event.

Bob McBride

The shoot serves an educational purpose, said McBride (pictured at left), who learned to appreciate firearms while serving in the military.

"As firearms owners," McBride lamented, "we're always on our heels. The anti-gunners always define the issue, and that definition is aided and abetted by the major media. So that assault weapons, that are not assault weapons, are branded as such, and then they whip up the hysteria..."

Thankfully, the so-called "assault weapons ban" on production and importation recently expired.

McBride continued, "We show that you can shoot 1,000 rounds into an old mobile home before it goes up in flames. And yet in Hollywood, you can shoot a 9 mm handgun at a car and it blows up and rolls over. We put a car out here that was specially rigged with propane tanks, and everything else we could think of that was flammable... and you saw how long that thing ran. It runs and runs and runs. [The car was rigged to run slowly in a circle.] So Hollywood is basically one of the biggest (what's the ten-dollar word) progenitors of falsehoods and misconceptions on firearms.

"Did you see our silencer demonstration down there? Every year we do a demonstration, we get a hundred people back there, and they can't believe how Hollywood twists the portrayal of silencers and machine guns. So basically we're trying to do a public service to re-educate people. But in a way I feel like I'm preaching to the choir."

McBride said the prohibitive costs of the most highly restricted guns threaten the continuation of knowledge about those guns. "I think I'm probably going to be the last generation, because there are very few young people who can buy into this. It's a very expensive hobby. Very expensive. Machine guns have gone up a hundred fold since 1986."

Non-automatic .50 caliber rifles remain available as "Class 1" guns for a few thousand dollars, subject to the same legal requirements as handguns and rifles such as the .30-06. Larger guns (bigger than .50 caliber) and machine guns are much more expensive and subject to a national per-transfer tax of $200 and various other restrictions.

C-BS and VPC

The new hysteria targets .50 caliber rifles. The Violence Policy Center (VPC) calls them "sniper rifles." The .50 can be used as a "sniper rifle," but a more popular caliber for that is the .308, also a common hunting round.

What is a "sniper rifle," anyway? A snipe is a type of bird, so originally a "sniper" was a person who shot that bird. (Shariar Ghalam pointed this out to me.) One definition of "snipe" given by Random House is "to shoot at individuals, especially enemy soldiers, from a concealed or distant position." Many guns can be used for that. So why, then, does VPC insist that .50 caliber rifles are "sniper rifles," even when they're used by civilians for target practice? Obviously, it's because the media has recently taken to using the term "sniper" to refer to certain murderers, and the word "sniper" has an edge to it, like "assault rifle" (a term that was completely detached from its traditional meaning for political purposes). If VPC can ban the .50 caliber because it's a "sniper rifle," then it can ban practically every rifle, because practically every rifle can be used as a "sniper rifle."

VPC offers extensive (though one-sided) material about the .50 caliber rifle. For instance, VPC lists the crimes committed with the .50 caliber since 1989. VPC could find 13 crimes over a 16 year period, and most of those involved illegal possession or sale. Many other weapons and tools, including ropes, cars, knives, clubs, and water, have been involved in more crimes. If the .50 caliber should be banned because of its criminal history, then every gun should be banned, and so should every knife, car, and so on.

C-BS editorialized against the .50 caliber rifle. John Lott discusses C-BS's claim that .50 caliber rifles might be used by terrorists (as do I in my upcoming article for the Weekly).

My purpose here is not to present a comprehensive case against C-BS, but I do want to briefly discuss a few points.

C-BS claims, "The .50-caliber rifle, one of the world's best combat weapons, was invented 22 years ago in Murfreesboro, Tenn., by Ronnie Barrett." However, Wikipedia notes the .50 caliber was in use "just after WWI," and Boston's Gun Bible reports it was "[a]dopted in 1918."

C-BS includes the lie of a source without correcting it: "Most of the [gun] dealers in Montana and Wyoming don't even ask you a question. It's just like a grocery store." This comment is made in the context of a "gun store." But by national law dealers must require buyers to fill out registration forms and submit to a background check. I disapprove of that law, but C-BS oughtn't pretend it doesn't exist.

The following photograph, taken at the shoot, demonstrates the silliness of another of C-BS's statements:

Ban Jay Leno's Cars?

Cars are used much more frequently than .50 caliber rifles in the commission of crimes. Most cars have more performance than what is legally allowed on tax-funded roads.

Why do people need cars that go 200 mph? Why do people need more than two or three cars?

Liberty is not about what politicians and bureaucrats deem that people need. Liberty is about people's ability to decide for themselves what is best for their own needs, be they "practical" or recreational.

Jay Leno "owns more than 50 cars and about as many vintage and modern bikes," according to Forbes.com. Leno said, "Everything here does a hundred with a few exceptions. There are no Model Ts. I like a reasonable level of performance."

In a free society, don't people have the right to buy more cars than they "need" -- indeed, as many cars as they want and can afford -- with more power than they "need" for regular driving? Don't people have the right to buy cars for recreational purposes, as a hobby?

Some people are infatuated with cars -- the "car nuts." They attend shows, buy lots of expensive cars, and spend lots of time discussing cars. I even saw one display of cars made famous by gangsters -- fully-automatic assault cars! (Actually, I don't know whether the particular cars I saw were automatics or stick-actions, but criminals often use automatic cars to flee a crime scene or attack people.) For some reason, VPC doesn't attack "car nuts" with vicious lies and propaganda.

Roughly three times as many people die in vehicles every year as die from all kinds of homicides combined.

Yet Jay Leno, the "car nut," is an okay guy.

And so are people who own .50 caliber rifles and other types of guns that display "a reasonable level of performance."

My thanks to Shariar Ghalam, an expert on guns who attended the shooting event, for needling me into including Leno as an example. Ghalam is shown in the picture below with Heidi Stack.

Mike Williams

Mike Williams of Boulder attended the shoot and graciously agreed to offer his comments:

"I became interested in firearms as I came to understand the concept of personal responsibility. Once I figured out that I was responsible for my own life, I determined that I had also better take responsibility for defending it. Firearms are the most effective tools for defending myself from immediate physical threats, and I have a clear self-interest in making sure that I am in fact prepared to defend myself against such threats. I love my life, and guns help me secure my ability to live, so I love guns!

".50BMG caliber rifles are the longest range, most lethal rifles readily available to and usable by civilian shooters. As such, .50BMG rifles are the surest means of destroying threats before such threats approach a range where they might do physical harm to you. In addition, learning to shoot a .50BMG rifle will rigorously hone those skills needed to effectively shoot any rifle. As such, .50BMG are of value to any shooter looking to expand his tools and skills in ensuring an unfair fight in defending against a criminal -- unfair in the shooter's favor!

"The value of an organized shoot, such as the .50BMG shoot hosted in Cheyenne Wells by the RMFCSA, is that a provides a venue to safely practice and test .50BMG rifles. In addition, it allows the public to observe and learn about the various .50BMG rifles as well as the rigors involved in shooting such firearms.

"Politicians and uninformed members of the public fear and seek to restrict .50BMG rifles because they confuse the scale of a firearm with its proper use. The "bigness" or "long range effectiveness" of a weapon do not change the proper uses for the weapon, simply the circumstances in which the use of such a weapon would be appropriate. Any weapon that can be used to effectively target a single aggressor who poses an immediate threat to my life is proper to use in my self-defense. The .50BMG is no exception, and is in fact particularly well suited to eliminating long-range threats. When forced to defend yourself, you should have the most effective means available to ensure your victory and hence your survival."

Additional Photographs


Ed and Sherry Cole watch over the military vehicles they restored.


Members of Damage, always ready to share the history of their big guns, stand by their 90 mm, "designed in WWII."


A .50 caliber rifle.


Jennifer shoots two for two with a rifle that shoots the .50 caliber.


James DeGroat checks his General Electric "minigun." It fires 4,000 rounds of the .308 cartridge per minute. "There are only twelve in private hands," DeGroat said. It's named the "minigun" because, DeGroat explained, "the original gun was a Vulcan, the M61A1 Vulcan, which is 20 mm. [20 mm is .787 inch.] This came out after the Vulcan. It looks just like the Vulcan, because it has six barrels and works the same way."

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com