The ATF isn’t generally considered a shining example of an “open” regulatory agency — one where their functions and regulations are discussed openly and candidly. Instead the ATF seems to enjoy being as enigmatic as possible, keeping their cards close to their bureaucratic vest. But now there’s news via the NRA that the ATF is looking for public comments on their interpretation of how certain projectiles apply under the Armor Piercing Ammunition ban . . .
Under Federal law, it’s illegal to import or manufacture armor piercing handgun ammunition. The definition for that “armor piercing” part is “a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium.”
So while good ol’ lead is just fine, an all-brass bullet would be considered “armor piercing,” which is what Elite Ammo was producing when they were raided by the ATF not too long ago. Turned brass bullets are becoming a new “thing” for precision shooters, with a better ballistic profile than the standard copper and lead setup and a more consistent shape.
Where this gets sticky is when firearms are made that are technically handguns, but use rifle rounds. Things like AR-15 and AK pistols. Thanks to AR-15 pistols, M855 ammunition might be considered “armor piercing” under Federal law.
The exception to this ban on ammunition production is the “sporting purposes” clause that allows for the importation and production of ammunition that can arguably be used for sporting purposes. From the NRA’s presser on the ATF’s position, they’re apparently of two minds:
First, BATFE suggested that it believes that the “armor piercing ammunition” law was intended to affect all ammunition capable of penetrating soft body armor worn by law enforcement officers. NRA reminded BATFE that the law was intended to protect law enforcement officers against the potential threat posed a very narrowly-defined category of projectiles: those, such as KTW and Arcane, which by virtue of their hard metal construction were designed and intended to be used by law enforcement officers to shoot through hard objects, such as automobile glass and doors, when fired at the velocities typical of handgun-caliber ammunition fired from handguns. Neither before nor since the law’s enactment, has an officer been killed due to such a bullet penetrating soft body armor.
NRA further pointed out that the legislative history of the law clearly shows that members of Congress, including the sponsor of the law in the House, Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-N.Y.), a decorated former NYPD police officer, expressly did not want the law to restrict rifle-caliber bullets that happen to also be useable in handguns chambered to use rifle cartridges.
Second, BATFE says it considers projectiles to not be exempt under the “sporting purposes” test if they “pose a threat to public safety and law enforcement.” BATFE also expressed concern that since the law was adopted, various new rifle-caliber handguns have been invented. On that point, NRA made clear that the sporting purposes exemption is straightforward: it applies to all projectiles that are “primarily intended for sporting purposes”–nothing more, and nothing less. Under the law, a projectile would be exempt if it is primarily intended for sporting purposes, even if it is secondarily intended for self-defense or some other legitimate purpose. Furthermore, the law does not condition its restrictive language or its “sporting purposes” exemption on the design of a particular handgun; the law is concerned only with specific projectiles that can be used in handguns. NRA cautioned the BATFE against interpreting the law in a manner more restrictive than Congress intended.
The ATF is accepting public input on which position they should take until December 31st. So if you want to voice your opinion, head on over to http://www.atf.gov/firearms/industry/.