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Banning Guns By Banning Bullets

Questions about the potential threat posed by criminals using various kinds of ammunition to police officers wearing protective vests have been debated extensively for over a decade. Since many members of the 104th Congress may need additional background information, the study proposed in the Heineman Amendment to H.R. 1710 is not objectionable in itself. However, NRA would suggest some critical points to bear in mind while assessing this issue.

  • Does a problem actually exist? Six levels of protective vests are currently available to law enforcement officers, and those in common use are sufficient to protect officers against the handguns they encounter in criminals' hands. According to the nation's leading manufacturer of soft body armor vests, the chance of officers encountering ammunition capable of defeating commonly-worn vests is "remote."
  • In fact, according to the latest data published by the F.B.I., since 1986, when Congress passed the federal law restricting certain, limited types of handgun ammunition, no police officer in the United States has been killed with any projectile fired from a handgun through the protective material of a soft body armor vest. ("Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted: 1993," Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation)

Proposed Armor and Ammunition Study

If Congress is determined to commission a study they should ensure that it is both comprehensive and scientifically objective. One way to do that is to direct the National Institutes of Justice (NIJ) to form a blue ribbon panel to study the issue. The panel should include ballistics experts from outside the government, representatives from both the ammunition and body armor industries, and criminologists as well as NIJ personnel. The panel should investigate the following areas:

  • Is there a danger to law enforcement officers from currently available handgun ammunition because of vest penetration? What information is available from data on murders of officers?
  • Have there been any developments in the ammunition industry which might pose any new threats to officers? Or, are proponents of sweeping new bans more concerned about projectiles which exist only in science fiction literature or in the reports of the less-skeptical members of the news media?
  • Is current soft body armor adequate? Are shootings of officers attributable to inadequacies in the materials used or due to the inability of vests to protect all vital areas?
  • Are vests adequately used? Are vests available to enough officers, and are enough officers wearing the armor that is available to them? If not, what changes could encourage greater use of vests?
  • NIJ should also bear in mind the dangers of publishing findings that would serve only as a textbook to educate criminals about the protective measures used by America's police.

Finally, it is essential to remember that Rep. Charles Schumer's original amendment, which would have given the Attorney General new and sweeping authority to ban projectiles, is not about protecting police officers. It's an attempt by Congressman Schumer to ban guns by banning bullets. If enacted, this amendment would have given the most anti-gun administration in the history of our Nation the power to ban virtually any handgun or centerfire rifle ammunition.

That's why it's critical to remember that the real problem is not with so-called "cop-killer bullets" but with the cop-killers themselves. Persons with prior criminal histories are involved in the majority of killings of law enforcement officers. During the last ten years, 73% of those involved in officer killings had prior criminal arrests, 56% had been convicted of criminal offenses, and 23% were actually on parole or probation when the officers were killed. And that's a problem that the Congress and many state legislatures are really working to solve.

June 16, 1995

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