The Alexandria City Council last night approved an ordinance banning the sale, manufacture or possession of controversial handgun bullets capable of piercing the lightweight bulletproof vests used by police.
The ordinance, which was opposed by some gun enthusiasts and the National Rifle Association (NRA), specifically names the KTW plastic-coated, hard-metal bullet manufactured in the United States and a French-made Arcane bullet with a pointed tip. Apparently it is the first measure of its kind in the Washington area. Seven states, including Rhode Island and Minnesota, have passed similar legislation banning the bullets or levying heavy penalties for their use.
Anyone possessing, manufacturing or selling the bullets in Alexandria may be punished by a $500 fine or six months in prison.
The domestically made bullet coated with the plastic Teflon was developed before widespread police use of bulletproof vests. It was intended for police or military use, but is available commercially. The bullet can pierce an auto engine block, the side of a house and can go through several bulletproof vests without losing substantial velocity.
Alexandria's sheriff, police chief and commonwealth's attorney spoke in favor of the measure at a public hearing earlier this month.
The 6-to-0 vote with one abstention came a day after an Alexandria deputy sheriff's life was saved by a bulletproof vest that deflected pistol fire from an escaping prisoner.
The ordinance drew strenuous opposition at the hearing. Opponents included a Northern Virginia gun club and the NRA, which criticized the bill's language as too vague and difficult to enforce. NRA general counsel Michael McCabe also said he believed the language posed a threat to the legitimate sportsman who may use lubricants on his bullets.
After last night's vote, McCabe expressed disappointment and said that he believed the council had been misled and misinformed. "The bill addresses a nonexistent problem," he said. The fact is there is not one documented incident of successful use of this bullet against a policeman." McCabe added that he believes that ordinances such as this are "just a shopping list for the criminal who decides he wants a better way to take on the police."
Several council members disagreed.
"These bullets have no legitimate purpose. No sportsman will be deprived of any sport by this ordinance," said Vice Mayor James P. Moran Jr. (D).
Council member Carlyle C. Ring (R) abstained from voting and questioned the bill's language, saying he believes it poses a potential problem for both policemen trying to enforce the ordinance and gun owners trying to stay within the law.
Council member Donald Casey (D), who sponsored the ordinance, said local law enforcement officials, gun enthusiasts and ballistics experts had been consulted and found the language of the measure adequate. "By picking this language apart," said Casey, "you fall victim to the same trap the others have." That was an apparent reference to similar federal legislation introduced by Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-N.Y.), which is currently stalled in subcommittee.
The U.S. Justice Department has voiced opposition to the bullets in question, but has stopped short of endorsing a federal ban, citing the difficulty of defining exactly what bullets are included.