Ban these bullets

Here is a case where the nation's leading police groups deserve the solid support of the American public: The law-enforcement community is campaigning to have the US government ban armor-piercing handgun ammunition. Surely this is the type of gun-control regulation which even the strongest supporters of guns and conventional ammunition should be able to endorse.

The ammunition in question is made of extra-hard metals - usually steel or brass. Traveling at high speeds, the pointed bullets can penetrate the types of bullet-proof vests now worn by as many as 250,000 law-enforcement officers around the US. In fact, so lethal are these bullets that they can rip through four police vests that are lined up back-to-back.

The bullets themselves differ substantially from regular handgun ammunition, which is slower, softer in composition, and tends to flatten out on impact. It is interesting that while the armor-piercing bullets were originally designed for law-enforcement agencies (mainly to be used against fleeing cars), no major police department in the United States will now use them. Among other drawbacks, they tend to ricochet, which makes them especially dangerous in crowd situations.

Law groups calling for a ban of the bullets include the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, and the International Union of Police Officers. Seven states have banned their use. Legislation that would ban such ammunition nationally has been introduced by Congressman Mario Biaggi (a former policeman) in the House and Sen. Pat Moynihan in the Senate. Several weapons manufacturers, including Winchester, have stopped making and selling the bullets.

The fatality rate for police officers has dropped sharply since bullet-proof vests first became fairly common, back in 1974. Now that record of improvement is threatened by the armor-piercing bullets. The legislation would ban their further manufacture, import, sale, or use - except as authorized by the secretary of the Treasury for law-enforcement purposes. Punishment for violating the ban would be stiff.

Armor-piercing bullets serve no legitimate safety or gun-club purpose. Legislation banning such ammunition should be enacted as quickly as possible.

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