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Clarification Of S. 397 Amendments

Friday, September 23, 2005

Recently, there has been a new wave of erroneous overstatements concerning two amendments to S. 397--The "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act."  While we have provided detailed information as to the nature of  these measures in past editions of the Grassroots Alert, factual information regarding their impact bears repeating.

The first measure, by Senator 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 second measure--an amendment by Senator 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 Senator Edward Kennedy's "armor piercing" ammunition amendment that would have banned all centerfire rifle ammunition.  By providing an alternative to Senator Kennedy's amendment, pro-gun senators were able to marshal the votes to defeat the Kennedy amendment.

The amendment restates the existing prohibition on manufacture, or 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 five 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 also 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 body armor.  NIJ's research has saved lives by improving the design and manufacture of body armor.

The amendment does not give the Attorney General (or anyone else) any new authority to ban ammunition, nor does it change the definition of "armor piercing ammunition."  Under current law, 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.

And finally, 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.

S. 397, as passed by the Senate, represents our best opportunity to finally enact into law a prohibition on these reckless lawsuits.  It is critical that you once again contact your U.S. Representative's Capitol Hill office in Washington, D.C., and urge him/her to pass S. 397 as passed by the Senate!

You can find contact information for your elected officials by using the "Write Your Representatives" tool at www.NRAILA.org.  Or you can call your U.S. Representative at (202) 225-3121.

We can and will achieve our mutual goal of finally enacting this common sense law, but only with your continued assistance.  Please help us finish the job once and for all by contacting your U.S. Representative in Washington and urging him/her to support the  "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act" as passed by the Senate.

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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.