It looks like the ATF is once again trying to make it as difficult as possible for hunters and target shooters to enjoy their Constitutionally protected activities. Last week the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives posted a white paper on their website which attempted to do some very shady wordsmithing, the end result of which would be a ban on some of the most commonly available 5.56 NATO ammunition in the United States — ammunition used regularly for bona fide “sporting purposes.” Yet the ATF doesn’t seem to give a damn about that. Which is worrying, since the law they’re trying to apply specifically exempts projectiles which have a legitimate “sporting purpose” . . .
First, a little background.
In the 1968 Gun Control Act, Congress decided to try and define “armor piercing” ammunition. They were basically scared poopless of the idea that someone could shoot a bullet that would penetrate their personal body armor, and wanted to protect themselves from the angry masses. And police too, I guess. The way they defined it, though, has been a massive pain in the ass. The following is that definition:
“(i) 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; or
(ii) a full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile.”
Note that rifle cartridges aren’t included in that definition — this is strictly for handguns only. The problem is that with the prevalence of handgun versions of rifle platforms these days, there’s an opening for the ATF to start looking into adding some common rifle-based ammo to the list. Specifically, the ATF is considering adding the commonly available steel-core M855 and SS109 ammunition to the list of banned ammo.
Here’s the money shot from the long-winded white paper:
As explained above, in 1986, ATF held that 5.56mm projectiles in SS109 and M855 cartridges were exempt. Further, in 1992, ATF held that 30-06 M2AP cartridges were also exempt. In each case, ATF found that, “it is well documented” that the respective ammunition “has been recognized as being suitable for target shooting with rifles due to its accuracy.” Id. These cartridges were originally produced for the military and were only later adopted by civilians for sporting purposes. When assembled into a complete cartridge, the projectiles were exempt, but ATF did not exempt the projectiles before the cartridges were assembled.
Applying the sporting purposes framework set-forth above, the 5.56mm projectile that ATF exempted in 1986 does not qualify for an exemption because that projectile when loaded into SS109 and M855 cartridges may be used in a handgun other than a single-shot handgun. Specifically, 5.56mm projectiles loaded into the SS109 and M855 cartridges are commonly used in both “AR-type” rifles and “AR-type” handguns. The AR platform is the semi-automatic version of the M16 machinegun originally designed for and used by the military. The AR-based handguns and rifles utilize the same magazines and share identical receivers. These AR-type handguns were not commercially available when the armor piercing ammunition exemption was granted in 1986. To ensure consistency, upon final implementation of the sporting purpose framework outlined above, ATF must withdraw the exemptions for 5.56 mm “green tip” ammunition, including both the SS109 and M855 cartridges.
ATF recognizes that this ammunition is widely available to the public. Because it is legally permissible to possess armor piercing ammunition under current law, withdrawing the exemption will not place individuals in criminal possession of armor piercing ammunition. However, with few exceptions, manufacturers will be unable to produce such armor piercing ammunition, importers will be unable to import such ammunition, and manufacturers and importers will be prohibited from selling or distributing the ammunition.8 ATF is specifically soliciting comments on how it can best implement withdrawal of this exemption while minimizing disruption to the ammunition and firearm industry and maximizing officer safety. Under the proposed framework, the exemption for 30-06 M2AP cartridges would continue because ATF is not aware of any multi-shot handguns available in the ordinary channels of commerce that currently accept such ammunition.
With respect to the more than 30 requests received pursuant to section 478.148 that remain pending, the determination of whether to grant an exemption in a specific case will be made when the framework has been finalized. Those determinations will be conveyed separately to the respective requestors.
Basically, the ATF believes that with the AR-15 pistols now all the rage, it’s imperative that they ban “armor piercing” 5.56 ammunition or else there will be … wait for it … blood in the streets. Nevermind that standard lead-only 5.56 ammunition is “armor piercing” all on its own simply due to its velocity. The ATF believes that this specific ammo is somehow more dangerous.
The problem is that there is indeed a legitimate sporting purpose to these projectiles. Especially down here in Texas, M855 ammunition is wildly popular in hog hunting where projectiles might hit a branch or some leaves before finally finding a hog in the underbrush. The steel core provides much needed stabilization and penetration power that would otherwise be unavailable. Therefore the ammunition absolutely 100% meets the “sporting purposes” requirement, but the ATF doesn’t care.
It makes you wonder what might be next. Lead-free copper projectiles, perhaps? Because if those are banned and California’s lead ammo ban is upheld, Californians would be pretty much out of luck. And we could be, too.
Even if there’s a sporting purpose, in their position paper, the ATF states that it believes it has the authority to revoke those exemptions if the projectiles “pose a threat” to the American public. That’s laughable on its face. As we’ve pointed out time and again, when it comes to crime, “assault weapons” aren’t the problem.
Guns portrayed as assault weapons in any sense of the word only account for less than 2% of all guns used in crimes in the United States, an infinitesimally small number. And that counts AR-15 pistols too, BTW. I could understand if there was a massive surge in the number of crimes being committed with AR-15 rifles, but that simply isn’t the case.
The most logical conclusion is that the ATF is using the mass shootings of a couple years ago as cover to enact new de facto gun control legislation by further restricting the ability for Americans to get ammo. Even then, their rationale fails to make sense as the biggest of these events were committed with handguns, not rifles.
The good news is that this isn’t set in stone just yet. The ATF is asking for input on their little suggestion, and if their last attempt at changing the rules is any indication this can be stopped (or at least slowed down) if enough force is brought to bear. The 41p ruling is still pending over a year after it was introduced, and industry backlash might be enough to get the ATF to change their mind. The NRA is sounding the alarm. It can happen here as well.