BURLINGTON, VT—Despite his staunch opposition to the National Rifle Association and U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, peace activist Paul Robinson conceded Monday that the Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle is "pretty damn cool."
"Look, I realize that the use of this instrument of destruction, even in wartime, is morally reprehensible, and I don't see how anyone with a conscience could justify owning one," said Robinson, 31, a University of Vermont graduate student in sociology and president of the campus chapter of Amnesty International. "But you have to admit, it's pretty wild to think that it's capable of throwing a half-inch bullet into a man-sized target 1,500 meters away."
Robinson first became aware of the high-powered, exceptionally accurate weapon in 1995 while researching U.S. military involvement in Somalia, which he protested while pursuing a masters degree at Bates College.
"While gathering data for a petition letter condemning U.S. policy in Somalia, I was appalled to learn that the Special Forces were using a gun called the Barrett M82A1 to take out trucks from a mile away," Robinson said. "A friggin' mile. Can you imagine?"
Last week, a guilt-ridden Robinson bought a copy of Guns & Ammo containing an article titled "The Guns Of Black Hawk Down," which prominently featured the Barrett.
"It's a big gun, the Barrett," said Robinson, leafing through the article. "It's about five feet long and weighs almost 30 pounds. It fires the largest widely available cartridge in the world—a machine-gun bullet, really. It can empty a 10-round magazine as fast as you can pull the trigger. And thanks to its ingenious dual-chamber muzzle brake, gases are vented away, and the user feels no more recoil than you get with a 12-gauge shotgun. Not that anyone should know what the recoil feels like on any gun."
Robinson also noted that anyone with $7,300 can buy the civilian version of the M82A1, a fact he finds "thoroughly repugnant" and "kind of tempting."
"Though I would never, ever so much as touch one, I bet the Barrett is probably very fun to shoot," Robinson said. "And the fact that anyone can get their hands on this killing machine, plus a 10-power Unertl scope and a few boxes of match-grade 750-grain cartridges, for less than $10,000, well, that's just sickening."
The pacifist added that he would be willing to meet with any interested owners of Barrett rifles in order to "open a dialogue."
Robinson's friends are appalled by his attraction to the rifle.
"Paul can praise the Barrett all he wants, but he needs to remember that it's a device whose sole function is to kill people," said Max Shorter, 28, a friend and colleague of Robinson's in the sociology department. "It might be a triumph of ballistic engineering, but that should in no way obscure the fact that this is a tool for murder."
"Plus, it failed some of the Navy's field tests for reliability and accuracy," Shorter added. "The extractors kept breaking, I seem to recall."