Legislators should ban possession of powerful rifle
Honolulu police are asking the Legislature to ban possession of a .50-caliber rifle.
As students returned to campus at Northern Illinois University yesterday following the deadly shooting rampage of Feb. 14, a bill that would ban civilian possession of a made-for-war sniper rifle lies dormant in the Hawaii Legislature. Lawmakers should enact the bill to prevent a shooting incident of potentially huge proportions.
NIU graduate student Steve Kazmieczak's killing of five students and wounding of 16 before turning the gun on himself brought horrific recollections of the killing of 33 students and faculty at Virginia Tech less than a year ago. Campus officials across the country are looking again at measures aimed at preventing similar disasters.
Police Chief Boisse Correa is asking the Legislature to ban possession of .50-caliber sniper rifles in the islands. Those 28-pound rifles -- the most common manufactured by Barrett Co. -- were described in a 1999 congressional Government Accountability Office as "among the most destructive and powerful firearms sold legally in the United States." They are banned only in California.
According to the report, the manufacturer promoted it as able to "wreck several million dollars' worth of jet aircraft with one or two dollars' worth of cartridge." The rifle fires bullets a half-inch in diameter and up to six inches long that are "accurate" up to 2,000 yards and "effective" up to four miles, "meaning that, although accuracy cannot be guaranteed, the round will cause its intended effect at this distance."
The rifle was designed to destroy Jeeps, tanks, personnel carriers and other vehicles. The GAO report cited a text, "The Ultimate Sniper," by retired Army Major John L. Plaster, which described how a Michigan ammunition dealer "test-fired his bullets at simulated wooden frame houses and found they blew completely through six houses -- not six walls, six houses!"
Plaster wrote of a bullet fired by the rifle "that even at 1 1/2 miles crashes into a target with more energy than Dirty Harry's famous .44 Magnum at point blank." Police officials say the only two firing ranges on Oahu that can handle that firepower are both on military grounds.
Laurence G. Keane, staff attorney of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, claimed in testimony to the state House Judiciary Committee that the rifles, costing $7,000 each, are used for "legitimate sporting purposes such as target shooting, collecting and hunting."
However, GAO investigators found that some of them "ended up in the hands of suspected terrorist groups, a mentally ill cop killer and drug trafficking cartels." Osama bin Laden reportedly sent one of his operatives to the United States in the 1980s to buy two dozen of the rifles.
Registered owners of the .50-caliber rifles number 125 statewide and 90 on Oahu, according to police. They are just as available to purchase as any other hunting rifle. Hawaii legislators shouldn't wait for the carnage to occur.