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S. 397 Update

Monday, August 8, 2005

As we reported last week, thanks to your great efforts, the U.S. Senate passed S. 397--the  "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act"--by a strong bipartisan vote of 65-31!  This action represents a MAJOR first step toward ending the anti-gun lobby's extreme and immoderate attempts to bankrupt the firearm industry through reckless, predatory lawsuits, and was a ground breaking step forward for law-abiding firearm manufacturers, retailers and owners in this country.

There has been some discussion this week concerning two amendments to S. 397.  The first, by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), requires federally licensed dealers to provide a "secure gun storage or safety device" with the sale/transfer of every handgun (it does not apply to long guns).  The measure, which passed by a vote of 70-30, does not require gun owners to use the device, does not apply to private transfers, and does not create any new civil liability for gun owners who choose not to use these storage devices. Virtually all new handguns today are sold with some type of secure storage or safety device.  The amendment has no significant impact on current law.

The other amendment, by Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), passed by a margin of 87-11, and was offered this year (as it was in 2004) in a successful attempt to defeat Sen. Edward Kennedy's "armor piercing" ammunition amendment that would have banned all centerfire rifle ammunition.  By providing an alternative to Sen. Kennedy's amendment, pro-gun senators were able to marshal the votes to defeat the Kennedy amendment.

Here's what this amendment does:

* The amendment (section 6 of the bill) restates the existing prohibition (in 18 USC Sec. 922(a)) on manufacture, or on sale by manufacturers, of "armor piercing ammunition," except for government use, for export, or for use in testing or experimentation authorized by the Attorney General.  This law has been in effect for nearly two decades.

* It increases the mandatory minimum sentence for the use of "armor piercing ammunition" in a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime.  Use of armor piercing ammunition in a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime is already a federal offense punishable by 5 years in prison; the amendment increases the penalty to 15 years, and authorizes the death penalty if the ammunition is used in a murder.

* It directs the Attorney General to conduct a study "to determine whether a uniform standard for the testing of projectiles against Body Armor is feasible."  In fact, we know such a standard is "feasible" because the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has been testing projectiles against body armor since the early 1970s, and has regularly written and updated the standards for testing projectiles against armor.  NIJ's research has saved lives by improving the design and manufacture of body armor.  (NIJ standards and background information are available online at http://www.justnet.org/testing/bodyarmor.html.)

Here's what this amendment does not do:

* The amendment does not give the Attorney General (or anyone else) any new authority to ban ammunition.

* The amendment does not change the definition of "armor piercing ammunition."  Under current law (18 USC Sec. 921(a)(17)(B)), ammunition is only "armor piercing" if it has a bullet that "may be used in a handgun" and that is made entirely from certain hard metals such as tungsten, steel, bronze or depleted uranium; or if the bullet is "designed and intended for use in a handgun" and has a jacket that weighs more than 25% of the weight of the projectile.  The current definition has been in place for more than 12 years.

* The amendment does not create any kind of new ammunition ban.  The only ammunition that is banned as "armor piercing" is ammunition that fits the current definition, and neither the amendment nor the study would change the definition.

As you know, the fight now moves to the U.S. House of Representatives, so it is critical that you once again contact your U.S. Representative and urge him/her to pass S. 397!

Members should also express their gratitude to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Senator Minority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and bill sponsors Sens. Larry Craig and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) for their leadership and stewardship on S. 397.

(For a list of roll call votes on these amendments and final passage of S. 397, please go to www.NRAILA.org.  Take note of how your Senators voted, and please thank those who voted in support of gun owners and let those who voted against our rights know that you will keep their votes in mind when they are up for re-election.  BE SURE TO ALSO ATTEND ANY OF YOUR U.S. REPRESENTATIVE'S TOWN HALL MEETINGS DURING THE "SUMMER DISTRICT WORK PERIOD" [Aug. 1-Sept. 5] and encourage him/her to bring up and pass S. 397 as soon as possible.)

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.