Only three weeks after proposing to ban perhaps the most popular ammunition for the most popular rifle in America, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (more commonly referred to as the ATF, and that ought to be a convenience store, not a government bureau) has abruptly backed down.

Or at least it seems–it’s not as if the ATF has a well-established reputation for being above-board in its dealings with law-abiding American gun owners.

We covered this story when it first broke last month–see Retribution? ATF Bans Common Rifle Ammo.  Exactly one month ago (less one day) the ATF issued a “framework” document for determining whether to ban the M855 (e.g., “green tip”) form of 5.56/.223 ammunition in question, stating their intended rationale for the ban (reclassifying the round as prohibited armor-piercing handgun ammunition) and initiating a 30 day comment period. (The framework in question is embedded in its entirety in that post.)

M855 has been among the most popular and least costly (but I repeat myself) ammunition for recreational shooting in AR-pattern rifles for many, many years, so the ban was clearly going to cause tremendous disruption in both the consumer and producer ends of the ammunition market.

At the time I was struck by the fact that this  framework proposal was handed down only two days after the ATF was humiliated by the summary judgement awarded against them in Mance v. Holder, which we covered here: Federal Court: Handgun Transfer Ban Unconstitutional.  Such petulance has, of course, become a hallmark of the Obama administration.

It also wasn’t hard to figure out that this move by the ATF to ban M855 ammo would profoundly energize pro-Second Amendment organizations and individuals–meaning, of course, non-Progressives. As I put it in that prior post:

This action will, of course, energize gun owning Americans across the nation against the President’s party. I imagine more than a few Democrats whose districts are somewhat less liberal than San Francisco are turning to their staff and asking, “Obama did what now?”

Sure enough that’s what happened. Today the ATF acknowledged that in the last three weeks since requesting comment on the proposed framework they have received over 80,000 such comments, the overwhelming  majority of which against the M855 ban.

The first sign of the white flag came in the form of a tweet (see the featured image at the top of this post) in which the ATF wrote: “You spoke, we listened. @ATFHQ plans more study on the proposed AP Ammo exemption framework.”  The tweet also included a link to modestly lengthier and more explanatory post on the ATF’s web site:

ATF post

That all sounds good, and like a big win for the NRA and millions of other 2A advocates, and I’m sure this apparent victory will be a big topic of discussion at the NRA Annual Meeting in Nashville next month (see you there!).

Nevertheless, as I note above it’s not as if the ATF hasn’t been known to play fast-and-loose with the nation’s gun laws in the past:  Fast and Furious, anybody?

As always when dealing with any government agency, especially one with a specific mandate to constrain a Constitutional right, it pays to maintain situational awareness.

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

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Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog (autographed copies available) and (paperback and Kindle). He also holds Law of Self Defense Seminars around the country, and provides free online self-defense law video lectures at the Law of Self Defense Institute and podcasts through iTunes, Stitcher, and elsewhere.


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