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Federal Bill Would Restrict .50 Caliber Rifles in Bid to Block Cartel Access [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1213)
Consequences of Prohibition
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

.50 caliber rifles are among the most powerful weapons civilians can buy in the United States. The anti-armor sniper rifles were designed for military use and can strike a target from more than a mile away, penetrate light armor, down a helicopter, destroy commercial aircraft, and blow through rail cars and storage tanks filled with chemicals.

A .50 caliber rifle seized at the Port of Nogales. (CBP)
They are used by militaries around the world because of their ability to blow through armor and favored by some gun enthusiasts here but also by less savory actors, including Mexican drug trafficking organizations, the so-called cartels.

Grown obscenely wealthy thanks to the profits of drug prohibition, the cartels have no problem with the $9,000 price tag for the high-powered weapons. In one case alone, more than $600,000 worth of .50 calibers and other military-grade firearms were purchased for the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) in Racine, Wisconsin, in the spring of 2018.

That case was made after a CJNG hit squad attempted to assassinate a prosecutor in Jalisco and a subsequent raid in Guadalajara turned up 36 weapons including a Barrett .50 caliber traced back to a Racine firearms dealer. The defendants in that case are on trial in federal court right now.

.50 calibers have also been used by the CJNG to kill 13 policemen in an ambush, in a failed assassination attempt against Mexico City's top cop, and to shoot down a police helicopter.

It's not just the CJNG. When authorities in Culiacan, Sinaloa, arrested Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's son in 2019, Sinaloa Cartel gunmen used .50 calibers to battle government forces on the streets of the city, leading to the decision to release him. Those battles produced videos that went viral.

It is a peculiarity of American law and history that such weapons are available for sale to the general public. But there is support in Congress for changing that, at least on the Democratic side of the aisle. This week, nearly two dozen Democratic US representatives cosponsored the Stop Arming Cartels Act, which would restrict access to such weaponry in the name of preventing it from ending up in the hands of people like the CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel.

The Stop Arming Cartels Act would prohibit the further sale of .50 caliber rifles and regulate existing .50 caliber rifles, applying the same reporting requirements for handguns to rifles, and establishing new avenues for the victims of gun violence to seek justice from manufacturers and dealers who violate US laws.

"When I speak to leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean, their number-one request is for Congress to stop American weapons of war from falling into the hands of the gangs that are destabilizing their countries," said bill sponsor Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX). "Especially in Mexico, access to .50 caliber rifles has fundamentally altered the balance of power between criminal organizations and the government and allowed cartels to become virtually untouchable" he continued.

Cosponsor Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) said that "[t]he gun laws championed by Republican legislators in this country make Americans less safe. The consequences don't just impact our communities but they also impact our neighbors in Latin America and around the world," arguing that "a refusal to act would mean continuing to arm transnational criminal organizations and cartels that purchase these weapons for illicit acts."

Anything that touches on the 2nd Amendment is bound to stir up an angry reaction. And most congressional legislation needs the votes of 60 Senators, in order to overcome the filibuster that is certain to be initiated by legislators on the right. On the other hand, legislation passed last year took some steps including licensing, purchase limits and increased backround checks, the first federal gun regulation measure to get enacted in many years.

In the meanwhile, there aren't many members of either party in Congress who are ready to fully confront the role of drug prohibition in driving the prevalence of these and other weapons.

The Stop Arming Cartels Act has been endorsed by Global Exchange/Stop U.S. Arms to Mexico, Gun Violence Prevention, Newtown Action Alliance, March for Our Lives, Everytown, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Center for American Progress, Brady: United Against Gun Violence, Latin America Working Group (LAWG), Amnesty International, Win Without War, and Global Action on Gun Violence.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Terry McKinney (not verified)

The 50 was the chosen MG in many US wars for taking down aircraft.I understand the fear that such a weapon can bring but there's a huge difference between a 50 cal MG and a single shot,bolt action rifle.Good luck taking down anything flying with such a gun.Far as armor peircing,you can use ammo to get the requird penetration with many other rifles with much more rapid fire.Much ado here.

Sat, 06/15/2024 - 1:34am Permalink

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