FALSEHOOD, INNUENDO + COP-SAVER BULLETS (Reprinted with permission from NRAction, May 1990

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FALSEHOOD, INNUENDO & COP-SAVER BULLETS (Reprinted with permission from NRAction, May 1990) Does the NRA support unrestricted sale of "cop-killer bullets? Many people think so. In her Dec. 16 "Weekend Edition" story, Celeste Wesson revealed that, even after five years, the fire storm created by the so-called cop-killer bullet still rages. But it may be that Wesson's report added spent fuel to a fire that should have been extinguished long ago. It seems remarkable that the NRA still finds itself haunted by an issue that first surfaced in 1984. Consider this summation by Dr. Bob King, a linguistics professor at the University of Texas at Austin. King was interviewed as part of Wesson's story by NPR's John Bumett during a quiet weekend of duck hunting: King: "I used to belong to the NRA. When they ... came out against ... the police chiefs [who] wanted to ban armor-piercing bullets, and the NRA decided 'no, no, no, we can't support that.' I said, that's stupid." Wesson's choice of closing the segment with a hunter who had parted company with NRA over the "cop-killer" bullet issue was high drama. Outsiders had pointed to so-called extreme NRA policies as responsible for driving a wedge, not only between NRA and police, but between NRA and hunters as well. But the truth is often under our very noses. Wesson closed her story with King getting a few shots off. He was using a Remington 1100 12-gauge shotgun. Probably unknown to either King or Wesson, his gun could be considered "a military assault gun," according to H.R.4225. King's outings with that shotgun could be numbered, unless the NRA successfully defeats the legislation. [Ed.: See April 1990 NRAction on the Hughes bill.] King's shots were off target, but his sentiments on the special ammunition were echoed in Wesson's report by Chief Joseph McNamara of the San Jose Police Department. McNamara: "There was a shock that ran through policing. How in the world could anyone oppose outlawing bullets that were specifically designed to penetrate a police officer's protective vest and kill police officers? How could someone be against that?" How indeed? We put the question to the NRA's Jim Baker, director of Federal Affairs. Baker: "We opposed the initial legislation (on armor piercing bullets), as did the United States Justice Department and the Department of the Treasury, because it was overly broad and drafted in such a way that it would have banned hundreds and hundreds of conventional sporting cartridges. Once that legislation was drafted in such a fashion that it was very narrow and specific as to the ammunition that was to be restricted, the National Rifle Association supported it, and it passed into law." Baker's recall of history was on-target. In fact, on Sept. 17, 1984, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Legislative Affairs Bruce Thompson, Jr. voiced Treasury's opposition to H.R.6067, the House version of the legislation Baker described as overly broad. Previously, on May 24, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jay Stephens testified in opposition to the Senate version of the legislation, S.B.555. We decided to go to the source, to track down the inventor of the original "cop-killer" bullet, originally marketed as the "KTW" bullet. We found the "K" of "KTW," Dr. Paul Kopsch. A retired Army brigadier general and physician, Dr. Kopsch told us that the bullet was made exclusively for police and military use. And had nothing to do with protective vests. Kopsch: "There were a couple of gunfights, police versus criminal, here in Lorraine County, [Ohio]. The ordinary .38 Special service bullet would not get through the car door. And with any degree of obliquity, it bounced off the windshield. [Police] Lieutenant Turcus, Don Ward and I thought maybe we could design a bullet which would get through the car door, and get through the windshield and get the crook out of the car... " Kopsch explained that the teflon coating, which a host of media and lawmakers alleged was the key to penetrating body armor, served one purpose. It helped bullets go through smooth surfaces, like windshields and car doors, especially at oblique angles. The former Army medical officer likened it to the teflon tip of a walking stick. It simply grabs better. Kopsch: "Adding a teflon coating to the round added 20% penetration power on metal and glass. Critics kept talking about teflon's ability to penetrate body armor. That was nonsense typical of do-gooders. In fact, teflon cut down on the round's ability to cut through the nylon or kevlar of body armor." Thus, Kopsch and police officers Turcus and Ward invented the "KTW" round. It was designed to be shot by police and military through car doors and windshields at criminals, terrorists--not, as Chief McNamara would have people believe--through ballistic-resistant vests worn by police officers. Could the round penetrate such vests? Again, Dr. Kopsch ... Kopsch: "It'll defeat the ordinary ballistic nylon or Kevlar vest, but, as I said, the teflon gives away its purpose and detracts from its ability to penetrate body armor. Moreover, no armored police officer has been killed by the round, and interestingly enough the man who brought this to national attention was the Honorable Rep. Mario Biaggi, who was in the U.S. House of Representatives at the time. When he called attention to the fact that the police were wearing bullet-resistant garments, the criminals starting shooting for the head. So Biaggi may have gotten quite a few policemen killed ... We never sold [KTW] to the public. Sales were always limited to the police and the military. I had been available to the police and military for roughly five years before Biaggi started this ... it was a hoax on [Biaggi's] part that got him national publicity." In bumper sticker language, Kopsch's much-maligned invention was a cop-saver bullet. As for the media's active role in promoting the existence of KTW and police use of ballistic-resistant vests, we in the media may have contributed in some fashion to the shooting deaths of law enforcement officers . Perhaps media are acting as unwilling accomplices again as reporters mislabel semiautomatic firearms as "assault rifles" and complicate the problem further by naming them as the "weapons of choice" for drug dealers, youth gang members and psychopaths. Sociologists call it "self-fulfilling prophecy": something false said often enough comes to pass. Reporters call it the public's right to know. Kopsch says he found some degree of poetic justice in the fact that Biaggi,a former police officer who should have understood the risk involved by publicizing police use of protective vests, was later convicted and sentenced to some seven years for accepting a $3.5 million bribe in the WedTech scandal. We wanted to talk with Celeste Wesson to find out why these very significant facts were not incorporated into her story. After all, was the NRA a renegade organization opposed to lifesaving legislation? (An "evil empire," as one NPR staffer put it.) Or were there sound reasons to oppose the initial legislative proposals--reasons cited not only by the NRA but also by the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Justice? We talked briefly with Wesson. We found her brilliant, wary and defensive. In fairness to her, her topic involved more than just "cop-killer" bullets. Her story dealt with the apparent erosion of NRA support in the upper echelons of American law enforcement. We wanted to talk with Wesson in-depth regarding these and other aspects of her story, but Wesson refused to be interviewed on tape--or even to summarize the thrust of her story on tape--without discussing it with NPR Executive Editor Bill Buzenberg. We explained to Wesson that we had already contacted Buzenberg, who after hearing our concerns had urged us to contact the reporters responsible for the stories. Wesson, however, was busy with another story. She felt that NRA was going to deny that they had opposed the legislation, and suggested I confirm this by calling Handgun Control, Inc. When we asked why she did not include the fact that the Treasury and Justice Departments had also testified before Congress that they had opposed the initial legislation, Wesson cut the conversation short. She said she was too busy to talk. In his youth, the Roman philosopher Seneca said, "One man and the Truth is a majority." But in his old age, this same philosopher said, "It is not the Truth, but man's perception of the Truth that is important." Electronic media have added new credence to the observation Seneca made later in life. Perhaps electronic reporters' need to resort to bumper sticker rhetoric from "assault rifles" to "plastic guns" does not help them when the truth comes in bigger packages. Clearly, the NRA's experience with firearms--education of civilians, training of law enforcement, safety, hunting and competition--takes much more time than the typical 10-second sound bite allows. And when reporters, for whatever reason, fail to do the homework or take credible evidence aboard, the electronic audience is misinformed. Instantly.


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