Huge rifle at center of king-sized controversy
By CHUCK MURPHY, Times Staff Writer
SEMINOLE -- Picking through a pile of firearms and explosives in a Seminole townhouse, Pinellas sheriff's deputies and federal agents found dozens of legal weapons, several suspected bombs and one rifle that has raised hackles from Washington to California.
The .50-caliber rifle, like the one discovered late Thursday at the home of Pinellas podiatrist Robert Goldstein, is one of the most-discussed legal weapons on the market today.
Fired from the end zone at Raymond James Stadium, a .50-caliber bullet traveling 2,800 feet per second could take out a window at the Bank of America building in downtown Tampa. From the top of St. Petersburg's Pier, a trained marksman firing west would be able to hit a small target in Williams Park downtown. Fired to the south, the bullet would travel beyond Coquina Key.
"They are extremely dangerous weapons," said Rebecca Bruno, associate director of police and education at Physicians for Social Responsibility, one of several advocacy groups fighting for greater regulation of .50-caliber rifles. "They can shoot down aircraft. They have no sporting purpose. They are a threat to the infrastructure."
Following a 1999 government report on the power of the rifles and available armor-piercing ammunition for them, some members of Congress tried to have them reclassified as assault weapons, creating tighter controls. The effort stalled, but remains alive.
Earlier this year, after disclosures that al-Qaida and other terror groups have probably purchased or received .50-caliber weapons from sources in the United States, the California State Assembly considered requiring registration of the big rifles. It didn't pass.
Ronnie Barrett, whose family-owned Tennessee company makes some of the most popular .50-caliber rifles on the market, said efforts at increased regulation of his product are misguided attacks on the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In truth, said Barrett, there have been no major crimes committed in the United States with a .50-caliber weapon. If anything, he said, the arrest of Goldstein shows that the system works.
"Here we've got somebody who apparently wasn't thinking straight and who has been dealt with now. He is in jail, right?" Barrett said. "We don't need any new laws. The ones we have do the job."
Barrett said .50-caliber rifles are hardly different from some other legal weapons on the market. But, in Barrett's view, they have come under attack from gun control advocates who believe they can slowly chip away at lawful weapons by scaring the public about the capability of his guns.
The .50-caliber fires just slightly farther, and not much faster, if at all, than several smaller weapons on the market. But, for now, the opponents are trying to draw the line behind the .50-caliber, and Barrett spends a considerable part of his time battling legislative proposals.
"When people don't get the truth, crazy, knee-jerk laws get passed. So that's why I have to get out there," Barrett said.
As for the other weapons in Goldstein's home, though deputies and agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have not released a complete list of what they found, they have charged him with illegally keeping "more than 15 destructive devices" that agents described as "improvised explosive bombs."
Pinellas deputies said there were also two light anti-armor rockets found in the home, though Goldstein has not yet been charged with possessing those tightly regulated military weapons.
There were also as many as 60 handguns and other rifles in the Seminole townhome. But since Goldstein is not a felon, had not been convicted of domestic violence and was not adjudicated mentally ill, it appears that he could keep as many of those as he wanted.
"He can have as many as he can swap for or as many as he has the money in his bank account to pay for," said Jim Crandall, program manager in the ATF's office of public affairs.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
local news desks