A Bullet Too Far

UNS don't kill people. People kill people.''

This half-truth - propagated by those with an interest in selling guns and ammunition - has been stretched to new extremes of cynicism by a manufacturer seeking to introduce to the market two bullets promising cruel and extraordinary capability. Allegedly, the Rhino Ammo bullet will shatter into razor-sharp shrapnel upon impact, producing a baseball-sized wound. The Black Rhino is claimed to be powerful enough to penetrate bulletproof vests.

Skeptics are exceedingly doubtful of the claims. Neither bullet has been demonstrated. But the mere description of their presumed capability by their designer, David Keen, chief executive of Signature Products Corporation of Huntsville, Ala., has penetrated the consciences of politicians and the public alike.

Rep. Charles Shumer (D) of New York has said he will introduce a bill to ban any ammunition capable of piercing bulletproof vests, observing of these bullets: ``Their only real purpose is to go after the police officers of America.''

Mr. Keen has protested that the new ammunition is ``strictly defensive,'' suggesting a scenario in which a woman, unable to stop an assaulter with regular ammunition, blows him away with a single Rhino bullet. Representative Shumer and others have described this justification as ``ludicrous,'' sensing that the finger most likely to squeeze the trigger on a Rhino bullet will belong to a criminal.

Keen has put the Black Rhino on hold and has run for cover from the furor he has stirred up. Even some gun owners are saying, Enough.

Has the gun culture at last gone one bullet too far? Here is a case of overkill that cannot be disguised or condoned. The bullet may prove to be a fantasy; the reaction to it is not. It remains to be seen whether the shock effect will last and change the gun-control debate. But if those gun owners and others who have opposed control of guns have been awakened to the need for stricter legal limits on tools of deadly force, the still-untested Rhino bullet may turn out to be a shot heard round the world.

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