WASHINGTON – The National Rifle Association and its allies in the House beat back an effort Thursday to restrict gun manufacturers' exports of high-powered, .50-caliber rifles that can bring down jet airliners from a mile away.
By a 278-149 vote, the House killed an amendment by Rep. James Moran (search) to block .50-caliber exports to civilians. He said the guns are dream weapons for terrorists.
"These are unparalleled weapons, and I'm not trying to restrict them in the United States," said Moran, D-Va. "I just don't want them sold by arms dealers."
But gun rights advocates, with backing from the powerful NRA, turned aside the amendment.
The vote came as the House wrapped up a three-day debate and passed by 418-7 a $57.5 billion spending bill for NASA and the departments of Commerce, State and Justice for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.
The Senate has yet to act on the bill.
Supporters of gun rights said the government already has ample authority to block the export of .50-caliber weapons.
"This amendment is not going to address illegal sales," said Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn.
The .50-caliber rifle is the most powerful firearm in wide circulation. It can penetrate thick steel used to armor personnel carriers and is accurate at distances greater than a mile. Moran said that if someone were to use the weapons from such distances, he easily would evade law enforcement.
The risks associated with .50-caliber weapons gained attention this year after CBS' "60 Minutes" aired a report demonstrating the ease with which .50-caliber rifles could be exported to overseas militias.
But the NRA said the amendment was an unnecessary infringement on gun rights and that existing laws provide penalties for smuggling the rifles.
"There are literally dozens of gun laws on the books with very severe implications and penalties that were violated on that ("60 Minutes) show," said Chris W. Cox, the top lobbyist for the NRA.
The underlying bill provides the full $16.5 billion request by Bush for NASA, an almost 2 percent increase over this year.
It increases the Justice Department's budget by $790 million over current levels, an almost 4 percent increase.
The measure rejects big cuts proposed by Bush to Justice Department grants programs for state and local law enforcement agencies, but still leaves those programs almost $400 million below current levels.
The bill cuts Bush's request for the State Department by $251 million to $9 billion. Lawmakers are moving to trim the president's requests for defense and foreign aid-related spending and restore Bush-proposed cuts in domestic programs.