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March 18, 2015

It’s Not Over Yet on the 5.56 ‘Green Tip’ Ammo Front

Industry members and politically aware gun owners know the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) tried to pull a sneak play by quietly releasing a proposal to adopt a new regulatory framework that would ban M855 and SS109 “green tip” rifle ammunition in 5.56 and .223 calibers. This type of ammunition had been exempt from the 1986 Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act (LEOPA), which outlawed armor-piercing ammunition.

ATF justified its attempt to remove this exemption by arguing that the introduction of certain AR-platform handguns in recent years rendered obsolete the sporting purposes exemption.  ATF and the White House also claimed this ban would protect law enforcement, even though FBI data shows that a police officer has never been killed using armor-piercing ammunition fired from a handgun through a bullet proof vest.  The head of the Fraternal Order of Police in Washington also said that “green tip” ammunition “has historically not posed a problem to law enforcement.” His remarks were quickly echoed by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke and other police spokesmen.

Much to ATF’s chagrin, the blowback grew more intense. The Bureau received more than 90,000 comments on the proposal, a record-setter for the bureau. Meanwhile, 299 Members of Congress — 241 in House and 58 in the Senate — signed on to letters to ATF Director B. Todd Jones urging him to rescind the proposal.

This situation escalated when it appeared ATF had already effectively enacted the ban without telling anyone. In the latest version of the Federal Firearms Regulation Reference Guide that was released in January, the exemption for M855 “green tip” ammunition — which had been listed in previous editions of the guide since it was issued in 1986 — was not included. Once this discrepancy came to light, ATF announced it was just all a “publishing error.”  While they may have jumped the gun in publishing it in January, well before the framework came out at 4 p.m. on the Friday of a 3-day holiday weekend, the fact that that critical section was removed from the draft and internal ATF review raises concerns that the bureau’s decision was made before seeking comment from industry and the public in a short, 30-day period.

Considering the secrecy of this proposal and how quickly ATF backed off, one has to wonder whether the Obama Administration may have been testing how far it can go in stealthy implementation of gun control by executive action.

It took only days for anti-gun Congressional Democrats to begin a media campaign to demand that ATF resuscitate the proposal and only a few more before a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. That bill will not go far, but it makes for good political theater for the anti-gun base.

For its part, ATF committed to revisiting the issue in some form.  In March 12 testimony before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, ATF Director B. Todd Jones said that the bureau would not act on more than 30 requests (pending for more than three and a half years) for sporting use exemptions sought by ammunition makers for various non-traditional ammunition designs without a new regulatory framework in place. ATF has acknowledged these petitions are for the hunting market, which ATF regards as a “traditional sport.” Jones’s remarks came in response to questioning from Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) whose committee has jurisdiction over ATF’s budget.

This much is certain, it’s not over.  On Monday, NSSF and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufactures’ Institute (SAAMI) submitted detailed comments to ATF.  Stay tuned. View the letters here: NSSF / SAAMI.

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