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NJ: Proposal would prohibit muskets

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NJ: Proposal would prohibit battlefield muskets and popular deer muzzleloaders
http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/jerse...4960.xml&coll=1
Proposal would prohibit battlefield muskets and popular deer muzzleloaders
Thursday, May 10, 2007
BY BRIAN T. MURRAY
Star-Ledger Staff

The Continental Army and the Redcoats may have to go at each other with baseball bats in New Jersey.

Revolutionary War buffs who annually re-enact historic conflicts like the Battle of Monmouth with muskets contend they will be disarmed by a proposed gun ban aimed at modern .50-caliber rifles that gun-control advocates call potential terrorist "sniper" weapons.

A bill in the Assembly (A3998) states that antiques and replica guns will be excluded from the ban, but gun advocates say the measure caps that exclusionary rule at .60-caliber rifles -- which would ban muskets carried by many Civil War re-enactors, as well as the Continental Army. The proposed law also extends the ban to popular, one-shot "in-line" muzzleloaders used by thousands of deer hunters, angering many sporting organizations.

"Just about every rifle carried on the American continent prior to 1855 were larger than .60-caliber," said Peter Hefferan of Wantage, a re-enactor and owner of Reactive Technologies, a private firearms consulting operation that works with law enforcement.

"You'll wipe out re-enactors of the American Revolution. The whole concept of the re-enactment is history, and it is required that everything be accurate right down to the threading of the garments and the number of buttons, even the type of buttons," he said.

The arrest this week of six suspected terrorists accused of trying to kill personnel at Fort Dix has provided some steam for the controversial gun-ban bill.

"We have no intent of damaging or impeding the ability of hunters to hunt or re-enactors to do what they do," said Bryan Miller of Cease Fire New Jersey. "But every time we try to get people from the other side of this debate to help us draft a bill that works, they refuse. If this bill is flawed, it's their own fault."

Still, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), a primary sponsor of the .50-caliber ban, said he hopes to clear up the dispute with hunters and re-enactors by introducing amendments today when the measure goes before the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee in Trenton.

"I just went to a tour of the Princeton battlefield today, so I understand the importance of the re-enactors and I plan to make sure the legislation is clearer so they are not affected. The amendments also will take out in-line muzzleloaders," Gusciora said.

The target of the law is supposedly the civilian model of the .50-caliber BMG rifle, including the bolt-action as well as any semi-automatic version of the gun. Such rifles are capable of effectively firing a .50-caliber, fixed-ammunition round about 1,000 yards.

A few trained military snipers have been able to kill enemy targets at much longer distances since the guns were invented in 1917.

Large and cumbersome, they are not widely owned in the United States, have not been used in crimes and, according to firearms experts, cannot shoot down commercial airplanes as some claim. But gun-control activists contend the large-caliber rifle has no legitimate sporting purpose and that, in the era of home-grown terrorists, the time has come to ban the gun.

"Especially in light of the events this week at Fort Dix, we need to remember we're now in a post-9/11 world where we have to be worried about someone misusing this gun," Gusciora said.

The in-line rifles and the guns used by re-enactors are all muzzleloaders -- rifles that use technology dating back hundreds of years. They do not use modern ammunition cartridges.

They are loaded by pouring black powder or powder pellets down the barrel of the rifle and then packing a bullet-type projectile down the barrel on top of the charge.

Some old models are ignited by burning a wick, as with the famous "Three Musketeers." Most replicas and in-line models used today are ignited by pulling a trigger that brings a hammer down to ignite a powder cap or an open pan of black powder, which sends a spark into the chamber of the rifle to ignite the packed powder and projectile in the muzzle.

The hammers are traditionally on the side of the rifle.

But modern "in-line" muzzleloading rifles have the hammer directly at the rear of the gun -- largely to permit hunters to keep their powder dry in damp whether.

About 9,200 deer are shot annually in New Jersey by muzzleloader hunters.

"In-line muzzleloaders are one of the most popular deer guns around. This bill attacks hunting along with the .50-caliber gun they want to ban," said George Howard of the New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs. "They almost banned shotguns the last time they tried a bill like this, and I don't know whether it's deliberate or they just don't know what they are doing."

Legislative attempts to ban the .50-caliber BMG rifle have gone on for nearly a decade, but they also have stalled because of murky wording.

"I understand the intent of the law, and I might even agree with that intent," said John Peppas of Long Valley, who is part of the Revolutionary War re-enactment group, the 4th Light Continental Dragoons. "But I don't understand why they can't place the prohibition on the guns they want to prohibit, and not our replicas."

Brian Murray may be reached at bmurray@starledger.com



Edited by CarbineKid - 10 May 2007 at 11:23pm
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