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NEW RHINO BULLETS ARE BAD NEWS

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The two new bullets that caused such a stir this week - one that supposedly would pierce armor and the other that would cause horrendous wounds - may not live up to the claims of their manufacturer.

Tests conducted by the network television show "Nightline" have cast doubts.But the question remains as to why manufacturer David Keen devoted time to developing them in the first place and why he felt Americans needed such products.

Given the level of indiscriminate violence on the streets of America's cities, the last thing the nation needs is a more efficient and bloody way to kill - a way that, if the claims were true, would render useless the bulletproof vests worn by police.

If this issue sounds familiar, it's because the United States already has rejected armor-piercing ammunition. Congress voted in 1986 to ban so-called "cop-killer" bullets.

However, that ban apparently has a loophole. It covers only bullets that are Teflon-coated or made of certain metal alloys. The new "Black Rhino" bullet is made of carbon-based plastics called polymers, a substance Keen still insists will pierce bullet-proof vests.

When it convenes next month, Congress should rewrite the law to cover Black Rhino as well as the other new bullet, known as "Rhino-Ammo." Neither deserves federal approval.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the unveiling of the new bullets this week was the way Keen, head of the company that makes them, described the "beauty" of the "incredible wound" they make. They disintegrate into razor-sharp fragments that penetrate numerous organs, making survival nearly impossible.

There is nothing beautiful about such carnage.

Keen said he intended to distribute the bullets only to police and licensed gun dealers. Can he really be so naive? Once on the market, the bullets will fall into the hands of criminals who will use them to destroy each other as well as police and other innocent victims.

His arguments about the need for such a bullet are specious. Police say few criminals wear bullet-protective clothing. Police aren't clamoring for such a bullet. In fact, they have unanimously opposed the new bullets since they were announced.

Apparently, Keen never considered the dangers these bullets would pose to ordinary citizens. He didn't take into account how surgeons might cut themselves on the shrapnel trying to save the few who survive. He never asked himself why the nation needs to lower the rate of survival from gunshot wounds.

Now it appears he may have been exaggerating the effects of his new bullets, which should provide Americans with some, but not much, sense of relief.

Still, no matter how much Keen defends them, the concept of the Rhino bullets is bad. If they are found to do anything close to what he says they will, neither of them ever should be manufactured.