RHINO BULLETS

THE BALTIMORE SUN

David Keen says his Rhino bullets will cause baseball-size wounds. Lawmakers want to ban them. The National Rifle Association says they may be a hoax. Meanwhile, Mr. Keen says he will delay release of a bullet that will pierce bullet-proof vests, but he will continue work on another Rhino bullet. Here are two views of the controversy.

Technology, Violence Must Be Stopped Now

This past week, David Keen, manufacturer of the new killer handgun ammunition called "Rhino," bragged to the world that when someone is shot with a Rhino, "There is no way to stop the bleeding." But whose bleeding was he talking about? Did he mean children caught in the drug war crossfires who will die on emergency room tables because doctors won't be able to stop the blood flow? Or, did he mean police officers who are shot and wounded in the line of duty and who bleed to death?

The person shot will not be the only victim of the Rhino. According to Dr. David Johnson Jr. of the American Medical Association, medical professionals will themselves be in danger of injury from the Rhino's "razor-like fragments."

There also will be no way to stop the bleeding in the hearts of the Rhino victim's family and friends. What would Mr. Keen say to the bereaved parent whose child would have lived if doctors could have stopped the bleeding? Does he really expect parents of slaughtered children to forgive him because he only intended his bullet to be used against "bad guys"?

Sadly, the Rhino is only the tip of a huge and growing gun violence iceberg that threatens our society. Every year, more than 25,000 Americans are killed by handguns. What Rhino teaches us is how advancing technology can be used to make the carnage much, much worse. Using techniques honed for the Cold War, Mr. Keen claims to have developed a bullet that not only devastates the human body but can also pierce a police officer's "bulletproof" vest. What's next? A "Mastodon" bullet that could blow up a building or wipe out a schoolyard filled with children?

The real shame, however, is not only that there are people around like Mr. Keen who will threaten public safety to make a fast buck -- but we let them do it.

Our state and national gun laws are so weak that someone could legally develop and market a Mastodon bulletand it could be out on the street before we could do anything about it. The reason the laws are so weak, of course, is the power of the NRA and the gun manufacturers. When they cannot kill a gun control measure, they often manage to water it down so much that it can be evaded. So, besides banning Rhino, we must treat ammunition like prescription drugs and require prior approval of any new bullet before it can be manufactured or sold. Although this must be done at the national level as soon as possible, we should not wait for Congress to act before we take action here in Maryland. Our newly elected pro-gun control governor and General Assembly majority should make ammunition control a high priority.

Beyond ammunition, we must enact comprehensive legislation at the state and national levels to curtail handgun proliferation and abuse. Most importantly, anyone who wants to obtain a handgun or handgun ammunition should first have to get a license from the state police. We must also do the following: require all handgun transactions to be registered; limit the number of handguns that individuals can purchase or possess; deny handguns to spousal abusers; ban assault rifles and gun magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets at one time; and impose civil liability on anyone who transfers a handgun illegally.

And beyond legislation, we must all work to educate each other, particularly young people, about the hazards of handguns.

How many of us know, for example, that a handgun in the home is much more likely to kill a family member than an intruder -- or that every day in America a child is killed accidentally by a gun in the home? One Baltimore City public school, Tench Tilghman Elementary, is leading the way on the education front by using a nationally acclaimed gun violence prevention curriculum known as Straight Talk About Risks. This curriculum was developed by Sarah Brady's Center to Prevent Handgun Violence.

Yes, we can stop the bleeding. But only if all of us make doing so a top priority.

Vincent DeMarco is the executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse. Every year about this time, the Gun Ban Klan starts screaming that some new gun or new product related to firearms is a horrible danger to society and must be banned before it is even made and tested. Their current paranoia centers around a pair of new handgun bullets called "Rhino-Ammo" and "Black Rhino."

On Tuesday, David Keen, chief executive of Signature Products Corporation in Huntsville, Ala., announced plans to develop the two rounds and he has been front-page news ever since. Mr. Keen is a research chemist, not an ammunition manufacturer, and he has made some incredible claims for his new bullets -- claims of astonishing destructive power that no legitimate ammunition manufacturer would dare make. Worse, Mr. Keen used words and phrases that no legitimate ammunition manufacturer would ever use, because they are certain to generate the ire of the Gun Ban Klan. It sounded as if he was playing right into their hands.

According to Mr. Keen, his "Rhino Ammo" bullet breaks up into little pieces inside a person, causing large wounds. Mr. Keen also says that his "Black Rhino" bullet will penetrate a police officer's bulletproof vest and then break up into little pieces. That claim violates the basic laws of physics.

If the "Black Rhino" bullet breaks up on contact with flesh, it will break up when it hits a bulletproof vest. When it does, it will lose a great deal of momentum, and chances of its penetrating the vest are very small.

Mr. Keen has not offered his new bullets to any recognized authority or to federal regulators for evaluation, so no one knows whether his claims are true. There are always new developments in technology, but Mr. Keen's claims are so incredible that I think they're a hoax.

According to Mr. Keen's own statements published in the New York Times, Mr. Keen is a gun control advocate. That adds suspicion onto this firestorm of publicity and brings up several questions. Is Mr. Keen actually working for the Gun Ban Klan? Is this whole affair just hype designed to generate publicity and public sentiment for more gun control laws? Would the Gun Ban Klan do such a thing?

Yes, I think they would. November's elections changed the face of Congress, and people are already talking about repealing the 1994 law that banned certain semiautomatic firearms and ammunition magazines that will hold more than 10 rounds. Obviously, with a Congress like that, the Gun Ban Klan is not going to get the rest of their agenda passed. They have to do something, and do it fast.

It is important to remember that the people who work for anti-gun groups make their livings trying to convince our federal and state legislators to pass more anti-gun laws. A new year is dawning, and the Gun Ban Klan needs fresh contributions from big corporations and private citizens. To get them, they need to generate publicity.

If this is hype, it's working. Talk shows are buzzing, newspapers are writing editorials. Two New York Democrats, Rep. Charles E. Schumer and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, have indicated that they will propose new legislation to ban the manufacture of these bullets. You can bet that Maryland legislators will jump onto the bandwagon as soon as the legislature opens in January. But no new laws are needed to handle this situation.

Under existing law, Mr. Keen must obtain an ammunition manufacturer's license issued by the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Division of the U.S. Treasury Department (ATF) before he can manufacture his bullets. Then, each type of ammunition Mr. Keen wants to make must be submitted to ATF for approval. Finally, Mr. Keen must obtain another license from the ATF to sell his ammunition. Thus, ATF has three chances to prevent the manufacture of these bullets by simply refusing to issue the licenses.

Clearly, that is enough control over ammunition for any reasonable person.

Bob McMurray is chairman of the Maryland Committee Against the Gun Ban. He makes his living as a firearms coach and as an expert witness on firearms matters.

BOB McMURRAY

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