Levin (D-Mich.) has called on Congress to ban the manufacture and sale of 50-caliber sniper rifles, saying they are so powerful they pose a terrorist threat to civil aviation.
In a Jan. 26 speech on the Senate floor, Levin said the U.S. should follow the lead of California, which banned the weapon last September.
"Unfortunately," said Levin, "there are few federal regulations to protect the rest of the nation from these dangerous weapons. Buyers need only be 18 years old, rather than the 21 years of age required for handgun purchases. And there is no minimum age requirement for possession of a .50 caliber weapon and no regulation on second hand sales."
The senator warned that "the .50 caliber sniper rifle is a favorite weapon of militaries around the world and is also among the most powerful weapons legally available to private individuals in the United States. According to a report released by the Violence Policy Center last year, a .50 caliber sniper rifle is capable of accurately hitting a target over 1,500-yards away, and the ammunition available for the rifle includes armor-piercing, incendiary, and explosive bullets. The report also cites the U.S. Army's manual on urban combat, which states that .50 caliber sniper rifles are designed to attack bulk fuel tanks and other high-value targets from a distance using “their ability to break through all but the thickest shielding material.”
Levin noted that a 1999 report by the minority staff of the House Government Reform Committee noted that "the thumb-sized bullets fired by .50 caliber rifles can easily punch through aircraft fuselages, fuel tanks, and
engines. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly of New York City referred to these potential threats by saying, 'Clearly, with the range that it has, and the impact capability that it has, it would put an airliner or an airplane at risk if it hit that plane.'"
Kohl's speech marked the 190th straight week he has spoken on the topic of gun crimes in fulfillment of a pledge he made in May 1999 to the Economic Club of Detroit. The issue of airline safety increasingly has come to the forefront of Congress' attention. Recently, Senator
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep.
Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) urged commercial airlines be equipped with systems to ward off possible attacks from shoulder-fired missiles
(see previous story).