Today’s New York Times front page has a headline story about how the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has launched a not-so-subtle proposal to ban a certain .223-caliber cartridge; a controversy that has been burning across Internet blogs and caused Hornady Manufacturing to yesterday alert gun owners to write letters of opposition.
Long story short: Second Amendment activists are convinced this is a backdoor effort by the not-so-lame duck Obama administration to push a gun control agenda that it cannot get through a Republican-controlled Congress. With the president riding roughshod with executive actions the courts must address – this morning he steam-rolled the Senate on amnesty for illegal aliens, the Washington Times reports – and with less than two years remaining in what Barack Obama apparently thinks is a reign rather than a term in office, this move on ammunition is likely only one effort to erode firearms freedom.
There are two really good analyses of the situation, one by veteran firearms journalist Frank Miniter in an on-line Forbes piece, and the other by Jeff Knox on WND’s website. They flesh out the problem with detailed explanations about the cartridge, known as the M855, and why the ATF suddenly has reversed a long-standing exemption from the definition of “armor piercing” for this ammunition.
Conspiracy theories have floated around the gun community for decades, but the way this proposal is being handled – or perhaps “mishandled” – gives plenty of traction to their concerns. The M855 is one of the most popular loads for the AR-15 rifle, which happens to be the most popular rifle in the country today. The firearms community calls it a “modern sport-utility” rifle, while the gun prohibition lobby – for alarmist value – and its mainstream press allies – because they don’t know any better – call it an “assault weapon.”
The focus is on the actual bullet, and a technicality that it appears the Obama ATF is using to suddenly outlaw this rifle ammunition. The round can also be used in some pistols, and under federal law, armor piercing handgun ammunition is prohibited. An armor-piercing bullet, by definition, is:
(i) 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
(ii) 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.
But the M855 bullet doesn’t meet those criteria because it has a lead core with a soft steel section on top. The devil is always in the details, and back in 1986, the government specifically exempted this ammunition from the armor piercing definition. Details of that are found at the bottom of Page 2 of the ATF’s proposal, where it recalls a discussion on ammunition by the late Sen. Patrick Moynihan at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on May 17, 1984.
“[L]et me make clear what this bill does not do,” the senator said. “Our legislation would not limit the availability of standard rifle ammunition with armor-piercing capability. We recognize that soft body armor is not intended to stop high powered rifle cartridges. Time and again Congressman (Mario) Biaggi and I have stressed that only bullets capable of penetrating body armor and designed to be fired from a handgun would be banned; rifle ammunition would not be covered.”
The ATF proposal further notes on Page 3, “Accordingly, under the original bills, if the manufacturer of the ammunition “designed [it] to be fired from a handgun” and it was “capable of penetrating body armor”, then it would meet the definition of “armor piercing.” If the manufacturer designed and intended the ammunition to be used in rifles (or if it was not capable of penetrating body armor), it would not meet the definition.”
Update: To perhaps clarify the issue, refer to Pages 14-15, where the document states: “Applying the sporting purposes framework set-forth above, the 5.56mm projectile that ATF exempted in 1986 does not qualify for an exemption because that projectile when loaded into SS109 and M855 cartridges may be used in a handgun other than a single-shot handgun. Specifically, 5.56mm projectiles loaded into the SS109 and M855 cartridges are commonly used in both “AR-type” rifles and “AR-type” handguns. The AR platform is the semi-automatic version of the M16 machinegun originally designed for and used by the military. The AR-based handguns and rifles utilize the same magazines and share identical receivers. These AR-type handguns were not commercially available when the armor piercing ammunition exemption was granted in 1986. To ensure consistency, upon final implementation of the sporting purpose framework outlined above, ATF must withdraw the exemptions for 5.56 mm “green tip” ammunition, including both the SS109 and M855 cartridges.”
So, what’s really going on? It must be important for the New York Times to front-page the article, above the fold, center column left, where it has more prominence than a story about serial murderer “Jihadi John” that appears just below the fold on the right. That’s how significant this story is to a traditionally anti-gun newspaper.
The proposal has ignited a rush on gun shops and gun shows, where alarmed gun owners are buying up M855 ammunition by the case. Prices are going to skyrocket as demand exceeds supplies.
President Obama has made it frequently clear that he supports more restrictive gun laws. Departing Attorney General Eric Holder, held in contempt of Congress for refusing to surrender documents related to Operation Fast and Furious, regrets that he couldn’t do more on gun control.
The push is on, which should swell the ranks of Second Amendment organizations. Sneering sarcasm from Obama-supporting gun prohibitionists that “nobody is going to take your guns” is increasingly falling on deaf ears. If they’re trying to ban your ammunition, it takes little imagination to figure out what’s next.
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