Freedom and the .50 caliber
by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on May 19, 2005.
The .50 caliber is by no means a puny gun. But it wasn't nearly the biggest gun on display at the shoot sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Fifty Caliber Shooting Association last weekend in Cheyenne County. That honor belonged to the 90 mm.
The term .50 caliber means the bullet is half an inch in diameter, and 90 mm is about 3.54 inches. A 20 mm (.787 inch) was available to shoot, but my wife and I contented ourselves with shooting a considerably smaller bolt-action .50, owned by a resident of Boulder County.
So when CBSnews.com claims "the .50-caliber rifle... is, without a doubt, the most powerful weapon you can buy," please understand just how completely full of shit C-BS is.
There is a difference, according to national law, between guns that fire bullets half an inch in diameter and smaller, and guns that fire bullets more than half an inch in diameter. The .22, .308, .475, and .50, for example, are called "Class 1" guns. If you buy a Class 1 gun from a licensed dealer, which includes every gun seller with a store front, you have to pass a background check with the FBI and leave registration papers with the dealer that are available on request to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "Private" sales -- occasional person-to-person sales -- don't require notification of the national government, unless state law specifies otherwise. Colorado law requires registration checks for private sales at gun shows.
Guns bigger than the .50 are "Class 2." Fully automatic guns are "Class 3." To buy such guns, you need to pay a $200 tax and usually wait months for the completion of a more intensive background check. A .50-caliber gun will cost you several thousand dollars, and guns bigger than that will cost you much more because legal restrictions have reduced supply.
Unfortunately, the media often fail to learn the facts about guns and their owners. A recent segment from the Bay City News Wire states: "The U.S. military commonly uses the large [.50 caliber] weapon, which California banned in 2004, as a sniper rifle. According to [Senator Dianne] Feinstein, the destructive power of the rifle makes it different than a standard rifle... The rifles are currently classified in the same category as .22-caliber target rifles and .30-06-caliber hunting rifles."
The .50 caliber is sometimes considered a "sniper rifle," but a common military sniper rifle is the .308, similar to the .30-06. The .22 is used to hunt small game, while the .50 (a "standard rifle") is used to shoot targets.
The .22 is used much more frequently in the commission of a crime than the .50 (as are knives, ropes and cars). The Violence Policy Center (or VPC, a group aptly named because it advocates the political initiation of violence against peaceable gun owners) lists 13 cases since 1989 that involved alleged "Criminal Use of the .50 Caliber Sniper Rifle." Eight of the cases involved illegal possession or sale. Four of the cases involved the use of other guns -- does VPC want those guns banned, too? The remaining case was a robbery in which "several men us[ed] a smoke grenade," too, and wounded two people.
VPC, and its propaganda arm at C-BS, claim terrorists could use the .50. Well, terrorists could also use the .30-06, .308, .22, common household cleaners, shoulder rocket launchers smuggled from overseas, etc. But, while terrorists used box cutters to murder 2,977 Americans in a single morning, no terrorist has ever used a .50 caliber gun. (VPC notes Marvin Heemeyer, sometimes called a domestic terrorist, had a .50 caliber, but he also had other rifles and did all his damage with a "makeshift armored bulldozer.")
The proper response to terrorism is to defeat the terrorists, not restrict the liberties of peaceable Americans. When it comes to other issues, the left understands this. The idea that more intensive registration, monitoring and taxation of peaceable Americans is going to somehow deter militant Islamic terrorists and other criminals is ludicrous.
If the VPC is successful at eliminating the .50 caliber, can a semi-automatic .308 be far behind? Then a bolt-action .308? It's a "sniper rifle," too (as well as a common hunting rifle). Which guns, precisely, does the VPC believe are appropriate for civilian ownership?
VPC relentlessly stereotypes and demonizes gun owners. But anyone who gets to know the people associated with the Fifty Caliber Shooting Association or other Colorado gun groups knows that people who own guns for recreational shooting and self-defense generally are excellent people. My gun-owning friends include doctors, lawyers, parents, physicists, contractors and philosophers.
Bob McBride spent hundreds of hours of his time volunteering to organize the shoot, which raised several thousand dollars for the local fire department. The shoot, where friends and families gather from across the region, where people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and income groups come together to share history and swap stories and teach each other about fine-crafted tools, where freedom rings out all around you, simply must be stopped, or so the VPC and Feinstein would have you believe.
A T-shirt at the shoot read, "The Second Amendment -- America's Original Homeland Security." The .50-caliber shooters help pass on the knowledge and skills necessary to sustain a successful military and a proudly armed civilian population better able to ward off terrorist attacks and, if history should ever turn in that direction, larger-scale invasions.
The associated .50-caliber shooters are heroes who deserve our gratitude. Instead, Feinstein and the VPC want to treat them like criminals. I am honored to treat them as friends.