By Nicky Pike
In a totally expected unexpected move by the ATF, the agency in charge of all my favorite vices has filed a motion to reclassify common ammunition as armor piercing. Specifically, this reclassification would affect M855, or “Green Tip” ammo.
Citing safety of Law Enforcement Officers as the primary reasoning, the ATF contends that the introduction and sale of AR style handguns has now moved the M855 ammo into the statutory definition of armor piercing under the Gun Control Act of 1986 and out of the realm of “primarily intended for sporting purposes.” Therefore, they are looking to “streamline” the ATF process for exempting ammunition and reverse the previous exemption for M855 made in 1986.
Despite the fact that there is no limitation of the 2nd amendment to “sporting purposes only,” there are several other fallacies with this attempt by the ATF to effectively ban commonplace M855 ammo. Each of them proving that these rules are enacted by federal bureaucrats and politicians who can’t tell the difference between a bolt carrier group and a trigger guard.
First and foremost, this reclassification attempt is premised on the fact that the ammo can now be used in handguns, thus alluding to the fallacy that such action makes the ammo more “dangerous.” As an agency tasked with the regulation of all things firearm related, you would expect them to have a greater understanding of ballistics. The fact is that rifle caliber ammo is inherently more powerful than pistol calibers and all will easily bypass the soft body armor worn by police. The key differentiator here is velocity, not construction.
In a study done by Small Arms Defense Journal titled “Barrel Length Studies in 5.56MM NATO Weapons,” it was found that for the M855 to have a lethal wound channel, the projectile must have a velocity of ~2,500 ft/sec upon impact. Any velocity below that simply drills a 1/4” hole thru the target, resulting in a frequently non-lethal wound unless a vital structure is impacted. This was further confirmed by the group over at Ballistics by the Inch that showed significant loss of energy by .223/5.56 calibers, with almost a 1,000 ft/sec drop from 18” to 6” barrels. By referencing its use in handguns, the ATF ignores the fact that the M855 is less lethal in the firearms that they claim justify its “reclassification,” showing that this is nothing more than an attempt to restrict by fiat.
Secondly, this reclassification is based on the “characteristics” of the firearm used to fire the ammo, nothing more. In summary, the ability to ban ammunition as “armor piercing” is based its ability to be used in the following criteria:
“Any firearm not deemed a “single shot handgun”, meaning a break-open or bolt action handgun that accepts only a single cartridge manually and does not accept or use a magazine or ammunition feeding device.”
Consider that definition carefully. Does anyone else see the slippery slope of exclusion and scope creep here? Admittedly, the ATF is only claiming this definition for ammo bans to “rifle” calibers, but considering the sale of rifles utilizing “pistol calibers” such as the Hi-Point 9MM carbine, how long till the ATF decides to reclassify all ammo as “rifle caliber” since it “may be used” in both a rifle and handgun. After all, the agency is justifying this move on the failure of Congress to specifically define terms in the Law Enforcement Protection Act, in which they included the terms “may be used” rather than the more specific terms of the Gun Control Act that stated “designed for use.”
Already, this would impact not only the M855 round, but also .224, .308, .430 and .458 bullets because each of these “may” be used in handguns fitting the above definition. Using this logic, the ATF could simply attempt to reclassify all ammunition at their whim, because hey, “We are the government and we just make stuff up as we go along.”
Additionally, the realistic effect of this ban would have the exact opposite impact that the ATF is proposing. Their stated purpose is to improve the safety of law enforcement officers and to do this, they suggest taking a less combat effective ammo out of circulation, but leave a more combat effective ammo in place. It should be noted that the M855 (SS109) ammunition has be criticized by combat troops due to its tendency to create pinpoint wound tracks that effectively leave the enemy “combat ready” despite multiple hits. In comparison, the FMJ ammunition has the ability to “mushroom” creating a much larger, substantially more grievous, wound. It is this difference that led to the adoption of the MK318 & MK 262 ammunition by our combat forces.
The ATF also states the overwhelming requests for “armor piercing” exemptions as an added need for this change; however, this rise of exemption requests is a direct result of Government interference regulation. The Military’s anti-lead movement combined with EPA attempts to ban lead ammunition (thankfully blocked by a federal court) and EPA actions that closed the last primary lead smelter in the US, have resulted in ammunition manufacturers attempting to preempt impending regulations by creating more steel and copper based bullets. Yet, the definition of “armor piercing” states that a projectile is considered as such if it meets the following:
(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.
So, the government is moving to ban the use of lead, but constructing a bullet that “may” be used in a handgun of any other reasonable substance would fall under the statutory definition of yet another ban? Seems kind of like a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario, until some illustrious manufacturer finds a way to construct a bullet from pure fairy dust or marshmallow creme. While I will never underestimate the ingenuity of the American entrepreneur, I’m not holding my breath for that to become reality anytime soon.
The final fallacy is that the M855 round doesn’t even meet the legal definition of “armor piercing.” As stated above, the bullet used is not constructed entirely of any of the substances stated.
The M855/SS109 bullets are in fact a lead core with a steel tip. In reading the 18 USC Sec. 921 (a) (17) code, the M855 bullet falls outside of this definition, but that matters little to the ATF. Instead, using intelligence only capable of federal bureaucrats, they chose to narrowly view the legal definition to the “may be used in the handgun” portion of the code and ignore all other defining language within. Again, “We are the government, we do what we want” mentality takes hold here.
Since it doesn’t fit the definition, the only conclusion is that the government is using the premise of “scary looking” to justify the exclusion of “green tip” ammo as an end run to gun control. Any bets on how long it takes the ATF to open a new position of “Ammunition Inspection Application Specialist” who’s only duty is to walk into ammo plants with a supply of nail polish to paint bullet tips green to justify further exclusion?
Remember, this ban is only proposed at this point. So, like most things where the government decides to issue a rule, this is nothing more than political theater of a solution looking for a problem.
We aren’t talking about a new bullet introduction, this is round that has existed and had official exemption since 1986, but I guess the common theory in the beltway is “We are the Federal government and we sometimes change our minds for no good reason.” Moreover, should the ATF decide to move ahead with this reclassification, they will actually make the issue they claim to be solving much worse.
However, saying that a government agency is screwing something up comes across as a bit redundant to me. Bottom line, the ATF’s answer to this made up hysteria of the sudden, inexplicable danger of the M855 round is to ban it outright.
Yeah, cause the banning “dangerous” things like drugs has worked out so well and 100% effectiveness? Add to that the fact that the ATF has a long and storied history of always doing things responsibly and a the most inconspicuous manner possible, I’m sure we have nothing to worry about. Right????