Gun Group Says Second Amendment Foe Exploiting Tragedy

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - A gun rights group says an anti-gun congressman is using the Sept.11 terrorist attacks on the United States as an excuse to further his unconstitutional agenda.

Rep. Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.) said in a press conference Sunday, Oct. 21, that .50 caliber sniper rifles are the "terrorist weapon of choice," and civilian ownership of the weapons should, therefore, be banned.

"This is a weapon that should never have been allowed for civilian use in the first place," Blagojevich said. "In response to these terrorist tragedies, we have to get them off the market."

Erich Pratt, communications director for Gun Owners of America, calls the connection "completely ludicrous," and says Blagojevich is "trying to use the tragedy as a launching point."

"First of all, there were no guns used in the September 11 attacks," Pratt said. "Secondly, the fact that there were no guns on board is what assured the terrorists that they could come on board with just box cutters and plastic knives and hold a whole planeload of people in terror. This is the fruit of gun control."

During the trial of the suspects in the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa, a U.S. operative for the al-Qaeda terrorist network claimed to have shipped 25 Barrett .50 (caliber) sniper rifles to Afghanistan in the late 1980s, according to a report by the Violence Policy Center (VPC), an anti-gun rights group.

Blagojevich points to this report in support of his position.

"There is no one in the firearms industry who is able to sell at their own free will to foreign nationals or foreign governments," according to Ronnie Barrett, creator of the Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle.

"The laws are so strict and the punishments are so high, you wouldn't see any of our people risking their future doing the type of foolishness that the Violence Policy Center is lying about," Barrett said.

The report omits that the weapons were given to what is now known as al-Qaeda, as part of a $50 million military supply and equipment package from the U.S. government to help Afghanistan fight off the Soviet invasion underway at the time. The package included small arms and ammunition, as well as Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

Barrett is upset by the claims made by VPC and the inferences made by Blagojevich, but not just because they have hurt his reputation.

"This is actual sabotage of the American defense industry. We currently are in overdrive production of meeting some of the U.S. defense requirements and needs," he said. "Here at probably the busiest we could be, the Violence Policy Center, Henry Waxman, and Rod Blagojevich sabotage our operation with these accusations."

Barrett says some of the company's sub-contractors had refused to do business with them as a result of the report, until the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms stepped in and assured the suppliers that Barrett Firearms Manufacturing had indeed broken no laws.

VPC and Blagojevich are spreading "disinformation" about his product, according to Barrett, because similar tactics have worked for gun restriction and confiscation supporters in the past.

"This tactic has been used so well in the past on the recent 'assault weapons' bill, and things like that, that they believe that it will continue to work," he concluded.

Anti-Second Amendment forces began referring to semi-automatic rifles with "military looking" cosmetic features as "assault rifles" during the Clinton administration. The tactic confused many hunting, sporting, and self-defense long-guns with true assault rifles, which are fully-automatic "machine guns," not semi-automatic rifles.

Pratt says he's not surprised to see Blagojevich employing the tactic.

"If there's an anti-gun bill in Congress, you will find, usually, his name on it," Pratt said.

But a spokeswoman for Blagojevich says the congressman only believes the weapons should be regulated in the same manner as machine guns are regulated by the National Firearms Act. That law requires the payment of a tax to the federal government for the purchase or transfer of a fully-automatic weapon.

It also requires the buyer to undergo a background investigation by federal officials. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms keeps a registry of all machine gun owners.

During the Clinton administration, the Democratically-controlled Congress used the precedent established by the National Firearms Act to ban the manufacture of new fully automatic weapons for private use.

"This is a nibbling process against the Second Amendment," Barrett says, "of reclassifying smaller types of weapons, demonizing them, and then trying to get some types of laws or regulations passed against them."

"Make no mistake, this is not just about .50 caliber [guns], because [of] the discussions they're having are talking about .50 caliber and 'other powerful weapons,'" Barrett said. "Other powerful weapons are gonna be basically every center-fire rifle cartridge by their definition."