Industry News: ATF Studying Classification of Armor Piercing Ammunition
By Robert Hausman

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is studying how it should determine what types of projectiles meet the "sporting purposes" exception to the federal "armor piercing ammunition" law. At this time, the question centers primarily around rifle-caliber projectiles made of metals harder than lead, such as the Barnes Bullets solid brass hunting bullets. At risk is ammunition marketed for self-defense use.

Under the federal law adopted in 1986, "armor piercing ammunition" is defined as "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." A second definition, added in the 1990s, includes "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% of the total weight of the projectile."

Because handguns have been made in certain rifle calibers, many bullets that were designed originally for rifles also "may be used in a handgun." If such projectiles are made of the metals listed in the law, they are restricted as "armor piercing ammunition" unless they meet one of the law's exemptions. Being considered at this time is the exemption for "a projectile which the Attorney General finds is primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes."

In late-November, BATFE met separately with gun control activist groups, firearm industry groups, and groups representing hunters and other gun owners. The latter meeting included the NRA; Safari Club International; representatives of state wildlife agencies; and firearm and ammunition importers.

The NRA says BATFE has expressed two opinions about the law and exemption that warrant particular scrutiny.

First, BATFE suggested that it believes that the "armor piercing ammunition" law was intended to affect all ammunition capable of penetrating soft body armor worn by law enforcement officers. NRA reminded BATFE that the law was intended to protect law enforcement officers against the potential threat posed by a very narrowly-defined category of projectiles: those, such as KTW and Arcane, which by virtue of their hard metal construction were designed and intended to be used by law enforcement officers to shoot through hard objects, such as automobile glass and doors, when fired at the velocities typical of handgun-caliber ammunition fired from handguns. Neither before nor since the law's enactment, has an officer been killed due to such a bullet penetrating soft body armor.

NRA further points out that the legislative history of the law clearly shows that members of Congress, including the sponsor of the law in the House, Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-N.Y.), a decorated former NYPD police officer, expressly did not want the law to restrict rifle-caliber bullets that happen to also be useable in handguns chambered to use rifle cartridges.

(Note: Biaggi at the time, used the bullet ban for political purposes, representing that it was necessary to protect police officers, and railed on and on about the supposed danger of “cop killer bullets” as a way to sell it to the public and give himself a reason to remain in political office. However, he was later twice convicted of corruption in 1987 and 1988 and had to resign from Congress. He later made a failed attempt at a political comeback.)

Second, NRA reports BATFE says it considers projectiles to not be exempt under the "sporting purposes" test if they "pose a threat to public safety and law enforcement." BATFE also expressed concern that since the law was adopted, various new rifle-caliber handguns have been invented.

On that point, NRA has made clear that the sporting purposes exemption is straightforward: it applies to all projectiles that are "primarily intended for sporting purposes" – nothing more, and nothing less. Under the law, a projectile would be exempt if it is primarily intended for sporting purposes, even if it is secondarily intended for self-defense or some other legitimate purpose.

Furthermore, the law does not condition its restrictive language or its "sporting purposes" exemption on the design of a particular handgun; the law is concerned only with specific projectiles that can be used in handguns. NRA cautioned the BATFE against interpreting the law in a manner more restrictive than Congress intended.

About a year ago, ATF requested product samples from Elite Ammunition, a producer of custom loads in the 5.7x28mm chambering. After review of some weeks, ATF representatives descended on Elite Ammunition’s business premises with a search warrant and reportedly confiscated all bullets and loaded rounds with the Barnes 45gr Banded Solid bullet in 5.7×28, .223, 6.5 Grendel and 6.8SPC, and computers. The ammo’s total retail value was approximately $15,000.

The agent-in-charge reportedly stated that .223, 6.5 Grendel and 6.8SPC were now handgun cartridges and that since the bullets were made of brass they were AP [Armor Piercing] and prohibited.

Remarks by ATF’s Marvin Richardson at Trade Group Portion of ATF Armor Piercing Ammo Meeting

Following are the opening remarks of Marvin Richardson, the new ATF Deputy Assistant Director of the Office of Enforcement Programs and Services before the recent meeting at ATF headquarters on armor piercing ammunition. These remarks were made by the firearms industry trade group portion of the meeting. They are presented courtesy of the F.A.I.R. Trade Group.

“This issue is a priority for many reasons and it is important that we get it right for the sake of all stakeholders. It is important to the Acting-Director and the Deputy Director as well as to everyone associated with this process that we receive input from all of the vested interest so that we can make a well informed decision. It is for this reason that we have held meetings for three days this week. On Wednesday we met with representatives from Law Enforcement to get their perspective. On Thursday we met with Non Government Organizations to get their perspective. And today we are meeting twice with the Firearms Industry (Manufacturers your respective Industry Associations this morning and the remainder of Industry Associations this afternoon). It is important that we hear the issue from your perspective. In addition, it will help me to hear what you would do and how you would do it if you were making the decision.

“I would like to take a moment to acknowledge a few things before we get started: 1. I realize that this issue has been pending since at least August 2011 (we attempted to hold these meetings earlier in September – but scheduling conflicts prevented us from being able to do so). 2. I know that there are existing variances some of which have been resolved and other which have not and are still pending. 3. I understand the economic impact and the future prospectus that this issue has had and continues to have on the industry.

“That said, now I would like to frame the issue then listen to your input.

“In 1986, Congress amended the Gun Control Act of 1968 to restrict the manufacture, importation, sale or delivery of “armor piercing ammunition.” 18 USC 921(a)(17) defines the term “armor piercing ammunition” in two parts: 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 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.

“The purpose of this law was to protect law enforcement officers by regulating the ammunition that could be loaded into a handgun and would penetrate an officer’s bullet resistant vest. Therefore, the GCA defines armor piercing ammunition, in part, as any projectile that is made of a specified metal, including brass, which “may be used in a handgun.”

“The law also provides a sporting purpose exemption from this definition for any projectile ‘which the Attorney General finds is primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes.’ Historically, ATF has used this sporting test to exempt projectiles from this definition when used in particular cartridges. Such cartridges include the 5.56mm (223) SS109 and M855 and the U.S. .30-06 M2AP. In exempting the SS109 and M855 ammunition, ATF noted that although handguns were available in this caliber, the available handguns were “specialized long range competition weapons.” In exempting the M2AP ammunition, ATF simply noted that “it is well documented that the [M2AP cartridge] has been recognized as being suitable for target shooting with rifles due to its accuracy.” The letter concluded that the cartridge was therefore “primarily intended for sporting purposes.”

“With the development of large caliber handguns, the broad language used to define “armor piercing ammunition” now includes numerous calibers that were traditional rifle calibers used for hunting or other legitimate sporting purposes. These brass projectiles are considered armor piercing because they may be used in a handgun of that caliber. Therefore, they may not be manufactured or distributed even if for rifles.

“As a result, the ATF Firearms Technology Branch (FTB) has received numerous requests to exempt certain brass projectiles under the sporting purposes exemption. In developing ATF’s criteria, we recognize that a broad exemption will necessarily encompass many projectiles that may pose a danger to law enforcement officers. However, in developing a narrow sporting purposes test, ammunition in traditional hunting calibers will become regulated. Because of the proliferation of new, larger handgun calibers ATF must review the current sporting purposes test for armor piercing ammunition.

“ATF has established a working group to address this issue. The purpose of these meetings is to acquire input from the primary stakeholders in this matter to be taken into consideration by the ATF working group in its efforts to review the current sporting purposes test for armor piercing ammunition. The results of these findings will afford ATF the ability to consider exemptions under the existing law in a manner that takes into consideration both the need to protect law enforcement and to recognize current advancements in ammunition manufacturing technology.”

End of Remarks

Gun Prosecutions Down 40% Under Obama

Despite his calls for greater gun control, including a new assault weapons ban that extends to handguns, President Obama's administration has turned away from enforcing gun laws, cutting weapons prosecutions some 40% percent since a high of about 11,000 under former President Bush.

If you are not going to enforce the laws on the books, then why are the Democrats talking about a whole new wave of new laws?

In the wake of the horrific mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Democratic lawmakers have begun preparing a new collection of anti-gun laws, including renewing the assault weapons ban, banning the purchase of full-capacity magazines, and tightening rules on who can buy guns, and a mail order ammunition ban.

The author publishes two of the small arms industry’s most widely read trade newsletters. The International Firearms Trade covers the world firearms scene, and The New Firearms Business covers the domestic market. He may be reached at: FirearmsB@aol.com.

This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on August 2, 2013


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