Monday, March 21, 2005

50-caliber rifles - a hot topic

In the February 17, 2005 episode of Paula Zahn Now on CNN, a reporter showed how easy it was to find a 50-caliber rifle on the Internet (eBay) and then buy it from a private dealer, no questions asked. Buying ammunition was even easier.

E.D.M. Arms 50 Cal BMG Windrunner M96 Magazine-fed (5-round)
Price: $8,250.00 USD

Ronnie Barrett, creator of the .50-caliber rifle, defends his weapon
amidst a flurry of outrage. The military-grade weapon can be sold
to civilians.

Their point was that virtually anyone could purchase this gun, and the ammo, even though it was capable of downing aircraft and penetrating steel plate. Apart from long-range shooting, most people wouldn't have a requirement for such a heavy, powerful weapon. Perhaps the most disturbing fact was that the bad guys, terrorists, could aquire these weapons. The media has reported on Al-Qaeda having purchased these guns, years ago from the US.

Just this past weekend, CBS's 60 Minutes reported on a US citizen, formerly from Kosovo, who was buying 50-caliber rifles and shipping them, on board commercial aircraft, to that war-torn part of Europe.

"Fifteen years ago, Osama bin Laden sent one of his operatives to the United States to buy and bring back two-dozen .50-caliber rifles, a gun that can kill someone from over a mile away and even bring down an airplane.

In spite of all the recent efforts to curb terrorism, bin Laden could do the same thing today, because buying and shipping the world’s most powerful sniper rifle is not as difficult as you might think. "

"The gunrunner's name is Florin Krasniqi, and he is seen providing a new shipment of weapons to Albanian rebels, who are about to smuggle them over the mountains into Kosovo. After a few days' journey on horseback, the guns will end up in the hands of a guerrilla force known as the Kosovo Liberation Army, which has been fighting for independence from Serbia for nearly a decade.

Krasniqi took these guns to his family's home in Kosovo. Most of them were easy to get in Albania, but not the .50-caliber rifles. "This is, we get from the home of the brave and the land of the free, as we would like to say," says Krasniqi, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Krasniqi came to America in 1989. He was smuggled across the Mexican border in the trunk of a car with just $50 in his pocket. Today, he’s an American citizen, and the owner of a highly successful roofing business.

"This is what I do for a living," says Krasniqi. "This is how we earn the money in New York. There’s a large Albanian-American community in the New York City area."

When the war broke out in Kosovo in 1998, many of the young men volunteered to fight. Krasniqi realized he’d be more valuable raising money for the guerrilla army. Then, he started buying standard equipment at a Brooklyn Army-Navy store.

"Anything you need to run a small guerrilla army, you can buy here in America," says Krasniqi. "You have all the guns you need here to fight a war. M-16s. That's what the U.S. soldiers carry in Iraq. All the rifles which U.S. soldiers use in every war, you can buy them in a gun store or a gun show."

What gun became the weapon of choice for Krasniqi? "By far, the weapon of choice was a .50-caliber rifle," says Krasniqi. "You could kill a man from over a mile away. You can dismantle a vehicle from a mile away."

He says it can also be "very easily" used against helicopters and planes.

If the power of the .50-caliber rifle amazed Krasniqi, what amazed him even more was how easy it was to buy. Krasniqi allowed a Dutch documentary film crew to accompany him to a gun store in Pennsylvania.

"You just have to have a credit card and clear record, and you can go buy as many as you want. No questions asked," says Krasniqi.

Was he surprised at how easy it was to get it? "Not just me. Most of non-Americans were surprised at how easy it is to get a gun in heartland America," says Krasniqi. "Most of the dealers in Montana and Wyoming don’t even ask you a question. It’s just like a grocery store."

And, he says there are a variety of choices for ammunition, which is easy to get as well. "Armor-piercing bullets, tracing bullets," says Krasniqi. "[Ammunition] is easier than the rifles themselves. For the ammunition, you don't have to show a driver’s license or anything."

"You can just go into a gun show or a gun store in this country and buy a shell that will pierce armor? A civilian," asks Bradley."

"60 Minutes asked Krasniqi how he shipped .50-caliber rifles out of the United States.

"You just put in the airplane, declare them and go anywhere you want," says Krasniqi. "It's completely legal. It's a hunting rifle."

Krasniqi says he shipped the rifles to Albania, and then the soldiers carried them onto the battlefields. He wouldn’t say how many .50-caliber rifles he sent to Kosovo, so 60 Minutes asked Stacy Sullivan, a former Newsweek correspondent, who wrote a book about Krasniqi called, “Be Not Afraid, For You Have Sons in America.”

How many guns did Krasniqi ship over there? "Probably a couple of hundred," says Sullivan. "It's easy. You're allowed to take two or three at a time. He had a group of guys that were dispersed in the U.S., some in Alaska, some in Nevada, some in California, some in Michigan, some in Illinois. And they would each buy a few at a time, and they would take them over in twos and threes on commercial airlines."

Krasniqi’s team of gunrunners never had a problem getting the guns out of the United States. But they often had to switch flights in Switzerland, and authorities there wanted to know what they were doing with such powerful weapons.

"We told them ‘We’re going to hunt elephants.’ And they said, ‘There’s no elephants in Albania,’" says Krasniqi. "And we told them we were going to Tanzania, so we had set up a hunting club here and a hunting club in Albania."

"You had to set up a phony hunting club in Albania, tell the Swiss authorities that men from this hunting club were going to go to Tanzania to shoot elephants," asks Bradley.

"Yes," says Krasniqi. "I never saw an elephant in my life, never mind shot one."

Even so, Krasniqi’s team needed evidence to support the African hunting story, so he says, "We had bought an elephant in Tanzania and set up the whole documentation, so it proved to them we are just elephant hunters."

He says he paid approximately $10,000 for the elephant. But he never got the elephant. "We were not interested in elephants," says Krasniqi. "We were interested to fight a desperate war." "

Florin Krasniqi supplied members of the Kosovo Liberation
Army with .50-caliber rifles.

From CBC News, January 9, 2005.
"California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger decided there’s a weapon that’s too dangerous to be in the hands of private citizens.

This past week, a new law went into effect in California banning that weapon. It’s the .50-caliber rifle, the Rolls Royce of sniper rifles. It’s a big gun, a favorite of armies around the world, and it’s still available in 49 states in this country to anyone over 18 with a clean record. "

St. Martin's Press
352 pages
Size: 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
Plus one 8-page b&w photo insert

Pub Date: 05/2004
ISBN: 0-312-28558-2

Florin Krasniqi immigrated to the United States from Kosovo in 1988 by sneaking across the Mexican border in the trunk of a white Cadillac. Once in America, he started his own business, fell in love, married, and bought a house. But he did not forget the country he left behind. In 1996, when one of his cousins helped start the Kosovo Liberation Army in the hope of securing Kosovo's independence, Florin chipped in to help.

Over the next two years, Florin helped direct a network of Albanian émigrés across the U.S., raising millions of dollars for the rebel force. Soon he began visiting gun shows across America and running weapons and other supplies to the rebels. All the while he was also lobbying some of Washington's most powerful politicians. Eventually he helped recruit American volunteers, some of whom left schools and colleges in the New York area to fight for a homeland they hardly knew.

Be Not Afraid, For You Have Sons in America tells the remarkable story of how a small group of young men in Kosovo backed by a network of émigrés in the United States started a guerrilla army that lured the world's most powerful military alliance into fighting their war and changed the course of history in the Balkans forever.

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