Availability of .50 Caliber Semiautomatic Rifles

OSI-99-13R: Published: Jun 30, 1999. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 1999.

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Robert H. Hast
(202) 512-3000


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the: (1) availability of .50 caliber semiautomatic rifles; (2) ability to acquire certain types of ammunition used in such rifles; and (3) possible criminal misuse of such rifles.

GAO noted that: (1) although there are no federal restrictions on the ownership or use of the .50 caliber semiautomatic rifle, some state and local governments have passed laws governing the sale of these weapons; (2) GAO visited a number of Federal Firearms License gun dealers in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia, and one of GAO's investigators purported to be a resident of Virginia seeking to purchase a new .50 caliber semiautomatic rifle; (3) except for the Maryland dealer, the other dealers would have sold a .50 caliber rifle to the investigator upon presenting his Virginia driver's license and a second form of identification; (4) the identification would have enabled the dealers to conduct the instant record check that is mandated by federal law; (5) during its visits to gun dealers in the five nearby states, GAO asked them about the availability of armor-piercing and armor-piercing incendiary ammunition used in semiautomatic rifles; (6) the dealers in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia responded that such ammunition is available for purchase as military surplus ammunition without restriction; (7) however, the dealers would need to place a special order for such ammunition, since it is not readily available as a regular inventory item; (8) the dealer in Maryland said that he would only sell such ammunition to Maryland residents and the Virginia dealer said that it is illegal to sell or possess such ammunition in that state; (9) with regard to possible criminal misuse of .50 caliber semiautomatic rifles, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) records show that since 1992, the agency has initiated 28 gun traces involving .50 caliber semiautomatic rifles; (10) all of the trace requests appear to involve the Barrett model M82A1 rifle; (11) the fact that ATF conducts a gun trace does not necessarily mean that the gun being traced was involved in criminal activity; (12) GAO has not yet completed its inquiry into all 28 traces; and (13) however, GAO has identified some examples of criminal misuse of the .50 caliber rifle with a nexus to terrorism, outlaw motorcycle gangs, international and domestic drug trafficking, and violent crime.

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