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Last Friday, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives posted a proposal to ban sales of a very popular type of 5.56x45mm rifle ammunition to private citizens. The ostensible reasoning behind the ban is that, like nearly all other rifle ammunition, it can easily penetrate the soft body armor worn by most law enforcement officers, and that a growing number of "pistols" can now fire this cartridge, endangering these officers, thus justifying a ban under the authority of the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 1985.
That law allows for bans of such ammunition only if there are handguns that can fire it, only if the construction and metallic composition of the bullet fall within certain parameters, and only if the Attorney General has not granted the cartridge in question a "sporting purposes" exemption (ah--banning that which is deemed not suitable for "sport"--JPFO readers need not be reminded of the danger of that).
The M855 "green tip" ammunition facing the proposed ban features a steel tip over a lead core. Steel is one of the materials listed in the LEOPA, that, if the bullet or core is made of it, and if the round can be fired from a handgun, the round is considered to be "armor piercing," and therefore to be banned for marketing to private citizens, unless the U.S. Attorney General grants it the "sporting purposes" exemption.
The M855 round has until now enjoyed the "sporting purposes" exemption, but with oddly little concern about the round's usefulness in sport. This is demonstrated by the fact that the BATFE (operating under the authority of the Attorney General) had ruled that when most of the available handguns capable of firing the round were specialized single-shot firearms, the round was "particularly suitable for sporting purposes." Now, though, with the availability of semi-automatic, detachable magazine-fed handguns, based on the AR-15 design and others, it is suddenly not so suited--despite no change in either the round or the approved "sports" (although such "handguns" have been around for well over a decade).
As JPFO contributor David Codrea observed, the "sporting purposes" exemption is to be withdrawn not because the round has become any less suitable than it ever was for "sport," but because of the supposed danger to law enforcement officers these rounds now represent. Given the apparent lack of a single documented case of one of these rounds being fired from a handgun through an officer's body armor, this perceived threat would appear to be entirely theoretical--and convenient.
It must also be noted that this increasingly critical scrutiny of bullets made with significant quantities of metal that is not lead comes at the same time that bullets that are made of lead are facing calls for increased regulation.
Ironically, the "sporting purposes" applications of M855 ammunition should not, by the text of the LEOPA, even be at issue, because the core of the bullet, being lead, with a steel tip, is not (bold emphasis added) "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."
Another irony is that while this is going on, Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) has introduced legislation banning "enhanced" body armor--armor capable of stopping most rifle rounds. Such body armor is relatively rare, when compared to the soft body armor worn under most law enforcement officers' clothing, and given its uncomfortable weight and bulk, and its high expense, likely to remain so. But still, Honda apparently believes that criminals wearing such body armor pose a sufficiently severe threat as to justify a ban of private citizens' acquisition of this purely defensive equipment. And now, the BATFE proposes to strip private citizens of ammunition that might help them defend themselves against criminals wearing only the vastly more common soft body armor, capable of stopping most handgun rounds.
More fundamental, of course, is the fact that the very reason that for the citizenry to be free, we must have a right to keep and bear arms (not, readers will note, a "right to keep and bear sporting goods") that shall not be infringed, is that we must have access to weapons with which we can pose a credible threat to the government's enforcers, if that government makes such action necessary. The M855 rounds are a part of that credible threat--and that is undoubtedly why this administration is trying to neutralize it.
A former paratrooper, Kurt Hofmann was paralyzed in a car accident in 2002. The helplessness inherent to confinement to a wheelchair prompted him to explore armed self-defense, only to discover that Illinois denies that right, inspiring him to become active in gun rights advocacy. He also writes the St. Louis Gun Rights Examiner column. Kurt Hofmann Archive.