Allan Rostron's article titled "High-Powered Controversy: Gun Control, Terrorism and the Fight Over .50 Caliber Rifles" (University of Cincinnati Law Review, vol. 73, 2005) represents the author's attempt at explaining the controversy surrounding the introduction during the 1980s of .50 caliber rifles designed primarily by private individuals who subsequently marketed their design to the United States Armed Forces. The military had, and still has, a valid requirement for a sniper rifle capable of taking out hardened and soft targets at long distances, and few, if any, gun control advocates dispute that contention. The existence of the .50 caliber rifle became controversial when the weapon's designers opted to market their creation to the private sector—individual gun owners who bought the rifle for target shooting and hunting. The introduction into the private marketplace of a weapon clearly designed for military applications has proven controversial because of the questionable need for such a weapon in the hands of private citizens and the risk to public safety should criminals and terrorists attain them.
Rostron's article traces the history of .50 caliber weaponry to the First World War, when, first Germany, and then the United States developed high-powered, high-capacity automatic weapons firing particularly large bullets. The .50 caliber machine gun became a staple of the United States Army and Marine Corps, and, as noted above, private gun enthusiasts developed a rifle capable of firing .50 caliber ammunition. The military, especially the Marine Corps, bought it but not in sufficient numbers to support a viable production line. The gun's developers wanted to be able to market the weapon to private gun owners as a way of generating revenue while ensuring that the means of production would remain ready to meet military requirements.
As .50 caliber rifles entered the marketplace, many Americans became concerned about the threat such weapons would present in the hands of criminals and terrorists. Rostron's article examines the debate between gun owners and gun control advocates, emphasizing the merits and flaws of both sides arguments. He ultimately decides that a proposal modeled on one in Great Britain offers the best opportunity for a comprise. The British model, which Rostron endorses, focuses on the rifle itself, rather than the specific caliber of ammunition. Fifty-caliber ammunition has a practical military application but a dubious civilian one. Even to the extent that private gun owners insist on using .50 caliber ammunition for target practice and/or hunting, they have no legitimate need for a rifle that fires the length of those that currently use .50 caliber ammunition. The compromise is for a rifle of more limited range, but that still uses this caliber ammunition.