Violence Policy Center and .50 cal

In the past, this weblog has often provided a critique of right-wing gun culture, but it’s important that gun control groups receive examination too. We need to be smart about it though. While 2nd Amendment supporters often cynically dismiss their opposition as “gun grabbers” with contempt for freedom and liberty, the reality is much more nuanced.


That acknowledged, it’s sometimes amazing to see how gun control organizations twist facts to make it fit their designs. For instance, I recently spent time scrutinizing the Violence Policy Center’s webside, and was struck by massively skewed information regarding .50 caliber long range rifles. It’s an easy target for them to criticize. After all, such large firearms appear particularly intimidating, have little hunting application and are unsuitable for use in urban areas during peacetime.


A .50 cal. rifle. The most terrifying looking gun to actually hurt so few.

The VPC vividly speculates about their dramatic potential to cause mayhem, everything from shooting down helicopters to destroying airports and other sensitive infrastructure. In their scenarios, terrorists and mass murderers could hardly want a more effective weapon of mass killing. The website quotes an NRA official claiming “that .50 calibers have not been used in crimes” and then drops a list of forty-six instances between 1989 and 2013 to disprove his statement.

It looks quite sensational, but lets examine more closely. Presumably, the NRA’s statement was intended to mean, ‘.50 cal. rifles are not used in murders.’ However, if that was their criteria, VPC’s list would shrink to just one or two documented examples in the US. Talk about deflating. To pad it out, they use techniques that would not be out of place among climate change deniers or tobacco industry scientists.

The foremost is guilt by association. Most of their examples involve people who were arrested, and afterward, officers happened to find a completely legal rifle in their dwelling. It’s incredible to suggest that, per several cases, marijuana growers and dealers should make a role of individuals who allegedly used these firearms in violent crimes. One might as well claim scooters are criminally dangerous, and then instead of listing fatality statistics, cite pot smokers with Vespas simply parked in their driveway as evidence.

Another tactic is sheer speculation. The VPC would like to number all four ATF agents killed during the notorious 1993 Waco siege as .50 cal. victims, since the defenders apparently possessed some of these rifles. However, I have found no evidence to suggest those were the guilty weapons, any more than the rest of the Branch Davidian’s arsenal, which included illegal machine guns.

Next, the VPC roved further afield. They count three Mexicans murdered during the narco-cartel civil war in recent years, as well as a 2006 attempt by Columbian FARC rebels to buy .50 cal. rifles and helicopters from the US, but why stop there? Large caliber firearms are used by revolutionaries globally, so shouldn’t African Boko Haram and Afghan Taliban victims be included? Presumably, when killings cross the line from individual acts to criminal syndicates or paramilitaries, public opinion ceases imagining they could be seriously hampered by gun controls. Of course, arms that fire the Soviet large bore equivalent of 12.7mm are popular among insurgent groups the world over and .50 cal. rifles are only one of many such weapons available. The inclusion of just Mexico and Columbia is a puzzling way to enlarge the list.

In short, out of all Americans killed by guns in the last 24 years, virtually none can be attributed to .50 cal. rifles, hardly making them the threat VPC hyperbole implies. In a social debate that can become so emotional, distorting facts only serve to make it more difficult finding common ground and reaching actual solutions to violence.

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