January 15, 2003



(See previous article) I am still mystified by Professor Glenn's continuing enjoyment in bashing a legitimate (if somewhat overwrought) piece on the threat posed by .50 calibre sniper rifles, even if that piece does base some of its research on the anti-gun Violence Policy Center (many of whose views it's fair to say I don't endorse.)

But the corker has to be Robin Roberts' claim, cited approvingly by Reynolds, that since terrorists already have SA-7 shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, .50 calibre rifles therefore pose no additional threat to us worth regulating. (!) Here's about six reasons that's completely nuts:

1) Cost: As the original TNR article points out, a .50 cal sniper rifle costs $1,250 in the States. A SA-7 costs about $5,000 in Nairobi, and a missile that would actually have a good chance of scoring costs twice that.
2) Ease in bringing into the country: Even if you buy a SA-7 or Stinger in Nairobi, you still have to get it to a U.S. airport. There's no importation risk with a .50 cal.
3) Training delta: Contrary to what you might think, it takes skill to use a SAM, and previous practice if you expect to score. With a .50 cal, however, recent experience with any long arm would be largely transferrable, meaning any good shot could use one under the right conditions.
4) Signature: Okay, let's say you've got a .50 cal and you're potting at aircraft. The chances of a second shot if you don't succeed are much higher than with a SAM, whose launch would not avoid being noticed. All you have to worry about is the sound of the report bringing someone to your position. You're aided by the fact that, unlike a SAM, which has to be fired from out in the open, away from power lines, trees, etc., a .50 cal can be fired from concealment.
5) Deployability: Because SAMs do need to be fired from open fields, close and in line with to the takeoff end of a runway, if local law enforcement suspected a threat to an airport the number of locations they have to keep under surveillance with most urban airports is fairly limited. Even though it has to be in the same area, by contrast the number where a .50 cal could be concealed is more or less unlimited.
6) Versatility: most of all, however, a .50 cal could be a multipurpose terrorist weapon. It can do other things... limousines with presidents in them, for instance, or real long-distance sniper shots, from so far that a Malvo-Muhammad team trained with a .50 cal would, it's fair to say, never be caught.

So it's cheaper, more available, more useful, and potentially (at least compared with a SA-7, which would also need a lucky shot to actually take down an airliner) just as deadly, if not more so. Yeah, I can't imagine why a terrorist would want to use one of those...

UPDATE: Tapped agrees Reynolds overshot.

UPDATE, AGAIN: I see Roberts couldn't find any valid counterargument, so he stooped right to the ad hominems. Me, when I hear people like Ronnie Barrett, who singlehandedly developed and popularized the civilian .50 cal in the States, say the weapon would be good for bringing down aircraft, I tend to listen. But I'm sure Roberts is right, and Barrett is just an ignorant, dishonest gun-control nut, too.

Posted by BruceR at 08:49 PM



James Fallows, and two noted authors who are completely unimpressed with the U.S. military today.

Posted by BruceR at 05:09 PM

HUNTING WHAT? "...while .50-caliber rifles


"...while .50-caliber rifles were developed more than 15 years ago, their use has been limited to a small cadre of shooting enthusiasts who use the gun for long-distance target shooting or hunting."

--New Republic, today

Hunting? Um, okay... Still, I saw a lot of .50 cal shooting last time I was down in Kentucky. The article's right: if the U.S. does not move to extend the National Firearms Act to include them, the chance one of these weapons in the hands of a domestic terrorist is going to kill an AWFUL lot of people is greatly increased.

UPDATE: Instapundit gives the article the big pooh-pooh. We've seen this before, the belief that somehow regulating as military weapons a class of rifle that, outside of target shooting, ONLY has military applications, is the thin edge of the wedge of gun control. What nonsense: anyone who thinks that doesn't know as much about firearms as they probably should. We've seen it before, most egregiously in a stunningly biased article in National Review Online:

Are .50-caliber target rifles lethal weapons? Certainly. But so is a .458-caliber rifle, and so is a .475-caliber rifle both of which are very powerful hunting rounds.

The .458 Win-Mag bullet weighs c. 450 grains, and leaves the muzzle with a velocity of 2150 feet per second, giving it a muzzle energy of just over 4,500 foot-pounds. The .50 calibre bullet weighs 40 per cent more, and has a 25 per cent higher velocity, giving it a muzzle energy in the area of 10,600 foot pounds. That's a huge gulf in performance. One is inherently an armour-piercing, vehicle-destroying round, too big to use for any game you might actually want to eat or hang on your wall later; the other is just a big hunting round. There's no hundred shades of gray here... by virtue of having over 100 per cent more penetrative and killing power, a .50 cal is qualitatively and profoundly different from any hunting gun. You could regulate all weapons with muzzle energies greater than 5,000 ft-lbs. and not inconvenience a single hunter.

The other argument put forth in the NR article is that firing big-.50s connects Americans with their past... hunting rifles a century ago were often in larger calibres than today. Fair enough... but again, the utter destructive power of the .50, the very characteristic that does, Glenn Reynolds' pooh-poohing to the contrary, make it a danger to airplanes, helicopters, Secret Service limousines, etc. is simply not present in those weapons. The NRO (NRA?) spin, again:

Like modern .50-caliber rifles, the 19th century models had long-range power. Marksmen used the .50-90 Sharps rifle to kill Indians a mile away. And these guns could be quite powerful, since some were designed for buffalo hunting.

To take their own example, the .50-90 calibre Sharps rifle fired a 450 grain bullet, about the same as the .458, above, with a muzzle velocity of around 1400 feet per second. If you do the math, that comes to a muzzle energy of about 45% of that of the .458, and about 20% of the .50 calibre Barrett-style sniper rifle that we're actually talking about. Yes, 19th century rifles could kill at long distances, and obviously they could kill large animals, too. But that's so far from the point that one can only presume the NRO writers are using general ignorance about rifle characteristics to score a couple cheap debating points. Regulating the sale of buffalo rifles is not going to do anything to discourage terrorism: regulating modern .50 calibre rifles (ie, only those that fire a heavy machinegun bullet) will.

Anyone who supports the private, unrestricted ownership of .50 cals should ask the question... why stop there? Why not allow the free importation of the new 14-20 mm anti-vehicle rifles (what our grandfathers would have called anti-tank rifles) that are now coming into wide use in foreign militaries, like the South African NTW-20? They average around 21,000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, only 100 per cent more again than the .50 cal... if a weapon with twice as much killing power as any other long arm is okay, what's the argument against another with twice as much as that? You've got to draw the line somewhere, presumably... me I'd draw it so as not to restrict the activities of the hunters or the historically-minded in any way, but still limit the availability of anti-vehicle weapons among the general population.

Posted by BruceR at 01:51 PM


The one revelation out of the first day that could have material impact on the question of guilt in the Kandahar bombing was caught by the National Post. The trouble is, the reporter in question, Michael Friscolanti, is so laughably uninformed about the military, that it's very hard to believe the facts are as he recounts them.

[The Range Safety Officer,] Capt. Jasper said he had never heard of the U.S. protocol regarding blinking lights, which are meant to warn pilots that friendly forces are on the ground."I didn't know the American regulations and we weren't following them," said Capt. Jasper, the first witness to testify at an Article 32 hearing at the Barksdale Air Force Base. "If I had known about the regulations, I wouldn't have ignored them." Capt. Jasper said though his brigade was under the command of a U.S. army task force, he organized the drill according to Canadian regulations, which require only that neon flares be laid out. Capt. Jasper tried to explain that the glow sticks "matched the equivalent" of the red lights, but Charles Gittins, one of the lawyers representing the pilots, brushed him aside.

"Was a blinking red light operating at Tarnak farm on the night of the accident?" Mr. Gittins asked.

"Not that I can recall," Capt. Jasper said.

Obviously, if the ground forces broke procedure in any way, some of the culpability falls back on them, even though two inquiries exonerated Capt. Jasper fully. If the American procedure is blinking red lights on ranges for air-to-ground recognition, if that was an SOP that the air force could reasonably assume was being followed at Kandahar, then there is a serious problem. But Friscolanti's so unreliable on military matters you generally need a second source just to figure out what actually went on.

Take, for instance, his lede:

The deputy commander of the Canadian army brigade that was mistakenly bombed by a U.S. fighter pilot was unaware of American regulations...

Okay. First off, the Canadian army didn't have a brigade in Afghanistan. It had a battalion, or more properly, a "battle group," a smaller formation. And Capt. Jasper, the RSO, was certainly not a deputy brigade commander, or even a deputy battalion commander. If I recall right, he was second-in-command of the Canadian infantry company that was using the range that night. So that whole sentence is f*cked, basically. (The brigade/battalion error is repeated several times in the article.)

Also note the quote above, where Friscolanti refers to glowsticks, chemical night illumination devices, as neon flares, or maybe the other way around. Who knows? Friscolanti also has a problem with accepting defence statements uncritically and incorporating them into his writing: for instance, his assertion in the same article that the inquiries had stated the pilots should "flee" when fired upon; what both inquiries actually said was that the pilots should have waited for orders before engaging.

Still it's an interesting question that I haven't seen an answer to. What are the established American air-to-ground recognition procedures for small arms ranges? How did they differ, if at all, in the range standing orders for the Kandahar range? And if so, why? These are all good questions. Too bad the Post doesn't give us enough info to even stab at an answer.

Posted by BruceR at 01:38 PM



This editorial from Canada's largest paper was just too good:

Some 2.3 million Canadians own nearly 8 million guns, and the vast majority are properly licensed, with their guns recorded in the new federal gun registry. Who are these people, apart from the military, police and private security guards?.. One may well live down the street.

Tar: 50 cents. Feathers: $3. Getting that last air rifle out of your neighbourhood: priceless.

They oppose the registry on misguided principle, not on cost, which has been exaggerated in any case. The new $860-million system is saving police forces $30 million a year, and Ottawa can recoup costs by upping the registration fees, now $25 or less.

In other words, now that they're all registered, the government can tax guns out of existence to recoup the cost of their own incompetence. Who could possibly have a problem with that?

They're revoking far more licences from dangerous owners, including spouses.

Apparently to the Star, simply being married makes you too dangerous to own a gun. Not that that's untrue, but still...

Ottawa Police Chief Vince Bevan, who's vice-president of the national chiefs association, sums up the case for the registry this way: "The new system not only screens owners when they obtain the licence but alerts the firearms officer if a licensed firearm owner is involved in an incident which suggests they may be a threat to public safety. This allows preventive action to be taken before tragedies occur. "And remember that previously there were about 6 million rifles and shotguns and no one knew who owned them. ... It simply was not possible to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands."

And yet amazingly, those 6 million weapons still were responsible for only 100 homicides a year, or 1 per 6,000 guns. Dodged a bullet there, didn't we? (bad pun intended)

The new system isn't cheap. Nor is it the final answer to gun crimes. But it promotes safety, transparency and accountability. It's truly worth saving.

This is apparently the same transparency and accountability that led the federal Auditor-General to, for the first time in recorded history, throw up her hands in despair and refuse to audit a government program because she no longer believed any of the numbers the civil servants had given her. Worth saving? How much more waste do you think it would take before the Star got alarmed? $1 billion more? $2 billion?

Posted by BruceR at 01:05 AM



While no decisions have been made, [Defence minister John] McCallum raised the possibility of getting rid of the army's aging fleet of Leopard tanks, which he says, may not be useful in the Forces' new concept of a rapid deployment force.

--Ottawa Citizen, today

Here's my heresy: I actually think he's right.

Posted by BruceR at 12:50 AM



The most telling account from the first day of the American Article 32 hearing for "Psycho" Schmidt and his wingman was the Globe and Mail's:

The defence also contend there were three witnesses who told U.S. investigators that the Canadians shouldn't have been firing their weapons at the time of the incident.The witnesses said a check-fire order had been issued, likely to allow a plane to land or take off at the nearby Kandahar airfield. Under check fire, the soldiers should have suspended all firing on the range. The lawyers argue that if the order had been followed, the pilots would not have seen any fire on the ground and not deployed the bomb. Captain Joseph Jasper, a member of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry that was leading the exercise, testified Tuesday that the check fire had been cancelled. American and Canadian investigators have also concluded that the check fires had been lifted.

Translation: in an open hearing the lawyers for the two accused airmen challenged the basic competence of the Canadians' range safety officer (RSO). For the uninitiated, disregarding or not implementing a "check fire" order is quite possibly the worst offense a soldier serving as RSO can make. It's instant court martial time. If anyone above him seriously believed Jasper had disregarded a check fire, his career as a soldier ends, right there and then. So long, goodbye, and on your way out please report to the military jail in Edmonton for a few years, thanks a lot...

The checkfire issue itself is a complete tangent. Whether the Canadians were about to stop firing, or had just restarted firing on the range is irrelevant to Schmidt's actual guilt in killing them: his actions and theirs were entirely disconnected from each other. If anything, it only gauges the level of the tragic-irony-meter over Afghanistan that night. If the inquiries disregarded evidence related to it, that would have been entirely justified because it was not a question of fact that needed deciding; in fact, it is entirely irrelevant.

It is, however, kind of important for the career of one Capt. Jasper. The two lawyers basically tried to commit a drive-by career-ender on a good Canadian officer, not because doing so would exonerate their clients in any way, but because they're basically throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the military now, in a transparent attempt to confuse the court and prejudice the public. By saying some irrelevant information was left out of the final reports of the parallel national inquiries, therefore there must be some big JFK-esque conspiracy between the nations to make their clients the patsies, etc. etc. One begins to wish the old rules prohibiting civilian legal representation in court martial hearings still applied...

PS: Another example of the same tactic is at the top of the same article, where the lawyers try to make hay of a previous near-fratricide incident involving soldiers from the same regiment. The clear implication is that Canadians were somehow prone to this sort of thing, or that the real problem was the absence of the same FAC who had saved the situation before on the fatal night. The context that's missing is that the previous incident occurred with Canadian troops deployed on Operation ANACONDA, attempting to close with their enemy in hostile territory. The night in question they were doing target practice at their own base. The circumstances are so entirely dissimilar that bringing them up the way the lawyers have can only be for obfuscatory purposes.

Posted by BruceR at 12:39 AM



I'm grateful to Cecil T. for giving me one of the best arguments I've had in ages, with reference to the Kandahar bombing incident, these last few days in Flitters. It's weeks like this I'm particularly glad I have a forum feature, and particularly impressed with the literacy and wide-ranging knowledge of this webpage's readers. I've certainly learned a few things.

Posted by BruceR at 12:19 AM