Armor Piercing Bullet Ban On The Table

5.56 mm M855 green tip rounds.

A proposal to ban a bullet that can pierce armor has upset the gun industry and its supporters.

The bullet in question is the M855 “green tip,” which is used in the popular AR-15 assault rifles.

Handgun bullets made of steel have been banned from public use since 1968. But the .223 caliber M855 has managed to avoid the ban because it is used in assault rifles, which aren’t technically handguns, and fall under the category of sporting rifles used by target shooters and hunters, according to CNN.

The bullet would be banned under a new framework that was proposed earlier this month by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The proposal is not finalized yet and is seeking public comment.

There are other bullets that can be used with the AR-15 that are not included in the ban. They’re made of lead and copper and are widely available. Only “armor piercing” bullets would be banned.

The NRA has already started gathering signatures for a letter to the ATF director B. Todd Jones and is asking its members to write their local member of Congress.

Gun safety advocates say the M855 is a threat to law enforcement officers since it can penetrate bullet-proof vests and can be used in certain types of handguns, the most common firearm used in violent crime.

“This is not a gun grab,” said Brian Malte of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “It’s a proposed rule change to protect the lives and safety of law enforcement officers.”

What do ATF rules say about it?

Here is some information from the ATF “Framework For Determining Certain Projectiles Are ‘Primarily Intended For Sporting Purposes.’ The framework looks at legislation – passed during the Reagan administration – that addresses “armor piercing bullets.” The legislation is called LEOPA.

Here are some excerpts from the ATF “Framework For Determining Certain Projectiles Are ‘Primarily Intended For Sporting Purposes.’

To protect the lives and safety of law enforcement officers from the threat posed by ammunition capable of penetrating a protective vest when fired from a handgun, the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), as amended, prohibits the import, manufacture, and distribution of “armor piercing ammunition” as defined by the statute.

The GCA provisions defining and governing armor piecing ammunition were originally enacted in the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-408) (“LEOPA”). The primary goal of the LEOPA provisions regarding armor piecing ammunition was the protection of police officers from death or injury as the result of the criminal use of handgun ammunition capable of penetrating protective vests (soft body armor).

“… Ammunition capable of penetrating body armor was originally designed and manufactured primarily for military and law enforcement applications, not for use by the general public.

“By the late 1970’s, however, law enforcement organizations began to voice concern that armor piercing ammunition was readily available to the general public and posed extreme safety risks to police officers when used by criminals.

“Over the next several years, Congress debated various bills to both define and limit the availability of ammunition capable of penetrating body armor. The early bills on the issue included a performance standard – i.e., the ammunition at issue must be capable of penetrating body armor – and applied only to handgun ammunition.

“In a hearing on one of these early bills for LEOPA, Senator Moynihan made clear that the intent of the bill was to ban only ammunition that both met the performance standard and was designed to be used in a
handgun. Moynihan:

“[L]et me make clear what this bill does not do. Our legislation would not limit the
availability of standard rifle ammunition with armor-piercing capability. We recognize
that soft body armor is not intended to stop high powered rifle cartridges. Time and
again Congressman Biaggi and I have stressed that only bullets capable of penetrating
body armor and designed to be fired from a handgun would be banned; rifle ammunition
would not be covered.

“Accordingly, under the original bills, if the manufacturer of the ammunition “designed [it] to be fired from a handgun” and it was “capable of penetrating body armor”, then it would meet the definition of “armor piercing.” If the manufacturer designed and intended the ammunition to be used in rifles (or if it was not capable of penetrating body armor), it would not meet the definition.

“When LEOPA was finally passed by Congress in 1986, however, the final bill did not include a performance-based standard, or limit the definition of armor piercing ammunition to ammunition “designed” for use in a handgun.

“Instead, the definition has two alternatives: the first focuses on the composition of the ammunition, and whether it “may be used” in a handgun; the second focuses on size, jacket weight, and the design and intention for the ammunition.

“Specifically, the definition of “armor piercing ammunition” in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(B) provides: (B) The term “armor piercing ammunition” means— (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.

“Although the design and intention for the ammunition is relevant to the second alternative definition, the first alternative contains no such limitation.

“In fact, during the final vote on LEOPA, Congress specifically rejected an amendment that would have limited the definition of armor piercing ammunition to ammunition “intended” to be used in a handgun, thereby exempting “standard rifle ammunition.”1

“As a result, rather than limiting the definition to the manufacturer’s “design” or “intent,” the final bill passed by Congress clearly expanded the definition of armor piercing ammunition to include any ammunition containing the specified metal content “which may be used in a handgun.”

“This definition has remained unchanged since enactment of LEOPA in 1986. In adopting a definition of armor piercing ammunition that included ammunition that “may” be used in a handgun, 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(B)(i), Congress expressly sought to protect law enforcement officers from the effects of a projectile that, although originally intended for a rifle, could be fired from a handgun. Accordingly, under the first of the two alternative definitions enacted into law, all projectiles meeting the metal content criteria that “may be used in a handgun” are defined as “armor piercing ammunition” under the statute.”

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