For Release: Tuesday, October 8, 2002
According to Tom Diaz, Senior Policy Analyst at the Violence Policy Center and author of several studies examining sniper culture and their weapons, including One Shot, One Kill: Civilian Sales of Military Sniper Rifles:
The recent outbreak of long-range sniper attacks in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia exposes two long-term trends in gun industry marketing:
- Mass marketing of military and military-style weapons, including assault rifles and sniper rifles and equipment, to the civilian market. The .223 Remington rifle round that has been positively identified as the round used in five of the shootings, for example, was originally developed as an experimental military cartridge for the Armalite AR-15 assault rifle, which was later adopted by the U.S. Army as the M-16. The round is widely used in such popular civilian semi-automatic assault rifles as the Colt AR-15, Armalite M15A2, and various models of Bushmaster carbines and rifles, among others.
- The most recent industry trend has been the marketing of 50 caliber sniper rifles, which fire the largest bullet legal for general civilian sale (more than twice the width of the .223 Remington) accurately over distances as great as 2,000 yards. The 50 caliber round is capable of penetrating light armor.
- Cultivation of a sniper subculture within the gun community. A collateral aspect of the marketing of military weapons has been the encouragement of a sniper subculture in the United States. This includes the marketing of books, paraphernalia, training, and assorted gear. Thus, although the rifle used in these shootings has not yet been identified, the attacks are consistent with a clearly growing subculture.
Although the perpetrator of these attacks and the weapon used is not yet known, we do know that the round being used is an example of the transfer of military weapons development to the civilian market, and the attacks themselves are consistent with a sniper subculture encouraged by the gun industry at large.