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A committee of the California Assembly is set to consider a bill that would outlaw the sale and ownership of .50-caliber rifles in the state.

The measure, known as A.B. 2222, was introduced Feb. 28. Sponsored by Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-Hollywood, chairman of the Assembly’s Select Committee on Gun Violence, the bill would also outlaw “small-arms armor-piercing ammunition.”

“Existing law requires, except as specified, for the destruction, as a nuisance, of a machine gun possessed in violation of law. This bill would similarly require, except as specified, for the destruction, as a nuisance, of a .50-caliber sniper weapon possessed in violation of [the] law,” said a summary of the bill.

The Public Safety Committee was expected to vote on the measure by today, according to information published on the state Assembly’s website. But a spokeswoman from the committee told WorldNetDaily yesterday that the vote had been pushed back to April 16.

Calls to the office of the Democratic head of the committee, Assemblyman Carl Washington, went unanswered. Republican Vice Chairman Jay La Suer’s office also did not return calls seeking comment. The committee was out for Easter break.

Gun-control groups have come out in support the measure.

In an analysis entitled, “Voting From the Rooftops,” in which it asserts that the “gun industry armed” Osama bin Laden, the Violence Policy Center says the “entrepreneurs who powered the .50-caliber wave are already working on new designs,” and proposes adding the weapons to the National Firearms Act.

“Congress should immediately amend federal law to bring .50BMG rifles under the National Firearms Act. This action would subject these weapons to the same regimen of registration, background checks and taxation to which other weapons of war, such as machine guns and destructive devices, are currently subjected,” said the VPC study.

The anti-gun group also opposes any “grandfathering” of the weapons – exempting those already in circulation from the new regulations – and supports a “very short” registration period.

“America must know who besides Osama bin Laden possesses these deadly tools of assassination and terror,” said the report, which claimed that Branch Davidian leader David Koresh had two of the weapons and that a Montana group called the Church Universal and Triumphant obtained 10 of them. The Irish Republican Army, said VPC, has used .50-caliber rifles to kill British troops and Irish constables.

The VPC also supports banning .50-caliber armor-piercing ammunition.

“Taken together,” the group – in its report – said, “the foregoing recommendations would significantly reduce the severe and immediate threat that heavy and intermediate civilian sniper rifles pose to public safety and national security.”

“Their potential for assassination is readily apparent, but they are also capable of devastating attacks on infrastructure,” says an analysis by Physicians for Social Responsibility. “They have the potential to shoot down both commercial and private aircraft, helicopters and disable other transportation. A terrorist armed with a .50-caliber weapon and incendiary ammunition could attack oil or gas pipelines and storage facilities, chemical plants and other hazardous industrial facilities.”

“PSR encourages Congress to regulate .50-caliber sniper rifles in the same manner as machines guns and other firearms that are regulated under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986,” the group said.

Other groups say opposition to the weapons and their ammunition is politically motivated.

“The VPC argues that because .50-caliber rifles are used by the military, they should not be available to civilians. This false premise, also used against ‘assault weapons,’ suffers at least two flaws,” says a “Fact Sheet” issued by the National Rifle Association.

“First, .50-caliber rifles used by the military were developed through the combined efforts of civilian target shooters, firearm engineers and gunsmiths,” the NRA said “Second, civilians have always owned the same kinds of firearms as the military, and many firearms have been adopted by the military only after being widely adopted by hunters and target shooters.”

The gun-rights organization said .50-caliber weapons “aren’t used in crimes” because they are “too expensive and cumbersome for run-of-the-mill” criminals.

Other gun-rights groups said it is wrong to punish law-abiding Americans for what may or may not happen.

“If this is a good way to make laws, then we ought to ban politicians,” Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, told WorldNetDaily. “We know from the past that some of them invariably become dictators, and more of them become thieves. In order to avoid that, we ought to just have no politicians.”

Makers of one of the most popular .50-caliber rifles – Barrett – have defended the sale and use of the weapons. Also, the company denies it has arbitrarily sold its rifles to terrorists.

Mary Scott Smith, a spokesperson for the company, told CNSNews.com in a Nov. 12 interview that Barrett had never sold .50 caliber rifles to foreign nations not sanctioned by the U.S. State Department.

She said the U.S. government bought several .50-caliber rifles 14 years ago, then supplied the weapons to the rebel forces known as the Afghan Mujahedin for use in their fight against invading Soviet troops.

“That’s all we know about it,” Smith said. “It happened 14 years ago. We are busy right now to keep our U.S. military supplied with the things they need to fight this war.”

She also denied that foreign and domestic “terror groups” had obtained the weapons from the company.

“We certainly did not ship any rifles to the IRA and as far as [Branch Davidian leader] David Koresh, we only sell to licensed dealers. He evidently purchased them through his dealer, and his compound had a federal firearms license. So he had them legally. We heard that those rifles were never fired,” she said.

Connecticut has already banned .50-caliber armor-piercing ammunition, and there have been efforts on the federal level to ban the weapons altogether. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has twice introduced legislation to ban the rifles, once in 1999 and once in 2001.

Pratt dismisses the effort as unnecessary.

“I’m surprised lawmakers haven’t come up with this law sooner because it’s become a rampant problem,” he said sarcastically. “I mean, bank robberies with these things, drive by shootings … Good grief, man, haven’t you seen all of these guys with these mounted on their pickup trucks?”

In a separate measure, state Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, has proposed a bill that would impose a five cent tax on each round of ammunition sold in the state.

Perata, an avid gun-control advocate who says he’s bound to get angry responses to his proposal, claims he’s not offering his bill to curb gun use. Rather, he told local TV newscasts, he says the bill would raise money to save California’s hospital trauma centers, some of which are going under.

“Bullets cause injuries that are expensive to treat and generally speaking, the public is footing the bill,” he said.

Local NRA members said the group would fight Perata’s bill.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon said he opposes the measure. Gov. Gray Davis, the Democratic incumbent, has yet to take a position but has said he is against any new tax measures.

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