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Editorial: Sniper Rifles

N.J.'s .50-caliber nightmare

A densely populated and industry-rich state like New Jersey doesn't need more people carrying .50-caliber rifles capable of hitting a target from miles away.

These devastatingly destructive weapons should be banned.

In the coming weeks, state Assembly members can take the first step toward doing just that - by approving a measure that would halt the sale of the rifles, now legal even under New Jersey's restrictive gun laws.

The measure is expected to come up for a vote by next month. If passed, New Jersey would be only the second state to institute such a ban, following California, where these weapons were banned in 2004.

The risks in not doing so are clear. Consider what happened in Texas last month, when a NASCAR fan at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth was struck by a stray bullet fired from a .50-caliber Vulcan single-shot rifle some five miles away.

With a weapon designed and advertised for military use, the danger from such accidental mishaps is only half of the worry in a heavily urban and suburban state.

As noted by the prominent handgun safety group Ceasefire NJ, the Garden State abounds with potential targets for terrorists armed with these so-called sniper rifles. Planes crowding busy skies, chemical rail tankers, refineries, and other industrial plants storing dangerous materials - all would be vulnerable to a weapon that one weapons manufacturer boasts will down a jet with a single round.

The Assembly bill, A-2116, would prohibit the sale to civilians of these sniper rifles and .50-caliber handguns. (It would not affect sales or ownership of large-caliber hunting rifles or historic reenactor guns.) Ceasefire NJ is right to credit Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr. (D., Camden) for his advocacy of this safety measure.

While the ban may disappoint some collectors, it could safeguard millions of Jersey residents from the real threat that .50-caliber sniper rifles could fall into the wrong hands. A ban is just common sense.