Since it’s founding in 1985, the FCSA (Fifty Caliber Shooters Association) has grown to more than 4,000 members in 22 countries. John Burtt has been an active member for nearly 20 years, and has taken a leadership role in many areas of the FCSA, including the important Fifty Caliber Institute, dedicated to protecting our firearms rights. Burtt and his wife Teri are both actively involved in competitive shooting of the .50 BMG.
Q: How did you first get involved with the .50 BMG?
JB: I was with the Riverside, CA PD for 26-1/2 years. When I became interested in the fifty caliber rifle, I was on the SWAT team, and I was shooting at long distances often; The .50 BMG is the flattest shooting, potentially most accurate round out there. In 1986, there was a lot of emphasis on the word “potential;” we were lucky to keep all five rounds on the target, based on technology available at the time. Now we’re shooting 2 ½ inch groups at 1000 yards, consistently.
Q: What led to the founding of the FCSA?
JB: Four FCSA founders [Skip Talbot, Marty Liggins, Eric Williams, and Ron Freshauer] sat down at the  SHOT Show and decided to start a club to see what would happen. Marty incorporated the original corporation in Tennessee, and it was called the Fifty Caliber Shooter’s Association. They all took a role and promoted it. At the time Skip Talbot, was an eight-time champion of pistol shooting. Eric was a physicist and chemist. They looked at the ballistics of the .50 BMG round, and said, “this bullet is the flattest shooting bullet around today that’s legal, and we can do a lot with it.”
Q: What are the biggest changes the Association has seen in the past 23 years?
JB: We take small steps at a time. We have grown from 300 in 1989 to a plateau of about 750 during the early 1990’s. Then, the attack on firearms that came out of the Clinton administration generated the interest to get us up into the 2,000 range, simply because they were going to take our guns away from us. That has been one of the biggest motivating factors.
Q: In that time, the FCSA has grown from a couple dozen members to over 4,000. To what do you attribute that explosive growth?
JB: The technological changes that have come about as a result of the research that our members have put into making this a precise sport. And, if you were to go out on the firing line today, it’s not unusual at all to see a shooter go to the bench and set down equipment that totals out in excess of ten grand to shoot a match—just one competition. That has to be the biggest factor; the technical improvements and changes that we’ve made.
Q: What is the biggest reason that people join FCSA?
JB: Our Very High Power magazine and the information it provides. They’re shooters, and they are people that own a fifty caliber rifle, who want to know as much as they can about their target rifle. There are in excess of 40,000 fifty caliber rifles in the hands of law-abiding citizens today in America, and only 10 percent of them are members of FCSA: Only about five or six hundred of them compete in our annual competition. They also participate in our efforts to stop this onslaught of gun control. A lot of the people who do not compete are here to show their support; they know that if the anti-gunners get the fifty caliber, they’re going to get the rest of the rifles.
Q: Shooting seems to be one of the biggest focuses of the FCSA—you sponsor the World Shoot every year at the Whittington Center—what is it about the .50 BMG that makes shooting it such an experience?
JB: Shooting long distance, if you’re going to shoot long distance, and you’re going to shoot accurately, you’re going to shoot the .50 BMG, simply because of the ballistics involved. That’s what drew the original founders of this organization to this cartridge.
Q: I was very impressed with the in-depth technical topics that are covered in Very High Power. What is the greatest technical challenge that you have seen the .50 shooting community overcome in the past 20 years?
JB: That has to be the bullet design. There are a lot of factors involved in fifty caliber shooting; every aspect is important. What has improved our shooting ability and brought us from being able to hold everything on a target at 1,000 to being able to shoot a 2 ½” group is bullet design.
We have available probably 20 to 25 projectiles that I would classify as being in the .95-1.10 ballistic coefficient level of ability. Ballistic coefficient is basically nothing more than a measure of the ability of a bullet to shoot accurately. All of the military bullets that have been made since about the 1930’s measure about .50, up to maybe .58; the perfect ballistic coefficient would be 1.0, and some of the ballistic coefficients we’re measuring right now are in the range of 1.09, 1.10.
Q: What challenges remain?
JB: I don’t see it ending—I see a continuing process of mathematics and physics until we’ve got his perfected, which will probably never occur. At any given time, there must be 15 to 20 private projects being conducted by our members about how to improve what we do. Some work, some don’t. The challenges are limited only by the imagination of the people involved in the sport.
Our next big challenge, I expect, is going to be shooting competitions at 1,500 yards, or a mile. Those arenas are yet to be tested.
Benefits to LE and Military Users
Q: What contributions have civilian shooters—and the FCSA—made to military and law enforcement use of the .50?
JB: Very, significant. We started an LE and military liaison program over 15 years ago. Everything that we do related to LE and military is classified. What we give them, we give them to use and adapt to their mission as they see fit. We don’t feel that we have any business telling them what to do, but want them to have the information from our scientific development. This has cost them absolutely not one penny.
Law enforcement in this country has been slower to accept what we offer, but significant improvement has been made in recent years to help them. LE needs to acquaint themselves with the fifty caliber and need to have it available, and have people readily trained with it.
Q: How do you see commercial manufacturing of .50’s affecting the military use of the rifle?
JB: I think commercial manufacturing is where all the improvements are going to be made, and the FCSA will be those people who are on the cutting edge of the improvements and in a good position to hand the changes right back to the manufacturers. There are probably 25 manufacturers that can make a .50 BMG, but probably only four or five of them capable of fulfilling a military contract. First among them would be Ronnie Barrett; they have the capability to have these rifles in a short period of time. Ronnie said it best about three years ago: The two need to go hand-in-hand, because most of the manufacturers need the ability of being able to sell to the civilian market to be able to maintain their ability to supply the military market.
Q: Although you’re still an active figure in the FCSA, you’re primarily active in FCI (the Fifty Caliber Institute), an FCSA offshoot. How does the FCI differ from the FCSA?
JB: The best analogy is that the FCI would be sort of like the ILA of the NRA but on a much smaller scale. NRA is a shooting organization, and the ILA is the political arm. That’s exactly what the FCI is: It’s a nonprofit, but we’re politically active.
Q: What is the primary purpose of the FCI?
JB: Our mission is to educate and to lobby to prevent laws being passed that restrict the civilian use and ownership of fifty caliber rifles.
Q: What events led to FCI’s founding?
JB: The introduction of the “anti-fifty caliber sniper rifle act” by Dianne Feinstein. In May of 1999, she submitted a bill at the federal level to ban fifty caliber rifles as a sniper rifle. That generated the motivation to create what started out as a political-activities committee and then became this organization. We have fought very, very hard to prevent this from happening over the past ten years.
No Time to Be Complacent
Q: After the recent Heller decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, many gun owners assume that their Second Amendment rights are now forever assured. Do you think this is a safe assumption?
JB: No, I disagree with that completely, and the reason for that is clear: We have four members of the Supreme Court who voted against the Heller decision, and you take on top of that the reaction that has taken place in D.C. itself. It is very clear the issue is not over. A lot of money is being spent over this subject; and there are people who wake up every single morning with nothing on their minds but to take your guns away from you. It is a fight we cannot lose, and it is a fight that will last forever. The Heller decision gives me no confidence whatsoever for the safety of my firearms rights.
Q: What is the biggest threat to our gun rights today?
JB: Complacency. Misunderstanding. There are obviously 100 to 150 million people in this country who own a firearm, and if only ten percent of them signed up as members of NRA, the NRA would be able to elect a President. But they can’t right now because there are only three million members. People are just not tuned in to what is happening to their rights to own firearms.
Q: Some gun control advocates have chosen to demonize the .50 BMG because of its great power. How do you respond to this claim that simply because it’s a potent weapon, it should be banned?
JB: FCSA has been in existence since 1985, and we have yet to have a catastrophic injury with our target rifles that we use in competition. I’m sure there have been accidents, but if you compare the .50 BMG to any other firearm in America, it’s got to come out as being the safest firearm in America, period. Baton twirling kills more people in America today than the fifty caliber.
They’re using the technique of demonizing to confuse the American public; it’s just a technique they use to control the media.
Q: How do you see the .50 BMG as fitting into the larger picture of gun rights in America?
JB: The fifty calibers are on the tip of the spear. What they wanted [to ban] was a rifle at the top of the food chain: If they could get the .50 BMG, then it’s going to be very easy to get the .416, the .338, the .300 Win Mag. That’s why the fight to protect the .50 BMG is so important—if they get the fifty, they’re going to get all the other calibers next.
Q: Who do you see as today’s great champions in the struggle to retain our Second Amendment rights?
JB: I couldn’t point to anybody as a champion. This is an across-the-board struggle, and everybody needs to be involved. From gun owners right up to the people like Ronnie Barrett, who has a vested interest, everyone has got to be involved. We’ve got to stick together on this issue. You’ve got to ask yourself the question; “Why are they trying to take my gun rights way from me?” I don’t want to be alarmist, but I see that happening.
Q: Is there anything else that you’d like for people to know about the FCSA?
JB: There are a lot of people in the FCSA who make this a sport, and they are the people who are worth fighting this fight for. Those are the people that I think so highly of; you’ve interviewed me, but I am nothing more than just their spokesman. And Ronnie Barrett is one of our heroes. By the way, he is known as “Mister Fifty Caliber;” because he has that much respect in our organization.