Most Expensive Rifle: Meet the Barrett Model M82A1 The Colt AR-15 remains in the cross-hairs of politicians including President Joe Biden, who has vowed to do everything in his power to ban the sale of the most popular firearm; as well as the entire category of modern sporting rifles. However, there is another rifle that has long been targeted by lawmakers and gun control advocates who apparently fear what they don’t understand.
That firearm is the Barrett Model 82A1, the first and only semi-automatic .50 caliber rifle produced to date. It is also the most expensive firearm currently in production – at least one that can (mostly) be owned by civilians.
Spotlight on the Barrett
There have been big bore rifles since the First World War, but all were bolt action. However, in the early 1980s former professional photographer, Ronnie Barrett, became intrigued with the idea of developing a semi-automatic rifle that could fire the .50 BMG round. In 1982, he launched the Tennessee-based Barrett Firearms and set about creating such a weapon.
The result was the Barrett M82 sniper rifle, and it was as innovative as it was powerful – and arguably as expensive. Today, a Barrett M82A1 will cost upwards of $8,000.
The shoulder-fired, semi-automatic rifle was designed around the .50 BMG cartridge, and unique among firearms of the time the Barrett rifle’s barrel recoiled backward after firing. A rotating-lock breech block equipped with an accelerator arm used part of the recoil energy to push back the block on firing. This cycled the action, cocked the firing pin, and loaded a new round from a ten-round steel magazine.
The Barrett M82 offered a solution to a problem the military really didn’t know it had, which was how to use a rifle that could shoot nearly a thousand yards. In fact, the U.S. military didn’t immediately see any need for Barrett’s design. Fortunately, Barrett did convince the Swedish Army to adopt the weapon, and that was reportedly enough to keep the company afloat.
Then in 1990, the United States military became involved in Operation Desert Shield and while preparing for Operation Desert Storm, the liberation of Kuwait, and the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. Marine Corps acquired 125 of the rifles. Orders from the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force soon followed. The M82 was adopted as the SASR – Special Applications and Scoped Rifle – and it proved its worth in Operation Desert Storm.
Official State Rifle of Tennessee
Since the founding of the United States, there had been a “long rifle” tradition in Kentucky and Pennsylvania of naming an official firearm of the state. Not wanting to be left out, in 2016, the Barrett M82 became Tennessee’s official state rifle. It joined a long list of other honorary state symbols, including the state flower, state tree, and even state rock.
Yet, not everyone was pleased that the rifle had gained such respect.
Gun control advocates expressed concerns that it would be used against light armor, helicopters, and even commercial aircraft. Some suggested it was the “perfect assassination weapon” or that it could be used by terrorists – even as the planes on 9/11 were taken over with little more than box cutters. Yet, the concern was so great that the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence called for a ban on civilian ownership of the Barrett rifle, while the New York State Senate even attempted to pass legislation to ban the sale and civilian ownership of the firearm in the Empire State.
Yet, to date, it hasn’t been employed in any nefarious ways by U.S. citizens – although there are reports that some M82s bought by the Mexican military have been used by the drug cartels, so too have weapons that no civilian can buy, including AT4s and Javelin anti-tank rocket launchers.
Moreover, despite its capabilities, the M82 still requires training to be able to hit anything at distance – not to mention it remains the most costly firearm on the market today. And then there is the fact that each round, which isn’t readily available at most gun shops, also costs upwards of $5 per shot!
A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.