What’s the Story Behind ATF “Banning” 5.56mm Ammo? (. . . and what can you do about it?)
By Glenn D. Bellamy, Armorer-at-Law®
March 5, 2015
There’s been no shortage of misinformation and hyperbole about an ATF memo released on February 13th reported to “ban AR15 ammo.” The memo describes a “framework” by which ATF proposes it would consider requests for “sporting purpose” exemptions under the federal statute banning the manufacture, importation or sale (but not possession) of “armor piercing” projectiles. I’ve searched and research the law and the facts behind it with passion over the last two weeks. I’m tempted to write a legal brief in opposition, or at least to give it a thorough fisking. But that would bore you and be wasted on the ATF at this point.
Instead, I’ll give you the skinny on what’s going on and the most effective thing(s) you can do about it.
Back in 1986, Congress debated—and passed—a law purported to protect law enforcement officers from evil “cop killer” bullets (the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act). Since virtually every rifle round will penetrate the soft body armor worn by police, the law became focused on ammunition designed for handguns. Rather than define what would be prohibited by performance (whether it could penetrate body armor), they compromised on a definition based on the projectile or projectile core being “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.” Certain ammunition was expressly excluded from the ban, including lead-free shot pellets and any projectile “which the Attorney General finds is primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes.” Later, the law was amended to add a second category: full jacketed projectiles 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.
M855 “ball” ammo (and its NATO counterpart, designated SS109), sometimes called “green tip,” uses a copper-jacketed projectile with a core made in part from steel and part from lead. Since its core is not made “entirely” from steel and its jacket is less than 25% of the total weight, it does <image001.png>not fall within the scope of either definition of “armor piercing” ammo in the law. Nevertheless, as soon as the law was passed in 1986, ATF “granted” an unnecessary “sporting purposes” exemption for M855 ammo. In the “Framework” memo, ATF (erroneously) says “AR-type handguns were not commercially available when the armor piercing ammunition exemption was granted in 1986.” If that were true, then no exemption would have been necessary. The statute only applies to handgun ammo. Now, citing the proliferation of AR-platform handguns and glossing over the fact that its projectile core is not made “entirely” of steel, ATF singled out M855 as a specific example of ammo that would fail the criteria of its new “framework” and is withdrawing its prior “exemption.”
ATF is blatantly misreading the language of the federal law. The statute says:
. . . a projectile or projectile core being 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. (Emphasis added)
Although not explained in the memo, ATF issued a “Special Advisory” dated February 27, 2015, revealing their distortion of the law:
It is important to note that the limitation on “armor piercing ammunition” in the GCA does not apply to projectiles manufactured exclusively from non-restricted materials such as copper and lead; it only applies to projectiles that include the specifically restricted materials, and can be used in a handgun.
See the difference? This is a perversion of the clear language of the law and cannot be tolerated.
What To Do?