May 05, 2004

.50 caliber rifle ban introduced in the House

Rep. Jim Moron Moran introduced a bill that would ban .50 caliber rifles on Monday.

My initial reaction is that the bill won't get voted on (for a number of reasons), but then again I have seen nothing solid to indicate that my prediction will be accurate.

After all, Rep. Moron Moran is playing up the "homeland defense/national security" angle as much as possible.

But on to a brief fisk of his proposal & the article it rode in on...

"They're high-powered guns that can down an airplane from up to a mile away, and a northern Virginia lawmaker wants to make sure they don't fall into the wrong hands."

A mile is 5,280 feet or 1,760 yards. It is not impossible for a skilled & practiced individual to make accurate hits on a relatively small but stationary target at these ranges or even farther. After all, the big reason for the .50 BMG cartridge's popularity in the civilian world is very long range target competitions.

According to my calculations (actually my exterior ballistics program's calculations) an 800 grain bullet with a Ballistic Coefficient of .999 (the highest my program will compute - the actual BC would be 1.050 or so. Also my program does not take altitude, temperature & other variables into consideration which would be essential to getting as accurate an estimate as possible.) traveling at 2900 feet per second (at the muzzle) would reach a height of 71.64 inches above the line of sight at 520 yards (& would be traveling at 2416 fps by then) in order to be dead on at 1,000 yards (at which time the velocity would be 2.021 fps). At 1,100 yards the projectile would be 36.55 inches below the line of sight & down to 1,945 fps. At 1,180 yards it would be 72.80 inches below the line of sight & coasting along at 1,885 fps. At 1760 yards it would be 544.14 inches below the line of sight & down to 1,499 fps. At 1,740 yards the bullet would be 520.28 inches below the line of sight while at 1,780 yards it would be 566.34 inches below the line of sight. So at the range of 1 mile an error in range estimation of 60 feet would cause the bullet to be 20+ inches high or low.
At 1,700 yards the bullet will be 475.05 inches below the line of sight while at 1,820 yards the bullet will be 618.38 inches below the line of sight. So a 60 yard miscalculation would result in shooting 70 inches high or 75 inches low. & range estimation is not as easy as most would think, especially as the range increases.

Please keep in mind that's rough calculations from a program that simply plots trajectory. It does not take into account wind drift (which is the lateral movement projectiles are subjected to because of wind), let alone the possibility of a moving target. & it doe snot take into account the inherent accuracy of the firearm, ammo or the ability of the shooter. Assuming the rifle would shoot Minute of Angle we're still looking at 10 inch groups at 1,000 yards & 17 inch groups at 1 mile (assuming the ammo & the shooter are up to it).

In order to hit a moving target you must determine the trajectory (including wind drift) of the projectile at a stationary target & add onto that the calculations of the targets direction & velocity.

Let's assume we're talking about a plane moving at 100 MPH or 147 feet per second. It takes our computerized projectile 2.5577 seconds to reach 1,760 yards. That would mean a lead (i.e. holding the sights in front of the target) of 375.98 feet would be required. & that's assuming the target's range is known to within 10 yards, the target is traveling perpendicular to the firearm (so further adjustments for range would be necessary) & there's no wind within the range from the firearm to the target to push the projectile laterally.

At 1,000 yards it's a little easier; the flight time of the projectile is only 1.2422 seconds so you'd only need to lead the aircraft by 182.60 feet.

For comparison a clay pigeon used in skeet or sporting clays is traveling at roughly 30 to 60 MPH or 44 to 88 feet per second (This is just a guess on my part - the actual speed of clay pigeons may be slower than the range of speed I listed, but it should be close enough for our purposes here). Shotguns are (usually but not always) used which propel multiple projectiles in a pattern that increases as the distance from the barrel increases. Typically these clay pigeon shooting sports involve ranges under 40 yards so the flight time of the projectiles is measured in milliseconds. Thus the lead required is (depending upon the firearm & the projectile's speed) seldom more than a foot or so. & depending upon certain variables such as the shooting game itself as well as the equipment used & the skill of the user, shooting 25 out of 25 clay pigeons is not easy.

Now I'm not saying it's impossible but the level of skill & competence of the operator & the equipment would effectively negate most terrorists from using a .50 BMG rifle to "down an airplane from up to a mile away". Honestly if someone did possess that level of skill & equipment I doubt his/her services would be affordable to any but the wealthiest nations. I damn skippy know I'd charge heavily if someone wished me to use those kind of skills (assuming I had them of course).

But as I said it is possible (in theory at least) to make such a hit for a very highly skilled & well practiced individual using the best equipment. However a .50 BMG projectile that weighs 800 grains will have roughly 4,000 foot-pounds of energy at 1 mile. This would be a lot if you're talking about stopping a biped or quadruped but a vehicle would take considerably more of a pounding than an organic target.

So unless you get really, really lucky & clip a line vital to the aircrafts controls then 1 hit wouldn't do much more than scare the people inside & give you bragging rights on making such a difficult shot. In space it could cause an explosive decompression but not in atmosphere. (Contrary to popular belief a pressurized airplane will not crash or have all the occupants sucked outside unless it's flying at a very high altitude & there's a very large hole - much larger than even multiple large caliber projectiles can produce.) But perhaps Rep. Moron Moran is speaking of the danger to the space shuttle from astro-terrorists? It'd make a helluva lot more sense (which isn't saying much).

(For more reading on the subject, try An Introduction to Ballistics A Short Course in External Ballistics, & The Beaufort Wind Scale).

So I would not think I'm too far out on a limb to state that anyone who claims a .50 caliber rifle can be used to "down an airplane" at damned near any range is, as we say back home, ig'nent.

"Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said Monday he is introducing legislation that would ban the commercial sale of .50-caliber rifles."

But not the military & law enforcement sale. That would mean that, even if you find U.S. v. Miller convincing, that he is proposing a ban on firearms that have a military purpose. After all, how could you argue that a firearm has a military purpose but not a militia purpose? Well, I suppose the same way you could argue a rifle could shoot down a plane 1 mile distant - through "ig'nence".

"Backers of the bill say the weapons are easily attainable and less regulated than common handguns."

Considering they are rifles then yes his statement is true. However he does not poitn out that they are expensive, heavy, cumbersome & generally not used in crimes. He also doesn't point out that they are more regulated than pocket knives & teddy bears. But I assume his statements of fact will be limited to apple/orange comparisons that favor his position rather than statements that actually mean something.

"Speaking near train tracks within view of the U.S. Capitol dome, Moran said terrorists could fire the gun on a rail car carrying hazardous cargo through the heart of the nation's capital."

Yes, they could. They could also assemble a few common household chemicals, concoct a rather potent explosive & affix it to the train. In fact that would be much more effective than firing a half inch metal projectile. & much easier to get away with since the explosive household chemical bomb could be contained in a soda can & therefore much less conspicuously carried than a 30 pound, 4 foot long rifle in a city where all firearms are illegal. Perhaps if he were truly concerned about trains in the D.C. area that transport hazardous cargo he should seek to ban household cleaners.

"The rifles can also pierce armor and destroy a low-flying passenger plane, Moran said. The U.S. Army classifies them for attacking tanks and other heavy-armor targets."

Any rifle & most handguns can "pierce armor" provided the range isn't too great & the kinetic energy, shape & composition of the projectile is sufficient. A .30-30 lever action rifle firing a blackpowder cartridge can pierce a certain amount of armor at a certain range. A muzzle loading .45 caliber rifle firing a round lead ball can pierce a certain amount of armor at a certain distance. Hell, that's why firearms got popular a few centuries back - it was discovered that they could pierce the armor of a knight, thus making the peasant farmer an equal to a knight on horseback. That's also why regulations & prohibitions on firearms became popular as most kings didn't like the idea that peasants could be an equal match for his soldiers.

But yes, his statement is factually correct to a point. Past a certain thickness the .50 caliber projectile will not penetrate armor. That's why we don't use them as an anti-tank weapon. It's very simple physics - a projectile of a certain shape, material & momentum will penetrate a certain amount of a certain material, but if the amount of the target material is increased then said projectile will not penetrate it unless it's momentum &/or material construction are altered proportionately.

"These are weapons of war' that could cause a 'massive catastrophe,' Moran said. The legislation would exempt military and law enforcement use."

Again proving that he either doesn't understand Miller & the 2nd Amendment or that he simply doesn't care if he tramples a constitutionally acknowledged Right in order to create press for himself & his flawed proposal.

"Moran said al-Qaida is known to have purchased 25 of the rifles."

I have heard that before & I seem to recall that there was something misleading about the statement, but at the moment I can't recall exactly what the error was.

However I do know that sales of firearms & other weapons of martial use outside the U.S. are regulated by the ATF as well as other government agencies. If I recall the 25 rifles in question were transferred to Osama Bin Laden (not Al-Qaida per se) in the late 1980's. At that time Osama wasn't a terrorist but a freedom fighter trying to expel the Soviet horde from Afghanistan - an endeavor which the U.S. & a few other nations supported. I simply don't see how an action regulated & presumably condoned by the U.S. government could support a proposition to ban .50 caliber rifles domestically.

"Tom Diaz, an analyst at the Violence Policy Center in Washington, estimates there are thousands in circulation. The guns have turned up in arms caches of militia groups and drug dealers in the United States, he said."

< sarcasm >I know all the drug runner sin my neighborhood feel outgunned unless they have a .50, 30 pound four foot long bolt action rifle. < / sarcasm >

"Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said the guns are used for hunting big game and in marksmanship competitions, among other purposes."

Enter the NRA & their standard "hunting" defense. First of all I know of only a few very specialized situations (such as hunting extremely large &/or dangerous game from an elevated stand) where anyone would hunt with a .50 BMG chambered rifle. The target shooting part is accurate as that is their main purpose in the civilian world, but I get tired of the NRA trying to equate firearms with hunting. The 2nd amendment is not concerned with hunting per se: it's concerned with ensuring the people are not denied martial arms in case they have to use them in a martial purpose. Attempting to shift the debate to a hunting as opposed to a martial context is not only a bad strategy but dishonest.

"The legislation is an attempt to play on people's emotions, he said.
'This a continuation of a trend started by gun ban groups and politicians to try and exploit the tragedy of 9-11 to further their flailing agenda of gun control,' he said.
Arulanandam predicted that terrorists would be able to skirt such a law because they do not follow laws or leave paper trails that would allow them to be traced."

That is accurate.

"Moran read from an advertisement for Barrett Firearms that he said touts a $10 round of .50-caliber ammunition as capable of bringing down an aircraft. He also questioned whether the guns were practical for hunting.
'What are you going to have left when you shoot a deer with this thing?' the congresssman asked."

A deer with a .50 caliber hole all the way through - not too different than if a deer was shot with a .50 caliber muzzle loader.

But the ad he refers to is either misquoted or simply false advertising. A .50 caliber round may be able to disable a plane on the ground (again if you're real lucky) but not in flight. However there is another possibility: helicopters. They'd fall under the definition of aircraft & they're extremely easy to shoot down. Why? Because the pilot of a helicopter has to be constantly in control of the helicopter. If you shoot the pilot, even if it's just a wounding shot, you can cause him/her to lose control of the aircraft & crash. However it must be noted that any firearm which can make an accurate hit on a target can do this. If there's an open cockpit (i.e. with no Plexiglas protecting the pilot) it's that much easier. In Viet-Nam our choppers were occasionally shot down by people wielding SKS & AK-47 rifles. Both shoot a cartridge that's ballistically inferior (albeit only slightly so) to the .110 year old 30-30 Winchester round.

"Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said .50-caliber rifles are not covered by the assault weapons ban that Congress is now considering extending.
She and Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., are co-sponsoring the legislation."

Again that's accurate. Also a .357 Magnum revolver would not be covered by an extended AWB. Neither would paper clips.

But then again I was not aware that Congress was considering extending the AWB. If it is then I'm gonna be real busy for a while. Odds are they’re not actively considering it right now & the comment was premature.

To sum up this is legislation that will not accomplish any of its purported goals if passed. What it will do is build upon the precedent set by the AWB that Congress can get away with banning certain firearms by description. That's why it must be defeated as those who sponsor &/or support such prior restrain based gun control despite their oath to respect & defend the Constitution.

I will leave you with this piece from which confronts some of the misconceptions about the .50 rifles & the .50 BMG cartridge.

Posted by Publicola at May 5, 2004 05:36 PM

As to alqueda having 'purchased' 25 .50 cal sniper rifles: the book "Shooting Straight" (can't remember the authors 2 NRA guys one is the VP i think) tells it as when we backed Usama Bin Laden agaisnt the russians in the 1980's we gave them 25 to assist. or something pretty close to that; check the book for the exacts

Posted by: Jon Nylen at May 19, 2004 10:28 AM
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