Terrorism as an Excuse

R.A. Hettinga rah at shipwright.com
Fri Jan 14 14:00:33 PST 2005


The National Review

January 14, 2005, 9:24 a.m.
Terrorism as an Excuse
Another CBS campaign.

By John R. Lott Jr.

Who could oppose laws preventing terrorists from getting guns? Obviously no
one. But it would be nice if laws accomplished something more than simply
making it more difficult for Americans to own guns.

Ironically the day before CBS finally released its report on the 60 Minutes
Memogate scandal, 60 Minutes was again stirring up fears about how
terrorists would use 50-caliber rifles to attack Americans.

Last year it was the semi-automatic assault-weapons ban before it expired.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D., N.Y.) claimed the ban was "the most effective
measures against terrorism that we have." Of course, nothing happened when
the law expired last year. There was nothing unique about the guns that are
banned under the law. Though the phrase "assault weapon" conjures up images
of the rapid-fire machine guns used by the military, in fact the weapons
covered by the ban function the same as any semiautomatic hunting rifle;
they fire the exact same bullets with the exact same rapidity and produce
the exact same damage as hunting rifles.

Back in the mid-1980s it was the hysteria over "plastic guns" when the
Austrian company Glock began exporting pistols to the United States.
Labeled as "terrorist specials" by the press, fear spread that their
plastic frame and grip would make them invisible to metal detectors. Glocks
are now common and there are good reasons they are one of the favorite
pistols of American police officers. The "plastic gun" ban did not ban
anything since it is not possible to actually build a working plastic gun.

Now it is the 50-caliber rifles' turn, especially with California outlawing
the sale of these guns since the beginning of the year. For years
gun-control groups have tried to ban 50-caliber rifles because of fears
that criminals could use them. Such bans have not been passed these guns
were simply not suited for crime. Fifty-caliber rifles are big, heavy guns,
weighing at least 30 pounds and using a 29-inch barrel. They are also
relatively expensive. Models that hold one bullet at a time run nearly
$3,000. Semi-automatic versions cost around $7,000. Wealthy target shooters
and big-game hunters, not criminals, purchase them. The bottom line is that
only one person in the U.S. has been killed with such a gun, and even that
one alleged case is debated.

The link to terrorism supposedly provides a new possible reason to ban
50-caliber rifles. But the decision to demonize these particular guns and
not say .475-caliber hunting rifles is completely arbitrary. The difference
in width of these bullets is a trivial .025 inches. What's next? Banning
.45-caliber pistols? Indeed the whole strategy is to gradually reduce the
type of guns that people can own.

Sniper Central, a site for both military snipers and law-enforcement
sharpshooters, claims that "For military extreme long-range anti-personnel
purposes, the .338 Lapua is king. Even the .50BMG falls short. (Do to
accuracy problems with current ammo)." The .338 Lapua round simply has what
is called a better bullet coefficient, it produces less drag as it travels
through the air.

With a 50-caliber rifle it is possible for an extremely skilled and lucky
marksman to hit a target at 1,800 meters (versus 1,500 meters plus for the
.338 Lapua), though most marksmen say that the effective range for any of
these guns is around 1,000 meters.

The worst abuse that 60 Minutes focused on was the Branch Davidians in Waco
in 1993 having a 50-caliber gun. Yet, no one was harmed with the gun, and
the Davidians surely had many other weapons.  60 Minutes also tried to
scare people with incendiary and explosive ammunition, but the ammunition
discussed is already illegal.

Fighting terrorism is a noble cause, but the laws we pass must have some
real link to solving the problem. Absent that, many will think that 60
Minutes and gun-control groups are simply using terrorism as an excuse to
promote rules that he previously pushed. Making it difficult for
law-abiding Americans to own guns should not be the only accomplishment of
new laws.

 - John Lott, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is
the author of The Bias Against Guns and More Guns, Less Crime.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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