In Unanimous Vote, Contra Costa, CA, Board of Supervisors Backs Ban on 50 Caliber Sniper Rifles

For Release:  Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Board Directs County Counsel to Draft Language to Ban Easily Purchased Weapons that Can Destroy Aircraft, Petrochemical Tanks, and Other Key Infrastructure

Washington, DC – The Violence Policy Center (VPC) today hailed a 5-0 vote yesterday by the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors endorsing a ban on the sale of 50 caliber sniper rifles. The board directed its attorneys to draft the ordinance outlawing the sale of the rifles which can destroy aircraft and penetrate armor plating in the unincorporated areas of Contra Costa County. A final vote on the measure is expected later in the year. The Board also endorsed a state Assembly bill that would classify the rifles as assault weapons and ban them statewide. Contra Costa is the first Northern California local government to endorse a ban. The vote comes two months after the City of Los Angeles became the first municipality in the nation to ban these weapons.

Tom Diaz, VPC senior policy analyst and author of numerous VPC studies on the threat posed by 50 caliber sniper rifles, states: “Fifty caliber sniper rifles are weapons of war that can destroy aircraft and penetrate armor plating, yet can be purchased as easily as a hunting rifle. The public safety threat posed by the 50 caliber sniper rifle is clear. The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors has shown leadership and forethought in its vote, and we look forward to other communities following their lead.”

The 50 caliber sniper rifle is capable of firing accurately over thousands of yards and can utilize legally available armor-piercing, incendiary, and explosive ammunition. The U.S. Army’s manual on urban combat states that 50 caliber sniper rifles are intended for use as anti-materiel weapons, designed to attack bulk fuel tanks and other high-value targets from a distance, using “their ability to shoot through all but the heaviest shielding material.” One manufacturer, Barrett, boasts of the weapon’s power in its promotional materials, stating: “With decisive force and without the need for the manpower and expense of mortar or rocket crews, forces can engage the opposition at distances far beyond the range of small arms fire….” The brochure adds that when loaded with legally available, specialty ammunition, “The advantages are obvious when you consider that many of the same targets for rocket and mortar fire can be neutralized….” Yet unlike mortars and rockets, which are tightly controlled under federal law, 50 caliber sniper rifles are as easy to purchase as a hunting rifle or shotgun.

Studies that the VPC has issued on the threat posed by 50 caliber sniper rifles include: “Just Like Bird Hunting” The Threat to Civil Aviation from 50 Caliber Sniper Rifles (January 2003) and Sitting Ducks: The Threat to the Chemical and Refinery Industry from 50 Caliber Sniper Rifles (August 2002).





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