Washington (AP) — The Obama administration has backed off a proposal to ban a type of ammunition used in one of the most popular types of rifles, a move that was seen by sportsmen and gun owners as an intentional effort to make it difficult to secure the ammo.
Officials said the bullets are being targeted because they can pierce a police officer’s protective vest when fired from a handgun.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was proposing the ban of some types of 5.56mm rounds – or .223 caliber – used in widely available and popular AR-15-style rifles because the bullets can also be used in some new types of handguns. Other types of 5.56mm rounds would still be legal to buy, own and use.
But the bureau last month said that, on the heels of over 80,000 comments objecting to the plan, they would postpone any action until those comments could be reviewed.
The proposal was also criticized by the House and Senate majorities, notably House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) and his Senate counterpart, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
NRA executive vice president Wayne La Pierre called the proposal dishonest.
“This proposal was never about law enforcement safety,” La Pierre said in a statement. “It was about the Obama administration’s desire to pander to billionaire Michael Bloomberg and his gun control groups. Since they haven’t been able to ban America’s most popular rifle, they are trying to ban the ammunition instead.”
The rule change would affect “M855 green tip” or “SS109” rounds with certain types of metal cores. Gun owners who already own the ammunition would be allowed to continue to legally own it, but manufacturers would not be allowed to produce, sell, import or distribute it.
But the National Shooting Sports Foundation says the ATF was seizing an opportunity to ban the bullets because they are now used in some handguns.
“It is with the increasing prevalence of handgun versions of rifle platforms that ATF now apparently sees an opening to now ban the widely used M855 and SS109 ammunition,” the NSSF said in a statement.
Gun-rights advocates and law enforcement agencies say they have been unable to document a single incident in which a police officer has been shot by a criminal using an AR-15 handgun in the 20 years since the M855 ball has been exempted from the federal ban on armor-piercing bullets.
It was exempted based on its use for sporting purposes.
“We have not been able to find a single instance where a police officer has been shot from this type of handgun using a bullet that pierces his soft-body armor, and if the administration had any examples you know they would be pushing it
in everybody’s face to further their executive action,” said Alan Gottlieb, executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation.
Goodlatte objected to the rule change, saying it would “interfere with Second Amendment rights by disrupting the market for ammunition that law-abiding Americans use for sporting and other legitimate purposes.”
Armor-piercing handgun ammunition has been banned since 1986 as a way to protect police officers under the federal Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act. The rifle bullets facing a ban under the proposal were long considered exempt because they were used for sporting purposes, such as target shooting.
ATF spokesperson Ginger Colbrun said the agency was considering eliminating the exemption now because of the production of AR handguns that can fire the same cartridge.
At issue is the material in the core of the bullets. As long as the bullet’s core does not contain particular types of metal the bullet would still be legally available.
The semi-automatic AR-15 rifle has become wildly popular among gun enthusiasts in recent years. It’s also been the target of Democratic lawmakers who sought to ban the weapons after the 2012 shooting deaths of a dozen people at a movie theater in Colorado and 20 children and six adults at a school in Connecticut. Those efforts failed, but gun rights advocates, including the National Rifle Association, predicted the administration would continue a push to ban the popular guns.
The NSSF, in its statement, said the proposal was “truly a solution in search of a problem and that raises serious questions about executive agency attitude and overreach. Stopped cold on Capitol Hill, this action appears to be the Obama administration’s attempt to pursue gun control by other means.”
The NSSF predicted manufacturers “will face serious limitations in their ability to develop and market alternative ammunition in other popular hunting rounds, such as .308 rifle hunting ammunition, if ATF’s so-called ‘framework’ is adopted.
This will have a detrimental effect on hunting nationwide, especially in California, where a total ban on traditional ammunition for hunting is being phased in now.”