Test Shows Barrett 50-Cal 'Slicing Through Steel'
By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - It's a powerful military sniper rifle that some politicians in Washington now want to ban.
Even the nation's police chiefs said guns like the Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifle have no place on America's streets.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates got a close-up look at the gun -- which is manufactured right here in Middle Tennessee -- in the hands of a trained sniper.
The weapon, which costs thousands of dollars and fires these nearly six-inch rounds, has worried law enforcement for years after finding its way into the hands of extremists.
For our test, we set up a watermelon to represent the victim. As expected, the result would have been deadly.
Next, we decided to make it a little more challenging, placing a melon behind a car door.
But the door was no match for the giant .50-caliber round.
Finally, we set up an old police bulletproof vest.
This time, the result was stunning. The bullet went through the vest, straight through the trauma plate and out the back side.
And our sniper was just firing standard .50-caliber ammunition -- not the armor-piercing or incendiary ammunition that we found on the Internet.
But a NatGeo from the program Snipers Inc. shows the gun's inventor, Murfreesboro native Ronnie Barrett, putting the latest version of his rifle to the ultimate test.
The bullet was fired through three quarter-inch steel plates.
"This high-speed shot shows the .50 caliber slicing through steel like a hot-knife through butter, leaving a spectacular firestorm in its wake," the narrator noted.
Ronnie Barrett was pleased with the result.
"That is exactly what I wanted it to be -- it is a real bad-ass rifle," he said.
In fact, Barrett's early promotional materials boasted of the weapon's military "first strike capability," the ability to destroy "multimillion-dollar aircraft with a single hit."
"There are many different environments in which the ability to penetrate steel plating and cause things to blow up is problematic," said Tom Diaz, a longtime gun control researcher.
'Weapon Of War' Or Just Another Gun
Diaz has spent years writing about what he sees as the "clear and present danger" posed by the sale of powerful military sniper rifles to the public.
Among his fears: a pack of airliners lined up on an airport taxiway.
"One round of incendiary ammunition in the right place in a jetliner is going to cause it to burst into flames," Diaz said. "If it's next to another one, it's going to have what is called a fratricide effect, where one sits off another and another."
Diaz isn't alone in his concern.
Analysts from the RAND Corp. looked at possible attack scenarios at Los Angeles International Airport -- one of them, an attack using a .50-cal sniper rifle.
Investigators said they were "unable to identify any truly satisfactory solutions" to that threat.
Among Diaz's other concerns:
"Fuel tank depots. Worst of all, God forbid, toxic chemical storage -- where now you are talking about wind dispersion that could affect literally millions of people. This is all from one awesome, powerful weapon."
But what really makes the Barrett such a devastating weapon is its range: it's easily capable of hitting a target more than a mile away.
Gun rights advocate John Harris argues that the Barrett is exactly the type of weapon that the founders had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment.
"They weren't protecting guns suitable for duck hunting or deer hunting or turkey hunting or sporting purposes," said Harris, who heads the Tennessee Firearms Association. "They were specifically protecting weapons suitable for military use."
Still, the Barrett .50-cal is now on the list of weapons that U.S. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and some gun control advocates want to ban.
And the potential use against cops is why the International Association of Chiefs of Police also wants it outlawed.
"I've often been accused of wanting to ban the Barrett and other .50-caliber anti-armor rifles -- I don't," Diaz said.
Instead, the gun control advocate said that they should be treated like machine guns, which would mean stricter background checks and a special license to own them.
"That doesn't mean you can't buy one," he said. "The same people who buy them now -- with the exception of the criminals and the terrorists -- could buy them in the future. But we would know who's got them."
For now, he noted that the Barrett .50 caliber and other similar rifles are less regulated than a .22 handgun.
To buy a handgun, you have to be 21. For the Barrett, it's 18.
Also, if a person buys multiple handguns, dealers nationwide have to report that to the feds, but the same rules don't apply to long guns.