Television shows often make a big deal out of armor-piercing bullets. In real life, such ammunition is illegal, and convictions for doing so are severe and include jail time and harsh fines.

What is the legal definition of making armor-piercing bullets?

The laws relating to making armor-piercing bullets are governed by NRS 202.253, and 202.273.

NRS 202.253 – Definitions.

As used in NRS 202.253 to 202.369, inclusive:

  1. “Explosive of incendiary device” means any explosive or incendiary device material or substance that has been constructed, altered, packaged or arranged in such a manner that its ordinary use would cause destruction or injury to life or property.
  2. “Firearm” means any device designed to be used as a weapon from which a projectile may be expelled through the barrel by the force of any explosion or other form of combustion.
  3. “Firearm capable of being concealed upon the person” applies to and includes all firearms having a barrel less than 12 inches in length.
  4. “Motor vehicle” means every vehicle that is self-propelled.

NRS 202.273 – Unlawful manufacture or sale of certain metal-penetrating bullets: Exceptions; penalty.

  1. Except as provided in subsection 2, it is unlawful to manufacture or sell any metal-penetrating bullet capable of being fired from a handgun.
  2. Any person may manufacture and sell metal-penetrating bullets pursuant to an agreement with a law enforcement agency for the sale of such bullets to that agency.
  3. A person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
  4. As used in this section, “metal-penetrating bullet” means a bullet whose core:
    1. Reduces the normal expansion of the bullet upon impact; and.
    2. Is at least as hard as the maximum hardness attainable using solid red metal alloys.
  • And which can be used in a handgun. The term does not include any bullet with a copper or brass jacket and a core of lead or a lead alloy, or a bullet made of lead or lead alloys.

Why would it matter if bullets could go through metal?

NRS 202.273 is specifically designed to protect police officers, but also happens to protect the general public as a result. While the statute specifically states that it is illegal to manufacture or sell “metal” penetrating bullets, what it is actually referring to are bullets that can penetrate “armor.” Specifically, this means that it is illegal to manufacture or sell bullets that can go through the Kevlar vests warn by police officers.

So, this outlaws any bullets that can penetrate metal just to prevent armor-penetrating bullets?

Yes and no. NRS 202.273 is broad in that it prohibits the manufacture or sale of any bullet that can penetrate metal, but is extremely narrow in that it only prohibits such bullets if the bullet can be fired from a handgun. In other words, metal penetrating bullets that can only be fired from a rifle or shotgun are not prohibited.

Logically, this should make sense, as the vast majority of crimes where guns are present are committed with handguns. The portability, concealability, and cost difference make handguns more suitable for most crimes. Consequently, the Nevada Legislature has prohibited the manufacture of any armor-penetrating bullets that can be fired from a handgun.

This prohibition has provided added protection for civilians as well, however, as it helps to limit the possibility that a stray bullet might injure someone nearby after passing through the wall of a building or vehicle. Of course, non-metal-penetrating bullets can still pass through wood and drywall, the are far less likely to do so than their metal-penetrating counterparts.

What are the possible penalties?

Violations of NRS 202.273 are charged as a gross misdemeanor, carrying with it possible penalties of:

  • Up to 1 year in jail; and/or
  • Possible fines up to $2,000.

Are there any Defenses?

Yes, of course there are. Some of the possible defenses include:

  • Not capable of being fired from a handgun – As noted above, one of the elements of a violation of NRS 202.273 is the requirement that the metal-penetrating bullets can be fired from a handgun. Consequently, if you can show that the bullets in question cannot be fired from a standard handgun (in other words, one that hasn’t been altered), then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
  • Manufactured for law enforcement – Since the purpose of NRS 202.273 is to protect law enforcement officers, it should not be surprising that the manufacture or sale of metal-penetrating bullets is not illegal if done for the purpose of selling said bullets to law enforcement agencies.
  • Lack of Evidence – As with any crime, the prosecution bears the burden of proving every element of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If there is not enough evidence to uphold this high level of proof, then the charges should be dropped or dismissed.

What should I do if I’ve been charged with the manufacture or sale of metal-penetrating bullets?

As with any crime, it is very important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss the specific circumstances as well as any defenses that may apply to your case.

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