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Arms Sales are a Boomerang

October 11, 2001


Mr. Speaker,

What has the al-Qaeda organization, a heavy 50-caliber sniper rifle designed for elite troops, and a firearms manufacturer in Tennessee got in common?
Guns, money, and a great big boomerang.

Last Sunday, October 7, 2001, the Violence Policy Center issued a report entitled ``Voting from the Rooftops,'' which detailed, among other things, the sale and supply of 25 50-caliber sniper rifles manufactured by a local gun manufacturer, Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.

The report cites evidence given earlier this year in New York during the African Embassy bombings trial that Essam al Ridi testified that in about 1988 or 1989 he had purchased 25 Barrett 50-caliber sniper rifles for $150,000 and shipped them to al-Qaeda. The report went on to detail other sales of the special 50-caliber Barrett weapon to members of the IRA and other groups. Tragically, the report cited numerous incidents of British soldiers being shot and killed with sniper rifles.

The report said that there is no evidence yet available about whether Ronnie G. Barrett, the 1993 trading name of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, actually knew that the 25 guns being sold to bin Laden's al-Qaeda, nor do we know whether the guns were sold directly from the factory or through a dealer or dealers. Jane's International Defense Review reported in 1989 that, "Barrett will not identify its weapons purchasers." But the unavailability of evidence is not reassuring.

The fact is we should know all of the people who were in this country buying and selling these kinds of specialist weapons to terrorists and the hands that these specialist weapons pass through before they left this country.

The events of September 11 have now made that kind of information vital to showing the links between the al-Qaeda members.

The Barrett and M82A1 50-caliber sniper rifle is a tremendously powerful weapon providing heavy hitting power with high accuracy out to an estimated 1,800 yards. U.S. Marines used the Barrett 50-caliber in the Gulf War to knock out Iraqi armored vehicles from 1,750 yards away. Mr. Speaker, for those of us in Washington, D.C., that is roughly the distance from the Smithsonian Institute metro stop to the west front of the Capitol.

These weapons are state-of-the-art firearms and can be used against vehicle armor, fuel tanks, penetrating concrete walls, aircraft and helicopters. These weapons should not be in the hands of terrorists. These weapons should not be in the hands of civilians. These are specialist weapons which should be sold and supplied only to the military.

Barrett Firearms Manufacturing company's Web site ironically states that "long-range shooting competitors and large caliber rifle enthusiasts throughout the world rely on Barrett products." Well, Mr. Speaker, I can think of a lot of adjectives to describe members of al-Qaeda and the IRA, but "large caliber rifle enthusiasts" is not among them. Now, not only might our young servicemen and women be confronted by the stinger missiles sold by the CIA, but it appears that they might be confronted with sniper rifles from Tennessee.

I understand that Senator Feinstein and other Members of the Senate have introduced a bill to curb the sale and supply of these specialist 50-caliber weapons and that the NRA has already come out against it. Mr. Speaker, the NRA and its followers are fond of saying that "guns don't kill, people do."

Well, in this case, the boomerang of unbridled arms sales and bad public policy might just come back to hurt us in Afghanistan.

Arms sales are a boomerang.


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