House Judiciary Chairman: ATF Attempt to Ban AR-15 Ammo By Executive Order is "Preposterous"

Katie Pavlich
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Posted: Mar 03, 2015 7:50 AM
House Judiciary Chairman: ATF Attempt to Ban AR-15 Ammo By Executive Order is "Preposterous"

Last week on behalf of the bipartisan House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Bob Goodlatte sent a letter to ATF Director B. Todd Jones demanding answers about a pending ban on commonly used AR-15 ammunition, better known as 5.56 M855 ball ammunition. ATF recently proposed the ban and broadly cited law enforcement officer safety as its justification, saying the ammunition is "armor piercing," but provided zero evidence to back up their endangerment claim. 

In the letter, Goodlatte points out ATF's efforts to broadly claim legal jurisdiction over commonly used sporting ammunition. Here's some legal background from the letter about ATF's conclusion: 

As you know, the ban on “armor piercing” ammunition was created by the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act (LEOPA) of 1986. The Act was conceived to protect police officers from the hazards presented by so-called "armor piercing" projectiles–originally designed for law enforcement and military use—that can be fired from handguns and penetrate the sort of soft body armor typically worn by police officers.

To do this, LEOPA bans various sorts of non-lead projectiles or projectile “cores” that “may be” used in handguns. As LEOPA’s authors realized, however, bullets fired from most common rifle cartridges can penetrate soft body armor, and some rifle bullets can be loaded into ammunition for handguns. Congress therefore incorporated an exemption into LEOPA for projectiles “which the Attorney General finds [are] primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes” to protect ordinary rifle ammunition from being swept up in the ban.

The “Framework” is intended to answer the question of how the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) will make “sporting purposes” determinations. It creates a two-prong test. First, ATF will exempt a “.22 caliber projectile … if the projectile weighs 40 grains or less AND is loaded into a rimfire cartridge.” Second, ATF will exempt other projectiles if they are “loaded into a cartridge for which the only handgun that is readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade is a single shot handgun.” Even then, ATF –under this supposedly “objective” test – “retains the discretion to deny any application for a ‘sporting purposes’ exemption if substantial evidence exists that the ammunition is not primarily intended for such purposes.”

"The proposed “Framework” purports to establish an “objective” test for determining whether certain projectiles otherwise considered “armor piercing” under federal law qualify for an exemption allowing them to be lawfully manufactured, imported, and sold on the civilian market in the United States. The 'Framework,' however, establishes an unduly restrictive standard, does not comport with the letter or spirit of the law, and will interfere with Second Amendment rights by disrupting the market for ammunition that law abiding Americans use for sporting and other legitimate purposes," Goodlatte wrote in the letter. "The effects of these restrictive interpretations are untenable. For example, since 1986 ATF has considered the M855 5.56 x 45mm cartridge to be “exempt” under the sporting purposes test (although its core contains a substantial amount of lead, raising questions about its classification as “armor piercing” in the first place). ATF has now rescinded that exemption because repeating handguns that fire the M855 round are commercially available. Yet this round is amongst the most commonly used in the most popular rifle design in America, the AR-15. Millions upon millions of M855 rounds have been sold and used in the U.S., yet ATF has not even alleged – much less offered evidence – that even one such round has ever been fired from a handgun at a police officer. The idea that Congress intended LEOPA to ban one of the preeminent rifle cartridges in use by Americans for legitimate purposes is preposterous."

"The “Framework” does not comport with LEOPA’s meaning and intent and should be abandoned. ATF should refocus its efforts on serious threats to law enforcement officers from specially designed armor piercing projectiles that are intended for use in the sort of handguns commonly carried and concealed by criminals. Under no circumstances should ATF adopt a standard that will ban ammunition that is overwhelmingly used by law-abiding Americans for legitimate purposes," Goodlatte concluded.

ATF is taking public comments through March 16, 2015 about the proposed ban through email at APAComments@atf.gov and by fax at (202) 648-9741. Comments can also be sent through the mail to: 

  • 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

The National Shooting Sports Foundation has requested ATF extend the commenting period for an additional 60 days. 

"Given the breadth of the impact this new framework will have on the industry and the number of calibers in question, we believe the 30 days allotted by the ATF is not sufficient for companies in the industry and the general public to provide meaningful comments and suggestions," NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Larry Keane wrote in a separate letter to ATF Director Jones last week.

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle are decrying ATF's efforts.

The bottom line: This is a backdoor attempt by the Obama administration to make AR-15 sporting rifles, which the President and gun control zealots in Congress have tried to ban for a decade, inoperable. Guns are no good without ammunition and you can bet the Obama administration is fully aware of that fact.