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Near the end of the First World War, the German army introduced powerful new anti-tank rifles, and the U.S. military realized that it needed a similar weapon. Legendary American firearm designer John Browning answered the call by developing a heavy-duty machine gun and a new type of .50 caliber ammunition for it. Although rapid improvement in armor plating soon made it obsolete as an anti-tank weapon, Browning's machine gun proved to be enormously successful when deployed against personnel and less heavily armored vehicles. Military forces throughout the world continue to use it today. The ammunition for this gun became known as .50 Browning Machine Gun or .50 BMG. In the early 1980s, a handful of gun enthusiasts, tinkering in their garages and workshops, began making rifles chambered to fire the mighty .50 BMG ammunition cartridges. Rather than delivering a rapid barrage of fire like a machine gun, these rifles were designed for methodical shooting with exceptional accuracy and power at long distances. The U.S. military soon realized the value of these new rifles and purchased some of them for Marines to use in the first Iraq war. Since then, .50 BMG rifles have proliferated rapidly, moving into military and law enforcement arsenals throughout the world as well as into the hands of thousands of American civilian shooters. The rifles' success has been followed by controversy. In recent years, they have become one of the hottest points of contention in America's perpetual debate over guns and the laws controlling them. On September 13, 2004, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that made California the first state in the nation to ban these rifles. Similar bills have been introduced in several other state legislatures and in Congress. This Article analyzes the issues surrounding these rifles and how they should be regulated. Striving to focus on facts and steer clear of hyperbole, it concludes that the truth lies somewhere between the lines drawn by the warring factions aligned on either side of the debate. While many of the arguments against tighter legal controls on these rifles are not compelling, many of the proposals made to establish such controls are flawed as well. Drawing on a British proposal, the Article explains how regulations could be crafted that would squarely address the real issue - the power of the firearm - rather than focusing exclusively on caliber. The debate over these weapons provides an illuminating means of looking at the larger conflict over guns and violence in this country and how progress could be made toward real solutions.

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University of Cincinnati Law Review





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