National Security Experts Confirm Terror Threat Posed by 50 Caliber Anti-Armor Sniper Rifles

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New Violence Policy Center Study Includes Previously Classified U.S. Secret Service Report Warning of Danger to President and Civil Aviation from Easily Obtained Sniper Rifles

Washington, DC – The Violence Policy Center (VPC) today released a new study detailing the concerns of a wide spectrum of national security experts about the terrorism threat posed by easily available and virtually unregulated 50 caliber anti-armor sniper rifles. The 42-page study Clear and Present Danger: National Security Experts Warn About the Danger of Unrestricted Sales of 50 Caliber Anti-Armor Sniper Rifles to Civilians reveals the details of a report, previously classified as “Secret,” written by a senior U.S. Secret Service official warning that large caliber sniper rifles present a threat to the President, other senior government officials, and to civil aviation in particular. Accurate to over a mile, 50 caliber sniper rifles can penetrate armor plating and destroy aircraft, but are sold with fewer federal controls than a standard handgun.

The 50 caliber “long range weapons pose a significant threat for U.S. National Command Authority figures if used by terrorists or other assailants,” the Secret Service official warned in the secret 1985 report. [The “National Command Authority” is the President and the Secretary of Defense.] “The weapons are more accurate than shoulder fired antitank rockets and, if used against aircraft, immune to electronic counter measures.”

The VPC report details a continuing series of warnings from other national security experts since then confirming the threat to civil aviation, law enforcement, nuclear plant security, and such potentially catastrophic targets as highly explosive liquified natural gas transport and storage systems. In addition to other experts cited in earlier VPC studies, Clear and Present Danger reports specific concerns from the RAND Corporation, the U.S. Army, the terrorism risk analysis center at the University of Southern California sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and former national security adviser Richard A. Clarke.

“These experts have hands-on experience defending against terror attacks and agree unanimously that 50 caliber anti-armor sniper rifles present a clear and present danger to national security,” states study author Tom Diaz, VPC senior policy analyst. Diaz said Congress and the White House have bowed to pressure from the gun industry and the National Rifle Association to block federal regulation of the rifles, which are used on the battlefield to defeat light armor and take out such targets as fuel storage and transport vehicles and aircraft.

Adds Diaz, “Bringing 50 caliber anti-armor rifles under the existing National Firearms Act, which regulates other weapons of war such as machine guns, would make it possible for the first time to know exactly who has these deadly military weapons.”


The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on Twitter and Facebook.