JUST BANNED IN CALIFORNIA BUT AVAILABLE IN 49 STATES,
THE .50 CALIBER RIFLE COULD TOO EASILY BECOME AN EFFECTIVE TERRORIST WEAPON, SAY CRITICS -- "60 MINUTES"
Gun's Inventor Insists His Weapon Has a Good Record and is an Unlikely Crime Tool
A military rifle capable of piercing armor from over a mile away is too readily available to civilians and could end up in terrorists' hands, say critics of the .50-caliber weapon that is for sale in 49 states. Ed Bradley reports on the big gun that was recently banned in California on 60 MINUTES Sunday, Jan. 9 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
"I think it's a great thing on the battlefield," says one of the weapon's chief critics, Tom Diaz of the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C. "I just think there are certain occasions when we say in our society, this product is such a threat to our health and safety�our national security, we will not allow it," he tells Bradley. Thousands have been sold to civilians and, as far as federal gun laws go, it is treated like any other hunting rifle.
Diaz argues the rifle can be used to pierce and blow up chemical storage tanks from afar, affording the terrorist an easy escape. "The point is you can plan your attack from a longer distance. It's the combination of range and power," says Diaz, who fears there will be deadly results from such an attack on containers of toxic or flammable materials. He also fears the powerful gun could be used to shoot at aircraft that are landing or taking off. The potential danger the .50 caliber poses to aircraft taxiing on the runway or parked at the gate was outlined in a Rand Corporation report on terror vulnerabilities at Los Angeles International Airport. The report saw no way to protect the planes.
The gun's inventor, who sells the weapons to civilians for sport and to armies around the world, says Diaz could be right, but is being reckless. "Yes it could be [used in those terrorist scenarios], but it's also seeming, begging someone to commit this crime. 'Somebody please commit this crime so I can validate what I've been saying so long,'" says Ronnie Barrett of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing.
"It's kind of a classic gun industry argument," says Diaz. "First they deny there's a problem and then when something happens, they point the finger at people who tried to warn about it."
Barrett points out that the gun's extreme size and weight makes it an unlikely weapon of choice for criminals. "As far as the abuses with .50-caliber rifles, they are so few, if any, that all other calibers ought to aspire to have as good a record as it has," he tells Bradley. "It's a target rifle. It's a toy�a high-end adult recreational toy," says Barrett. As for terrorism, Barrett says, "Any rifle in the hands of a terrorist is a deadly weapon."
Diaz is hoping Congress will pass a law requiring that the names of owners of .50-caliber rifles be kept on file. "No one in the U.S. government knows who has these guns."