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ATF Backs Down on Ban of Popular Rifle Ammo

ATF Backs Down on Ban of Popular Rifle Ammo

ATF takes M855 ammo ban off the table in apparent big win for 2A advocates

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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I love how these government agencies are still acting as if it’s 1980 and there’s no instantaneous spread of information. They always seem so surprised when we find out what they’re up to.

See? Take heart peeps. We are not doomed.

Not yet.

I may regret – yet again- attempting to argue law with lawyers but I’ve never been one to shrink from futility.

The post states: “…(S)tating their intended rationale for the ban (reclassifying the round as prohibited armor-piercing handgun ammunition)”

Is this accurate?

My understanding is that the round was deemed banned by the Law Enforcement Officer Protection Act of 1985 (signed in 1986), but that the (then) BATF issued a ‘sporting purposes’ exemption from the ban for technical reasons (one of them being the lack of multi-shot pistols that would fire the round at the time).

The round, once deemed ‘banned’ in 1986, was not ‘unbanned’ by the exemption…it was just administratively- well- exempted from the ban.

Now, BATFEs rationale was to revisit the exemption, measure it against the existing market, observe the growing popularity of multi-shot pistols that can fire the round (specifically the becoming ubiquitous AR-based pistol) and move to simply remove the exemption…in effect simply respecting the previously imposed ban (from 1986), not explicitly ‘reclassifying’ the round (in 2015).

I understand there may not be much distance between cause and effect here, but it is law and that never really has to make much sense sometimes.

Regardless, I’m glad for the reprieve of sorts and I’m curious how long it will last. (personally, I didn’t see much problem with the change. I thought it was ridiculous, wouldn’t achieve squat, and was probably counterproductive…but that it was well within BATFEs regulatory authority)

buckeyeminuteman | March 10, 2015 at 4:08 pm

We all saw the images and video from Waco. The ATF does not simply “back down”, they just regroup…

Another bunch of dip sticks that need to be defunded.


    We cannot afford to fully defund the BATFE. Doing so would put firearms regulation and enforcement squarely under the purview of the FBI, which is infinitely more competent when it comes to finding, arresting, and prosecuting violators. I’d rather have the idiots running firearms regulations.

    That said, their funding should be reduced, and their priority shifted away from firearms enforcement; nominally, they’re in charge of regulating several industries (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives), so why do we only ever hear about firearms cases?*

    * – Rhetorical question: It’s because the alcohol and tobacco industries and markets tend to self-regulate. The firearms industry and market would, too, if the federal government would allow it.

Humphrey's Executor | March 10, 2015 at 5:34 pm

The image at top looks like it shows two different types of ammo. The top one looks like a cartridge with a regular lead bullet. The bottom (cross-section) looks like a “full metal jacket” NATO round. Am I mistaken? And did the proposed ban apply only to the fully jacketed version, which I assume is more likely to be able to penetrate body armor than a regular lead round?

    No, any 5.56/223 round will blow through a II or IIIA vest like it wasn’t even there.

      G. de La Hoya in reply to Sian. | March 11, 2015 at 8:36 am

      You appear to be someone in the know. I use .223 target ammo because they are relatively inexpensive and the coyotes die all the same. What is the difference with the green tip that is spoken about vs. full metal jacket and the target round?

Trouble is their rules and guidelines printed in Jan already had omitted the exemption language.

Technically, any ATF agent could enforce those rules as they stand and be on legal ground (I think).

This also gives them the back door option of enforcing this stealthily without further notice in other ways.

They’ve already rewritten their rules. Before they said anything publicly. Think about that for a moment.

I’m guessing that 80,000 calls letters and emails had little to do with them backing down. I’m guessing they were put on notice that the instant they started to enforce this, they would be hit with a suit and perhaps more. They’re concerned that more would be lost than gained or that was being argued over so they backed off.

They haven’t given up yet.

We need to remove the F from the BATF and put them back to work chasing moonshiners and tobacco smugglers.

We don’t have a department in charge of free speech so why do we need one for firearms?

The Constitution is really a right to carry license.

    Ragspierre in reply to jakee308. | March 10, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    While taking…and liking…you larger point, what is the FCC?

      jakee308 in reply to Ragspierre. | March 10, 2015 at 8:22 pm

      Actually, though they do what they can, the FCC is in charge of electronic/electrical communication devices and the transmission of signals thereof.

      They are not in charge of free speech except that which is transmitted over the air or over wires.

      The FTC also has some scope over Free speech but mostly in the realm of advertising and making false or unproven claims.

      There isn’t a department that oversees Print media, religious expression or speech.

      yet we have an entire bureau dedicated to the regulation and restriction of one of our fundamental rights.

    platypus in reply to jakee308. | March 11, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    What do you have against moonshiners and tobacco smugglers, two honorable “insurrection” type activities (not to mention profitable)? Are you a recovering alcoholic who quit smoking?

      jakee308 in reply to platypus. | March 12, 2015 at 2:03 am

      Nothing but they’re a lot harder to find than Firearms Dealers Licensees. For the ATF it’s like (sorry) shooting fish in a barrel.

      Of course they’d rather pick on firearms dealers and manufacturers. They’re easier to find and actually less likely to shoot nosy strangers.

      Notice we don’t see a lot of activity over moonshiners and tobacco smugglers? There’s a reason for that. It’s like narc cops like to bust pot smokers. They’re usually more mellow and not as much trouble. Crackheads and crank addicts are notorious for being a lot of trouble to arrest.

Henry Hawkins | March 10, 2015 at 6:21 pm

It was easy.

I sat down with ATF Director B. Todd Jones in his office and I asked him, “Mr. Jones, will you agree to drop this plan to ban ammunition?”

Director Jones replied, “Absolutely not!”

I paused, stared for a moment at my clenched fists on the table and said, “Fine then. I must go. Don Branca insists on hearing bad news immediately.”

I wasn’t even down the hall to the elevators when they hauled me back inside all polite and servile, assuring me that, “of course we’ll drop our plans! No need to bother Don Branca with such a little thing! Sit down, sit down, we’ll write it up!”

I would like someone to perform an unbiased cost-benefit analysis of the gun-control laws now enacted in the United States. If the purpose of these laws is reduced violence from weapons use, then enforcing these laws appear to be a grandiose waste of time, money and lives. The black market for weapons effectively negates all efforts at regulation.

Remember, is is inappropriate usage that we want to regulate, not possession of a particular type of ammunition or weapons design feature. Violence does not require tools, but tools do help someone be violent with more effect on others.

Revoke most of the current gun control laws, most of which are blatantly in opposition to the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, dismantle the BATFE, and assign the remnants to other government agencies as appropriate.

2nd Ammendment Mother | March 10, 2015 at 6:39 pm

I’m in the regroup camp….. it’s going to be a whole lot easier and quieter to send the guys at Operation Chokepoint after the manufacturers….. nice factory you’ve got there, it would be a shame if we seize your bank account.

I’ve always preferred the M193 5.56 ammo – anyone have a good reason to prefer M855?

    Other than the fact that it works, there’s nothing particularly redeeming about the M855 stuff except it is (used to be) cheap and readily available in bulk, for guys doing carbine schools and stuff like that.

    In terms of actual marksmanship stuff, it’s crap.

    In terms of social use purposes, it’s crap.

    Not that any of that matters.

    “Shall not be infringed.”

    I’ve owned lots of crappy printers in my life, doesn’t give the government license to ban them.

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

      Gremlin1974 in reply to Andrew Branca. | March 10, 2015 at 8:12 pm

      Yep, pretty much crappy plinkin’ ammo, but that is what it is good for.

      1moremisfit in reply to Andrew Branca. | March 10, 2015 at 8:45 pm

      Social use?

        Webster’s: “social”: : of or relating to people

        –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

          1moremisfit in reply to Andrew Branca. | March 10, 2015 at 9:18 pm

          …as in “2-legged threat” then. Seems to me it has a purpose. Not for long-range work, because the bullet stability is hampered by its construction. But out to 100 yards or so on a social-size target I think it can connect reliably. And when dealing with threats that may have benefit of heavy cover, and all you have to respond with is your AR, I could see how enhanced penetration might be desirable;
          SHTF and all that rot. I bought a case of it last summer to try, and it was a few cents more / round than XM193. Won’t even consider it again until back down to about 40 cents. Prolly won’t by anything at all until the panic & gouging stops.

I try to always try to remember two things when dealing with bureaucrats, especially progressive bureaucrats, that you are dealing with someone who goes past conceited, they are convinced of their superiority and that all the little people are to stupid to understand their brilliance. Secondly, never assume that they have any real clue about what job they are supposed to be doing or any particular knowledge regarding the subject matter of their position.

So here is what I see, someone at BATFE had this brilliant flash on how to ban the ammo, they never actually looked at the definitions they just saw that if the ammo goes through body armor it must be AP, even though the body armor was never designed to stop that round. So they just knew that they had a win and took it to their boss, who was probably just as clueless as that person and so on and so forth, until it made it into public knowledge.

Then only after it became public and people started reporting on it did anyone actually go back and look at what was proposed. Then people started pointing out that the round in question didn’t fit the definitions of the rounds that they are allowed to ban. (i.e. like that the round was specifically engineered to be used in a handgun, which this round never was.)

Then the public comments came rolling in, which I am sure included more than a couple promised legal interventions should the ATF go though with is blatantly illegal action. Also, I may be wrong but 80k comments in 3 weeks seems like a fairly large number to me.

So after all of this, the one or two folks over there that aren’t playing “A Beautiful Mind” the home game, got together and said; “Shoot maybe there are people paying attention!” so now we have the delay.

Walker Evans | March 10, 2015 at 9:37 pm

They have “delayed” implementation* until they can perform “additional studies”. Based on my years of federal service, primarily in the military, I can say with some authority that this is Standard Bureaucratese for “Darn! Now we’ll have to sneak around and back-door this; they won’t notice and they’ll probably forget anyway!” The Fat Lady isn’t even in the theater yet, folks.

And I note the ban on Russian 7N6 ammo, needed to feed AK-74’s, is still on the banned list. Apparently there are not enough Baby-AK fans around to work on this one.

*Supposedly, gun owners had until March 16 to send comments to ATF. But the AR-15 ammunition in question turned up (last week) on an ATF list of ammunition indicating that it had ALREADY BEEN BANNED. The ATF claimed this was a “publishing error.” Right. The only “error” the agency made was to let us know what they thought of any comments before the comment period was even closed. Orwellian doublespeak at its finest!

I think what really scared the BATF was the limp wrists in Congress threatening to take away their money. That won;t happen any time soon as long as McConnell and the eunuch that is the Speaker are there running things. Not that any of that will have any bearing on their plans to backdoor this new ban.

Many calibers of Barnes bullets, the “banded solid” have been taken off the market because of this ruling. Any caliber of ammunition can be used in handguns….”sporting” handguns although many of the calibers for Barnes would likely maim the shooter’s hand when shot. Think of a light weight Contender chambered in 300 Remington Ultra Magnum. Frankly, if BATFE wants to ban something on this order, force them to put their wrist bones and ligaments where their collective mouth is and pick up and shoot that 300 RUM Contender to prove how easily it fits their criteria… that would be sporting of them.. We will provide directions to the nearest ER.

G. de La Hoya | March 11, 2015 at 8:40 am

In the clear for now but I have to wonder why the Obama administration with the BATF are now so concerned about the safety of the police after fomenting all the racial hatred at the police.

G. de La Hoya | March 11, 2015 at 8:47 am

Also, forgot to mention previously that this ban announcement from a month ago I believe was one way Obama could take the pulse of the bitter-clinging public.

On the thread of M855 being crap and all, I see similar statements everywhere, as well as the M855 being the cheap stuff, etc. My experience differs in that I could last summer easily find new brass-case lead FMJ 5.56 cheaper than the “green tips”, and I can also see potential situational advantages of the M855 ammo, just as a casual shooter and without being any sort of tactical expert.

I would also add, for what it’s worth, IMHO, and not that they should be infringed any more than AB’s printers, that the idea of taking an AR rifle receiver and removing the shoulder stock and putting a stubby barrel on it, and then calling it a “pistol”, is crap. And it’s that crap that started all this other crap. Again, NOT that folks shouldn’t have a right to their crap, OK? Just calling a crap a crap.