Scare tactics, poor information not persuasive

Freedom Newspapers

The fight to maintain our rights is a never-ending struggle, as we’ve been reminded by an organization called the Freedom States Alliance. This is an outfit that uses scare tactics about terrorism to push its anti-gun agenda.

Pictured on the front of a FSA postcard is a civilian airliner with an illustration of a rifle scope’s crosshairs centered to the nose of the plane and the Web site www.50CaliberTerror.com listed across the top. On the back was a listing of why .50-caliber rifles should be banned. The reasons might seem reasonable, but a bit of research shows them to be exaggerated and open to interpretation.

The first claim is that the rifles are “the most lethal weapons available on the civilian market, but are easier to purchase than a handgun.” For openers, it might be relatively easy to purchase one of these rifles, but it’s not cheap. The most basic, bare-bones, single-shot models will set you back about $1,600. Terrorists can get AK-47s and similar rifles for about $200 each, so it’s unlikely they’d opt for the more costly rifle.

It’s true that the 4-foot-long “Big 50s” fire the same cartridge as the military’s .50-caliber machine gun — the .50 BMG. Those machine guns are effective weapons against many vehicles and hardened targets such as concrete bunkers. That’s because those military weapons rely on volume of fire, not the single shot at a time the civilian guns fire. The .50 BMG bullet will travel farther and hit harder than those fired from other rifles, but they’re technically no more “lethal” than many other cartridges. As for them being easier to purchase than a handgun, that’s because of the hoops a person must jump through to legally purchase a handgun. It’s not because of any special privilege large-caliber rifles enjoy.

The next claim prompted some research because the military uses .50-caliber machine guns to shoot down aircraft: “powerful enough to shoot down civilian aircraft during takeoff or landing.” The post-card photo would have you believe that a single shot hitting an airliner would bring it down; that’s not true even in a Hollywood action movie. Unless it hit a fuel or hydraulic line, the odds of a single bullet incapacitating an airliner are infinitesimally small. And in the event of a lucky shot hitting one of those lines, it’s very likely the crew would be able to land the plane safely.

Although the engines seem to offer a large target, they’re designed to toss foreign objects away from the active part of the engines. If a bullet were to damage an engine, crews have procedures for landing with one engine shut down. Besides, it would take a pretty good marksman to hit a target the size of a jet engine moving at the speed of an airliner taking off or landing.

The last claim is the most subjective of all: “capable of accurately shooting targets over a mile away, or 2,000 yards.” Is such a feat possible? Yes. Using a top-of-the-line .50-caliber rifle, Master Cpl. Arron Perry of the Canadian Armed Forces killed a Taliban soldier from a distance of 1.5 miles in Afghanistan in 2003. Could Perry do it again? With all due respect to his abilities, probably not.

Bullets don’t fly in a straight line; they scribe an arc before hitting a target. Perry’s bullet dropped 146 feet in the 1.5 miles before hitting its target. There are too many variables affecting a bullet’s flight over that distance to repeat such a shot. And a .50-caliber rifle isn’t necessary for such long-range sniping.

U.S. Marine sniper Sgt. Herbert B. Hancock killed part of an insurgent mortar team in Fallujah in November 2004 from 1,050 yards away. He was using the standard U.S. 7.62 mm sniper cartridge. That’s identical to the .308 Winchester cartridge many hunters use for deer and antelope.

What the ban proponents propose is to get rid of .50-caliber rifles before they can do harm. Although that might seem reasonable, it’s not how things should work in a free society. We don’t put people in jail because they might commit a crime — we must wait until they actually break the law and are convicted.