Regrettably, the ATF has taken it upon themselves to issue a regulatory ban on yet another popular type of ammunition. This time, the agency has targeted the popular 62 grain M855 round used by many shooters as a versatile and reliable target ammunition in service-grade 5.56/.223 rifles. This marks the fourth time in the last two years that the ATF has attempted to abuse its regulatory capacity to attack peaceable and law-abiding shooters and collectors (ATF 41P, 7N6 reclassification, SIG brace flip-flop, documentation changes for 01 and 03 FFLs). The proposal is linked below and I have included contact information for the ATF. My official comment is also posted below. I encourage everyone to write coherent, vulgarity-free, comments to submit for ATF consideration before the March 16 deadline. Please also take time to contact your legislators to inform them of this overstep.
ATF will carefully consider all comments, as appropriate, received on or before March 16, 2015, and will give comments received after that date the same consideration if it is practical to do so, but assurance of consideration cannot be given except as to comments received on or before March 16, 2015. ATF will not acknowledge receipt of comments.
Submit comments in any of three ways (but do not submit the same comments multiple times or by more than one method):
ATF website: APAComments@atf.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
Fax: (202) 648-9741.
Mail: Denise Brown, Mailstop 6N-602, Office of Regulatory Affairs, Enforcement Programs and Services, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, 99 New York Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20226: ATTN: AP Ammo Comments.
Modern Rifleman’s comment:
Office of Regulatory Affairs
Enforcement Programs and Services
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
99 New York Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20226
ATTN: AP Ammo Comments
The BATFE (ATF) recently published and invited public comments for a proposal “ATF FRAMEWORK FOR DETERMINING WHETHER CERTAIN PROJECTILES ARE “PRIMARILY INTENDED FOR SPORTING PURPOSES” WITHIN THE MEANING OF 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(C).” The below paragraphs shall serve as my comments on the proposal for agency review and consideration.
While the document is rife with errors and topical ignorance, the first problem within the ATF framework proposal is the agency’s explicit acknowledgement on page two that LEOPA of 1986 was adopted to protect police officers from “criminal use of handgun ammunition capable of penetrating protective vests” and ATF’s clarification of this to mean ammunition that would penetrate soft body armor. ATF should be aware that no soft body armor as used by police organizations is rated to withstand any rifle or intermediate caliber rounds. This is a widely known fact and penetration of soft armor is not exclusive to M855/SS109. The presence of steel within the core of the projectile is irrelevant at common law enforcement engagement distances and any cartridge capable of reaching sufficient velocity can be expected to defeat soft armor. M855 simply performs exactly like any other rifle round in this regard. As far as officer safety is concerned, this proposal fails to advance the issue in any legitimate way.
Next, on page three of the proposal, ATF references 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(B) for the relevant statutory definition of “armor piercing ammunition”. In doing so, ATF highlights two standards, a partly subjective one (i) wherein a projectile made of certain materials which may be used in a handgun would be considered “armor piercing”. The second (ii) is a more objective one where a projectile “designed and intended for a handgun” over .22 caliber with a jacket that makes up more than 25 percent total projectile weight would also be considered “armor piercing”. Coincidentally, M855 meets neither definition. The subjective definition (i) contains an objective and condition which requires the projectile core be made entirely of (or a combination of) tungsten alloy, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium. M855 does not contain a steel core as traditionally defined. Instead, the core used in M855 is a combination of steel and lead wherein lead accounts for over 80% of the overall projectile weight and the steel less than 20% of the projectile weight. The US military does not designate M855 as armor piercing, but has a separate tungsten-cored round (M995) that has been defined as such. Definition (ii) does not apply to M855 as the statute explicitly states that the round must have been “designed and intended” for use in a handgun. ATF has misapplied the definitions laid out in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(B) in this proposal and should revoke it on these grounds.
Not only is ATF’s analysis of M855 inconsistent with statutory definitions, it also runs counter to determinations made by other agencies. The decision to ignore the substantial section of lead in the projectile as somehow not part of the bullet’s core is counter to numerous previous determinations, including analysis from the very EPA referenced in the proposal. Indeed, as recently as 2013 the EPA encouraged the development of the M855A1 steel/copper cored round as a replacement for the M855. In doing so, the EPA cited the lead within the core of the M855 as their reasoning for supporting the change. The validity of the data behind the EPA push notwithstanding, the fact that the agency noted the lead within the core of the round should not be ignored.
ATF’s attempt to justify the proposal using a “sporting purpose” argument fails to address many concerns held by legal sportsmen. The first of these is the apparent ignorance on the part of the agency with respect to M855’s popularity with target shooters. This can only be taken as ATF’s outright refusal to acknowledge the AR-15 as the most popular target rifle in the nation, both in formal competition and recreational shooting. The M855 has a total projectile weight of 62 grains. This weight (and requisite projectile length) works extremely well in most common barrels with 1:9 and 1:7 rifling twist ratios. M855 happens to be favored by target shooters because it has passed the accuracy requirements of the US military and is one of the highest quality and most consistent options for shooters using commonly available 5.56mm/.223 caliber barrels.
As part of the same “sporting purpose” argument, ATF almost inexplicably delves into standards for determining a pistol as “primarily intended for sporting purposes”. In doing so, ATF narrowly defines “sporting” pistols as single-shot firearms and wholly ignores the overwhelming use of semi-automatic handguns in target competitions. In fact, semi-automatic handguns far outnumber single-shot handguns in competitive shooting. In keeping with this theme, ATF references concealable handguns as one type of firearm not “primarily suited for sporting purposes”. This is completely unrelated to the subject at hand, but leaves readers wondering what the agency’s intent might have been in mentioning these firearms. If the concern is that a handgun can be concealed, AR-15 pistols are just about the least concealable option out there and are every bit as “large” and “heavy” as the single-shot handguns referenced on page thirteen.
It is intriguing that the proposal specifically names AR-15 as a concern for ATF and police. While the agency seems particularly hung up on the idea that a firearm the size of a very large laptop could be easily hidden on the body, ATF also appears completely ignorant of the fact that 5.56mm pistols are far from a new concept. Bushmaster released a similarly sized pistol in 1977, known as none other than the Bushmaster Arm Pistol. This firearm actually predates the exemption that was issued (albeit unnecessarily) for M855 ammunition. Surely this weapon was known when the exemption was issued, so why is ATF ignorant of this history today?
Arguably the most disturbing part of the proposal is ATF’s dedication to implementing the new rule and associated disregard for the state-level ramifications of such a ruling. At this time, as many as twelve states (Alabama, California, Connecticut, Indiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas) explicitly forbid the possession of armor piercing ammunition. In several of these, possession constitutes a felony. Simply put, the proposal would instantly turn thousands of peaceable gun owners into felons simply because ATF chose to arbitrarily reclassify one of the most popular 5.56mm cartridges on the market. The consequences of such an action could be quite severe, but at minimum, thousands of gun owners will have sufficient standing to bring the agency to court.
In light of these facts, ATF should take two significant actions. The first is that the agency should immediately withdraw the proposed framework referenced in the opening of this letter. The second action should be prompt removal of the armor piercing classification for M855/SS109 as the projectile does not meet either statutory definition within 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(B).
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