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OUTLAW COP-KILLER BULLETS - NOW

President Clinton had an obviously sympathetic audience last week when, during a ceremony honoring the families of slain police officers, he called for a ban on armor-piercing ammunition called cop-killer bullets.

What an inexcusable shame this sensible suggestion did not receive as favorable a reception in Congress the last few times it was presented there.Actually, Congress was wise enough to enact just such a ban in 1986 shortly after this extremely potent ammunition first became available.

But the lawmakers made an inadvertent mistake by basing the ban on the kind of material from which the armor-piercing bullets were made. Consequently, when manufacturers started making the cop-killer bullets from plastic instead of metal, the ban no long applied.

Congress tried to correct this mistake a year ago and, in fact, succeeded - but only briefly. The broader ban was quickly rescinded when two members of Congress who had supported it changed their minds and reversed their votes, saying the legislation needed further study.

Since then, Congress has been spinning its wheels - with the National Rifle Association opposing the proposed ban on the grounds that the dangers of cop-killer bullets have supposedly been exaggerated and that a ban could be expanded to include legitimate hunting ammunition.

What utter nonsense!

The men and women whose lives are at risk don't think the dangers are exaggerated. Police and sheriffs' organizations understandably oppose cop-killer bullets and support the ban.

Since when did deer, ducks and other game animals start wearing bullet-proof vests? Hunters don't need armor-piercing ammunition. And what sane person wants to see such bullets fall into the hands of criminals?

Aside from possible use by the military, there is no justifiable purpose for cop-killer bullets. Congress should outlaw civilian use of such ammunition regardless of the material used to make it.