Furor Turns Rhino Bullets into Gun-Control Ammo

Article excerpt

WHEN Alabama ammunition developer David Keen decided to trumpet the destructive power of his new bullets, he probably didn't think he would be stoking the fiery debate over gun control.

But a furor over the new cartridges this week serves as a preview of the coming battle over crime legislation on Capitol Hill.

Bolstered by the Republican sweep of Congress last month, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is preparing to push for repeals on recently passed regulations on firearms.

But gun-control advocates see the storm over the ammunition as proof that growing numbers of Americans want stricter regulations at a time when society is becoming increasingly violent and guns are easy to obtain.

Mr. Keen, chief executive of Signature Products Corporation of Huntsville, Ala., has designed two new bullets. Rhino Ammo shatters on impact into thousands of flesh-tearing shards. Black Rhino, he claims, pierces body armor and then shatters. Both are plastic, and therefore sidestep a national ban on so-called cop-killer ammunition.

Law enforcement officials, gun-control advocates, and the American Medical Association united in demanding a ban on the bullets, prompting Keen to back off marketing of the Black Rhino.

Tanya Metaksa, NRA chief lobbyist, dismisses Keen as a fraud: "If I were paranoid, I would say he was a great plant for the other side. What we are all reacting to is media mob hysteria."

The NRA seeks to repeal the 10-year ban on manufacturing and sales of 19 types of assault weapons contained in the Clinton crime bill. It also seeks to weaken the 1993 Brady Law. Named after James Brady, who was disabled in 1981 by a bullet fired at then President Reagan, the law requires a five-day waiting period for a handgun purchase pending a background check.

But the incoming Republican congressional majority, which stormed to victory in November's elections by decrying government regulation, is openly divided on gun control. Many Republicans voted for the Brady Law and the assault-weapons ban.

"We don't have a consensus," admits Rep. Bill McCollum (R) of Florida, a staunch gun-control opponent who will head the House subcommittee on crime, where gun-control legislation is considered. An NRA loyalist, he says even he would likely vote to outlaw the kind of bullets Keen claims to have developed.

The potential for discord is reflected in the omission from the "Contract With America," the GOP's legislative agenda, of measures sought by the NRA and conservative Republicans to roll back gun-control laws. …