For Release: Wednesday, May 1, 2002
U.S. State Department Waffles on Export Licenses For Civilian Sale of “Superguns”
European Civilians May Soon Buy U.S. Made 50 Caliber Sniper Rifles Like Those Used to Assassinate British Soldiers in Northern Ireland, Take Out Iraqi Armored Personnel Carriers in Gulf War
WASHINGTON, DC – The Violence Policy Center (VPC) today warned Europeans concerned about increasing incidents of mass gun violence that they may soon face an enormous escalation in the level of firepower available to civilians. VPC revealed that the U.S. State Department has indicated that it may approve licenses for the export of the notorious 50 caliber (12.7mm) sniper rifle for sale to European civilians.
The 50 caliber sniper rifle won combat fame in the 1991 Gulf War when U.S. Marine Corps snipers disabled Iraqi armored personnel carriers at ranges of 1,600 meters (1,750 yards) using the Barrett M82A1 rifle. Another version of the Barrett 50 caliber sniper rifle won infamy as a “supergun” in Northern Ireland when IRA terrorists used it to assassinate British soldiers and Irish constables at long range. Barrett Manufacturing Co., Inc., of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, has announced plans to export its 50 caliber sniper rifles to Europe for civilian sale.
“On the civilian market our European friends haven’t seen anything until they see the massive power of the 50 caliber sniper rifle,” said Tom Diaz, VPC senior policy analyst and author of the VPC report Voting from the Rooftops: How the Gun Industry Armed Osama bin Laden, Other Foreign and Domestic Terrorists, and Common Criminals with 50 Caliber Sniper Rifles. “Barrett itself compares the firepower of their 50 caliber sniper rifle to that of rockets and mortars. It is particularly ironic that the U.S. government may allow the export to civilians of these rifles, already used by terrorists to assassinate the soldiers of Britain, one of our close European allies in the war against terrorism.”
U.S. State Department officials earlier had indicated to staff of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), a senior Member of Congress, that such exports would be banned. But after Waxman congratulated Secretary of State Colin Powell for cutting off the sales, Assistant Secretary of State Paul V. Kelly wrote Waxman that the Department after all has “not made a policy decision to withhold all future approvals,” and may approve them after reviewing controls in Europe.
Shocked by recent gun violence in Europe, the VPC decided to make its report and the relevant letters available to the European news media as a warning of what lies ahead.