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
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
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. …