UPDATE: ATF calls stripping ban exemption for AR-15 "green tip" ammunition a "publishing mistake." Read the full story here.
On Friday February 13 at 4:00 pm, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms released a proposal to ban commonly used M855 "green tip" AR-15 ammunition under the guise of law enforcement safety. The same day the proposal was released, on a Friday of a three day holiday weekend, ATF opened up a shortened 30-day period for the public to submit comments about the new regulation.
But it turns out, ATF has been working on a ban of AR-15 "green-tip" ammunition for quite some time and has already issued the ban in its new, 2014 Regulation Guide. For reference, ATF Regulation Guides come out approximately every ten years.
When you take a look at the 2005 ATF Regulation Guide, you'll see an exemption for AR-15 "green-tip" ammunition, which means it exempted from the definition of "armor piercing" and therefore is legal on the federal level.
When you look at the last page of the new, most recent ATF 2014 Regulation Guide, which was published in January, there is no longer an exemption for AR-15 "green-tip" ammunition.
"The 2014 edition of the Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide contains information that will help you comply with Federal laws and regulations governing the manufacture, importation and distribution of firearms and ammunition. This edition contains new and amended statutes enacted since publication of the 2005 edition, as well as updated regulations and rulings issued by ATF. In addition to these updated materials, in response to inquiries received from industry members, the public, and partner agencies, the 2014 edition contains additional and amended Questions and Answers to assist with compliance," ATF Director B. Todd Jones states in the 2014 edition of the new Regulation Guide (emphasis mine). "Laws may change over time, as will information in this guide."
The Office of Management and Budget must review and approve ATF Regulation Guides, which again, come out approximately every 10 years. This can take months and changes to Regulation Guides are not easily or often made. Because of the lengthy amount of time it takes for OMB to approve a new ATF Regulation Guide, ATF's comment period is just for show. ATF officials and the White House have (and never did) no interest in actually listening to or considering comments that are currently being submitted. The exemption for the ammunition in question has already been stripped out of the regulation handbook moving forward and "green-tip" has been reclassified as "armor piercing." The rules have been changed. Further, because of local rules and regulations in different states across the country having their own "armor piercing" standards based on ATF regulations, thousands of people in possession of AR-15 green tip ammunition have essentially been turned into felons overnight.
A review of the timeline:
January 2015: ATF published a new, OMB approved Regulation Guide stripping AR-15 "green-tip" from its armor piercing exemption list.
February 2015: ATF proposes a ban (which they've already put in place through their handbook published in January) on AR-15 "green-tip" ammunition and opens up a comment period.
March 16, 2015: The comment period about the proposed/already implemented ban on AR-15 "green-tip" ammunition closes, ATF ignores tens-of-thousands of comments because they were never going to consider them in the first place, and continues with the regulations outlined in the new 2014 Regulation Guide.
ATF changed the law unilaterally, didn't tell anyone about it and has now put up a bogus comment period that means nothing. Because of these actions, ATF and the White House have not only failed to follow the Administrative Procedure Act, but has gone around Congress to violate the Second Amendment rights of Americans.
So, what' next? ATF is going to have to explain why the change was made under the radar and will also have to explain what this means for people in possession of "green-tip" ammunition after January 2015 when the new ATF Regulation Guide was published with the exemption missing. Is there no grandfathering period for possession? When will manufactures be forced to stop producing? What does this mean for buyers and sellers? States are also going to have to find a way to implement these regulations and define compliance under separate state ammunition possession laws.
Editor's note: The timeline listed above mistakenly said 2014 for all three dates. It has been corrected to 2015.
This post has been updated with additional information.