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Crackdown on Super Bullets

December 19, 1985

Under strong urging from the nation's major police organizations, the House of Representatives has finally agreed to outlaw the private sales of armor-piercing bullets. Whether this measure will become an effective law, however, remains uncertain. A companion Senate bill would drastically weaken the House's sales ban by letting gun dealers sell off the heavy-metal bullets that they have in stock at the time the new law takes force. If that provision prevails, the lives of law-enforcement officers and others will be needlessly jeopardized for years to come.

There is not, and never has been, any justification for making armor-piercing bullets available outside the armed forces or law-enforcement agencies. These bullets have enormous penetration power. The lightweight protective vests worn by many police officers, which are generally capable of preventing fatal chest wounds from softer lead-nosed bullets, have been shown to be useless against the heavy-metal slugs.

The House bill, like the Senate's, would prohibit the importation and manufacture of armor-piercing bullets. Anyone who commits a crime while armed with a gun loaded with such bullets would face a mandatory five-year prison term. A dealer who "willfully" sold the bullets would lose his license. That unfortunate qualification was put in at the behest of the politically potent National Rifle Assn., which opposes virtually all efforts to control sales of guns and ammunition. The loophole that it creates is obvious. Even a highly dubious claim of ignorance could be enough to absolve a vendor of legal responsibility for selling the banned bullets.

An estimated 2 million armor-piercing bullets are now in dealers' hands. Congress is at last recognizing the menace that these slugs represent. If a ban is justified, as it certainly is, it should apply to existing stocks, not simply to future acquisitions. The ban that the House would impose, while less than perfect, ought to become law.

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