WASHINGTON — The Senate Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation to outlaw so-called "cop-killer" bullets that can pierce armored vests, but the sponsor of a similar House-passed bill protested that the Senate measure is seriously flawed.
After the Senate voted 97 to 1 for its long-stalled bill, Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-N.Y.) said he will mount "a full-force lobbying effort with our nation's law enforcement groups to ensure that the stronger House version ultimately prevails."
Biaggi complained that the Senate measure would outlaw only new supplies of armor-piercing ammunition, allowing bullets already on gun shop shelves to be sold.
"This makes the Senate bill impotent when it comes to addressing the very serious problem of existing cop-killer bullets," Biaggi said.
The House bill, approved by a vote of 400 to 21 last December, would ban the sale of all hardened bullets, both new and old. Treasury Department officials estimate that as many as 2 million armor-piercing rounds could be on the market already.
Available to Criminals
The measure was introduced out of concern that armor-piercing bullets, originally designed for police use, are available for sale nationwide to criminals and terrorists, who could use them to penetrate protective vests worn by policemen and high government officials. President Reagan has said he would sign a bill banning such bullets.
In a related development, the House Judiciary crime subcommittee unanimously approved legislation designed to reform the nation's firearms laws.
House Democratic leaders speeded action on the bill in an effort to reduce pressure for a rapid House vote on a Senate-passed measure that would relax federal gun controls.
The Senate measure, backed by the National Rifle Assn. but opposed by law enforcement groups, would ease a 1968 federal law that barred mail-order or interstate sales of firearms and ammunition and established licensing procedures for those who manufacture, import, sell or collect guns and ammunition.
Crime and Punishment
The House subcommittee's version would broaden authority to punish persons who use firearms to commit violent or drug-related crimes, including expanded use of mandatory prison sentences.
At the same time, subcommittee Chairman William J. Hughes (D-N.J.) said the bill would "provide real relief for law-abiding sportsmen and hunters from regulations which have no law enforcement benefits." He said the legislation will be considered by the full Judiciary Committee next week.
As for the bullet bills, both the House and Senate versions would exclude from the sales restrictions bullets that are "primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes."
Sen. Steven D. Symms (R-Ida.) cast the only vote against the Senate bullet bill, contending that it violates the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), chief sponsor of the bill, along with Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), noted that it is supported by numerous law enforcement groups.
Just as important, the politically potent National Rifle Assn. did not oppose the legislation. The NRA dropped its opposition, a House aide said, after a provision was added stating that a gun shop owner would lose his license only if he "willfully" sold banned bullets.