The Sniper's Puny Little Gun

The National Rifle Association and its supporters are struggling to cope with the bad publicity generated by America's latest gun-toting mass murderer. In an essay that has circulated widely on right-wing and pro-gun web sites, Michael S. Brown complains that the DC-area sniper "gave the battered antigun lobby what it desperately needed, a high-profile mass murderer who used a firearm," adding that the sniper gives gun control advocates the biggest boost "since their last big public relations victory at Columbine." Brown adds a couple of digs at the news media: "In their rush to instill fear in the audience, they implied that the rifle was some kind of super weapon, when in reality it is much less powerful than most common hunting rifles. Close ups and graphics invariably left viewers with the impression that the .223 cartridges are much larger than they actually are. A real sniper would not be interested in such an anemic cartridge." According to Rodney Ryan, who runs a private school in West Virginia that trains people to be snipers, "This guy is not a sniper. He is just a crazed gunman, and he is giving snipers a bad reputation." Weapons of frightening power continue to be readily available to people like John Allen Muhammad, yet NRA propagandists continue to lobby against gun registration or ballistic fingerprinting, which would help police identify the owners of guns that have been used in shootings.