ATF Bans Sale of M855/SS109 Green Tip Ammo Citing Armor Piercing Capability - ITS Tactical

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ATF Bans Sale of M855/SS109 Green Tip Ammo Citing Armor Piercing Capability

By Bryan Black

M855 Ammo Ban

If you’ve been reading ITS long enough, you may remember an article I wrote about four years ago on Military Ammunition and Why Green Tip M855 is Not Armor Piercing. In the article, I referenced that M855/SS109 had been exempted from the list of AP classified rounds by the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.) While M855/SS109 has carried the exemption from a 1986 prohibition on manufacture, importation and sale, (but not possession) of “armor piercing” rounds, it’s clear from the definition that it should have never needed to be “exempted.” The exemption was granted at that time because there was a “sporting purpose” for the round, which is now being overturned because of the proliferation of AR Pistols, or “AR-type handguns” on the market that didn’t exist when the exemption was placed on the round. The Federal Government defines armor piercing ammunition in 18 USC sec. 921(a)(17), which I’ve included below:

UPDATEThey Listened! ATF Reverses Plan for M855 Green Tip Ammo Ban… For Now


(17)(A) The term “ammunition” means ammunition or cartridge cases, primers, bullets, or propellent powder designed for use in any firearm. (B) The term “armor piercing ammunition” means-

(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.

(C) The term “armor piercing ammunition” does not include shotgun shot required by Federal or State environmental or game regulations for hunting purposes, a frangible projectile designed for target shooting, a projectile which the Attorney General finds is primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes, or any other projectile or projectile core which the Attorney General finds is intended to be used for industrial purposes, including a charge used in an oil and gas well perforating device.

M855 Ammo Ban

The M855/SS109 core does not have the materials listed above that would have classified it as armor piercing in the first place, thereby negating the reason to “exempt” it. M855/SS109 has a traditional lead core with a steel tip.

Current Conundrum

What’s happened now is that the BATFE has stated that they will only grant “sporting purpose” exemptions to two categories of projectiles. The following comes directly from the recently issued ATF Framework for determining whether certain projectiles are “primarily intended for sporting purposes” within the meaning of 18 USC 921(a)(17)(C)

Category I: .22 Caliber Projectiles

A .22 caliber projectile that otherwise would be classified as armor piercing ammunition under 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(B) will be considered to be “primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes” under section 921(a)(17)(C) if the projectile weighs 40 grains or less AND is loaded into a rimfire cartridge.

Category II: All Other Caliber Projectiles

Except as provided in Category I (.22 caliber rimfire), projectiles that otherwise would be classified as armor piercing ammunition will be presumed to be “primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes” under section 921(a)(17)(C) if the projectile is 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. ATF nevertheless 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 term “single shot handgun” means a break-open or bolt action handgun that can accept only a single cartridge manually, and does not accept or use a magazine or other ammunition feeding device. The term does not include a pocket pistol or derringer-type firearm.

Need to Know Info

Here’s what you need to know from the BATFE Framework:

“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. 7 ATF recognizes that this ammunition is widely available to the public. Because it is legally permissible to possess armor piercing ammunition under current law, withdrawing the exemption will not place individuals in criminal possession of armor piercing ammunition. However, with few exceptions, manufacturers will be unable to produce such armor piercing ammunition, importers will be unable to import such ammunition, and manufacturers and importers will be prohibited from selling or distributing the ammunition.”

What Can You Do?

M855 Ammo Ban

The “ATF is specifically soliciting comments on how it can best implement withdrawal of this exemption while minimizing disruption to the ammunition and firearm industry and maximizing officer safety.” As of right now, the best course of action is to submit a comment to the BATFE by March 16, 2015. Here’s the instruction on how to do so: ATF will carefully consider all comments, as appropriate, received on or before March 16, 2015, and will give comments received after that date the same consideration if it is practical to do so, but assurance of consideration cannot be given except as to comments received on or before March 16, 2015. ATF will not acknowledge receipt of comments. Submit comments in any of three ways (but do not submit the same comments multiple times or by more than one method):

  • ATF website via email: [email protected] (follow the instructions for submitting comments)
  • Fax: (202) 648-9741
  • Mail: 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

For further information contact: Denise Brown, Enforcement Programs and Services, Office of Regulatory Affairs, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, U.S. Department of Justice, 99 New York Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20226; telephone: (202) 648-7070. There you have it, the currently available M855/SS109 rounds that were available at online ammo retailers have more than likely been sold. While the panic buying has already started, I’d urge everyone not to fuel the fire. Instead, direct your energy into firing off a comment to the BATFE. This is important for everyone that shoots 5.56/.223, not just those who want to continue to buy M855/SS109. Why? Because what’s to stop the BATFE from classifying other 5.56/.223 rounds as armor piercing? They sure aren’t reading their own guidelines for classifying M855/SS109 as armor piercing and we need to speak up!

UPDATEThey Listened! ATF Reverses Plan for M855 Green Tip Ammo Ban… For Now

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  • Kevin Zuniga

    No, no… This is 856, see?

  • Frank Rock

    who cares if they are armor piercing?

    • JoeFreedom

      We need armor piercing and full auto and lots, lots more to keep up with the military as the 2nd was written to do so a tyrannical government as we have now, could be put down as required to secure our freedom.

  • Louis Peloquin

    BATFE should leave things alone

  • Jack Timar

    But wait aren’t green tips originally designed and issued to be armor piercing anyway?

    • IrritableGruntSyndrome

      You’re joking right?

    • JoeFreedom

      Frankly It doesn’t matter.  NO AMMUNITION IS ILLEGAL UNDER THE CONSTITUTION!  It’s time to put this government down or become slaves.

  • ITS Tactical

    Nope, I mention that in the article. ~ Bryan

  • Jack Timar

    Alright, just remembering the lines from Black Hawk Down (the book) when he writes about standard issue green-tips passing through people because they were designed to defeat light armor….

  • Victor Andrew Mathis

    There’s a lot of good information on what M855 is/was and why/how it was made available for commercial use. I just read the Wikipedia entry on 5.56 Ammo and it covers the history pretty well (not that Bryan doesn’t, just not in as much detail) a few days ago. I’m a former US Army Ordnance Officer, and served as a Brigade Class V (ammo) accountable officer on multiple occasions from 2010-2014.

  • Kevin Junior

    Buy it while you can boys.

  • Alex Opdyke

    ATF needs to be shut down XM 855 is not an AP round and never designed for a handgun which is why they banning them just like 7n6 and the Russian surplus ak47 come one . Last time I check even a 9mm will punch through level II if fired from a rifle .And a pistol not naming the name ,they might ban it , will punch through some soft armour and it’s a WW1.pistol.

  • Clinton Lo Baido

    Black is the AP identifier on ammunition.

  • Kurt Schneider

    Leave a polite and cogent comment with BATFE. Comments work; ATF-41P was postponed, and may be dropped because of comments against it.

  • Benjamin Bruggema

    Blasphemy of taking a life for the must have those for / respect

  • Jason Anders


  • Kevin Honikel

    Welcome to the United States of New York…step one.

  • Adam Smith

    Ammo and gun sales down so retailers are hyping up the rhetoric.?

  • Jordan Mathis

    What’s to stop them? Absolutely nothing, until the ATF is disbanded or destroyed.

  • Dale Hunter

    And that seller is a liar as well. While some XM855 is labeled “not for duty use” as it failed velocity QC, manufactures put the “X” nomenclature in front of item numbers to enable sale to civilian market as if I recall correctly the Clinton admin made an executive order deeming M193 or M855 for nothing but DOD consumption.

  • Glenn Jakniunas

    Do you have 5.56 and 7.62 bacon dipped rounds?

  • Scott Greb

    Bryan, Thanks for posting a great synopsis I can point people to! 

    Do you have any idea what they really mean by comments on withdrawing theexemption? The way the ATFE worded it makes it sound like there’s no way to prevent the exemption from being withdrawn, rather they are looking for comments on how best to remove the current exemption with the least amount of impact. Any comments about keeping the existing exemption in place will be ignored as they are not “on topic”. I guess what I’m trying to get at is I have yet to hear any argument from anyone on the same side as the NRA discussing appropriate responses/comments for the ATFE.

    On a side note, what is Lake City supposed to do to keep their production capacity up and running? Removing a huge customer base that’s used as a float will affect their capacity to manufacture rounds required for the DOD and other agencies. If another large scale conflict were to happen there would be no public surplus to redirect back into the DOD. The lag time for waiting for the materials, manpower, and equipment to ramp up could have a huge effect on strategic planning… Building ammo for no customer is a great idea… Just as the “Former Big Three” in Detroit how manufacturing vehicles with no customers worked out for them…

    • Scott Greb I honestly don’t know what the comments will do, but it certainly can’t hurt. I feel like they’ve made up their mind to ban the round at this point and comments are purely to garner ideas on making the transition as “smooth” as possible. I’m optimistic the NRA-ILA will have more to say on this issue. As of yesterday, they’ve only posted an informational message recapping the issue at hand and prompting people to send in comments.

      With Lake City, their overruns and rejected ammo carries the “X” designation, as in XM855 or XM193. Some think the ban is for XM855, but reading the BATFE documents, it’s clearly not. It’s for M855. A technicality, surely, but interesting nonetheless. If Lake City is prevented from selling overruns and rejects in the form of XM855, it could hurt production, or cause them to produce a better product, knowing they can’t sell overruns to the civilian market. I see what you’re saying about building ammo for no customer, but I wouldn’t put it past the government to start storing ammo. Time will tell how this all shakes out, thanks for the comment!

  • Doyle Hass

    I’ve emailed my comments to ATF twice today and got my mail returned! What’s the deal, they purposely tying the Internet up?

  • Derek Ross

    stop with the misleading headlines. its a proposal at present, they havnt banned anything yet.

  • Kurt Schultz

    Doubt it, It will probably be shoved through.

  • Kurt Schultz

    this is effing stupid. This reason that the ATF is spouting is not valid.

  • Kurt Schneider

    By law, all comments must be individually responded to before implementing the proposed regulation.

  • Michael Stanis

    Does anyone have any green paint left?????

  • Kurt Schultz

    Those effing idiots don’t even know what armor is. They have no clue.

  • LaserSailor

    So if M855 never met the legal definition of AP, having only a partial steel core, let’s pool some resources to set up a legal defense fund for a retailer willing to be a test case. Let the ATF attempt to enforce their illegal “ruling” and take it to a real court where we obviously have the law on our side. 

    Instead of contacting the ATF, which seems to have already made up it’s mind about circumventing due process and violating the rights of the people, contact your congressman/woman and urge them to put an end to the ATF’s blatant violation of the 2nd amendment. 

    Furthermore, we need to stop allowing the ATF to pigeonhole us with this “sporting purpose” BS, the 2nd amendment has nothing to do with hunting and target shooting, and is all about the right of the people to resist tyranny in any form.

    • corbmonster

      A good idea indeed. Perhaps contacting the NRA to see if they might also provide assistance to a manufacturer.

  • Brett Bowen

    You mean IIIA, right?

  • Brett Bowen


  • Mike Jackson

    Thing is, it DOES have steel in the core, albeit the front, and was even designed as such to penetrate armored helmets. I can see them getting away with this with at least a little legitimacy.

  • Hctim Egdikcor

    Green tip is penetrator, it can pierce some light armor, but that’s about all… If they want to ban AP, they need to ban black tips (which as far as I know as it stands, is nearly impossible to get anyways).
    And what’s the point? We all can get this ammo pretty cheap, so if there is an outright ban, it just forces people to buy higher end performance/hunting ammo… Not that that’s an issue for us (besides $$$), because more than most of us are responsible gun owners… Not criminals.
    Your gun bans don’t work, so go after the ammo. Seems to be par for the course lately.

  • Rob George

    Except that NATO moved to M855 because it was deemed more humane than the M193 since the latter caused more devastating wounds. That would seem to contradict the premise of the ATF’s argument, especially given that just about any rifle round will easily penetrate soft body armor and standard car doors.

  • Sean Maguire

    Bob Harris well that sucks…I should’ve jumped on that deal.

  • Mike Timmons

    They are so dumb!! Very, very dumb, for real!!

  • vettepilot427

    What we see here is a very dangerous, slippery slope.  We agree that the Constitution, specifically the 2nd Amendment was never intended for “sporting purposes”, but here we see clearly the banning of certain types of ammunition because of  “sporting purposes” or lack thereof.  Note also that the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear arms, but says nothing about ammunition.
    Never mind that this decision has absolutely no basis in fact, either ballistically or  statistically.  There’s no evidence to support the idea that officer safety will, in fact, be increased or that there was a significant number of injuries or officer fatalities BECAUSE of this type of ammunition.  Nor can it be proved that there is significantly more damage done by this type of ammunition vs standard ammunition designed for “sporting purposes”.

    You’ll also notice that the definition of “armor piercing” listed above only deals with bullet materials and calibers.  There’s absolutely no standard, scientific test using body armor or armor plate.  Why? Because even the humble .22 magnum with a polymer tip (ballistic tip) will penetrate most soft armor at close range (watch the YouTube Video).

    So why the fuss?  Because this effectively eliminates a large domestic supply of cheap ammunition for self-defense firearms.

    Want to know how this all ends? It begins just like this, with something relatively inconsequential to most shooters, but at the same time sets a legal precedent.  Then, eventually, you move to a system similar to most European countries where civilians are not allowed to own ammunition in “military calibers” and it moves downhill from there.

    They don’t need to come for your guns when they can either A. make it impossible to get ammo by restricting sales and production B. make it too expensive to buy (through taxation) or C. illegal to own.  A gun without ammunition is nothing more than a blunt object or a club and as such, useless for it’s intended purpose.

    • vettepilot427 Great comment brother, thanks for sharing. Your points about eliminating a large domestic supply of ammo and establishing a legal precedent, are what everyone should be paying attention to.

    • vettepilot427

      The most disturbing thing is that there’s absolutely no provision, from the Constitution on down that would prevent the government from establishing a precedent for how much ammo and/or what kind of ammo a person can own OR to prevent search or seizure of that ammo.

      Sadly, you’ll note that the NRA will be silent on this or at best offer some kind of actionless rhetoric.  I don’t recall any official statements from the NRA back when “Black Talon” handgun ammo was effectively banned.

    • vettepilot427 It certainly is disturbing. While I’m hoping the NRA does do more than the informational post they’ve already made, I can see it going the way Black Talon did as well.

    • JJ126

      You have put this in very logical terms. I was on the fence about the implications of this law. But only after reading your post I recognized the implications. I think we all need to tone down our posts as some of these messages can be taken out of context. But your summation of the long term results paints a clear picture.

  • Chris Garbe

    Ammo prices were getting too low so the CEOs talked to their NRA buddies who talked to their ATF buddies to create a scare to drive sales and prices up. Such bullshit

    • JoeFreedom

      Or maybe Obama is about ready to start up martial law and knows he will get his @ss kicked if we are armed to the teeth.  Pure tyranny.

  • Scammellator

    So it has taken 19 years for the ATF to identify this issue. Is it not coincidental that this is taking place a few weeks after the Democrats try pushing for high capacity magazine bans again. Another prime example of the federal government over stretching its boundaries

    • Scammellator What boundries?  It’s been a long time since the federal government has had boundries – if it ever did.

    • WillReid

      Scammellator View the current timing as coincidental. This has been going on as far back at least as August 2011, and for this specific round (SS109/M855) the reclassification was started December 2012 about 2 weeks BEFORE Sandy Hook. It’s just now trickling down through the ATF and being implemented. The time for outrage was immediately after Obama’s 2nd election. There’s your timing coincidence. This a done deal. A lot of people don’t get that, but just read ATF’s statements. They’re taking comments on “how to implement” the ban, not whether the ban should happen or not.

  • Dirk

    I’m guessing that the ATF is using the second definition of an AP round (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) to enact this ban, and I presume that the copper jacket satisfies the 25% weight requirement.

    Does someone know the actual break-down of metal content (by weight) in an M855 round?

    • WillReid

      @Dirk No, they’re using definition (i) not (ii), so jacket weight is irrelevant. They’re essentially saying the tip of the bullet is the core.

  • JoeFreedom

    This is a clear violation of the 2nd amendment.  It’s time to stop talking with these tyrants and start up the revolution.

  • mattersmost
    DO SOMETHING THAT MATTERS. 2 senators want to eliminate the BATF and with good reasons. There are enough angry progun owners to do it if we do not give up. Anything else is futile because there are no checks and balances for the batf. This should be every progun owners number 1 agenda. NRA and others are second.

  • SacJP

    … So basically they can get rid of the exemption all they want, but because the exemption had no legal effect in the first place (since the round isn’t armor piercing) removing it has no bearing on the legality of making, owning, or selling this ammo.


    This is LEGAL modern ammunition for legal Modern fire arms, Legal to own at the time of these sworn peace officers taking the Oath of service to defend the Constitution and the Laws of the United states, Now as a result of Agenda (anti gun) THEY ARE CHANGING WHAT WAS LEGAL TO MAKE IT ILLEGAL THROUGH CIRCUMVENTING LAW. I SAY IT IS OUT SIDE OF THE atf TO CREATE SUCH LAW AS IT INFRINGES UPON THE RIGHTS LIBERTIES AND FREEDOM OF WE THE PEOPLE all ammunition nerver was said to have to be SPORTING what does sporting have to do with Americans rights to defend from tyrants and criminals We will not suffer our children’s children to suffer at the mercy of those whos actions such as Mao ze Dong, Idi Amin, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Vladamir Putin, Sadaum Hussain, pol pot.Heideki Tojo, Surahato , just to name a few who slaughtered Millions of unarmed and disarmed SUBJECTS. WILL NOT RULE OVER AMERICANS AND OUR CHILDREN’S CHILDREN WITHOUT THE ABILITY TO DEFEND RIGHTS LIBERTIES, FREEDOMS AND LIFE DISARMED AND UNPREPARED.

  • thirdlantern

    Where is the requisite bill from Congress? I’ve looked for hours, but haven’t been abl– Oh, wait. This isn’t a duly legislated law, it’s another goddamned DECREE.

    • WillReid

      thirdlantern Here ya go, , signed into law by Reagan in 1986. Way back then it granted authority to Holder to do this. The law is ambiguous as to the meaning of “core”, so Holder and ATF get to just make it up. So the solution is either new law to better define “core” or repeal of current law. But don’t get your hopes up, because even if enough Republicans had the balls to repeal something called the “Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act”, which they don’t, Obama would veto it.

    • SJP2014

      WillReid thirdlantern Except such a definition of “core” would make the legislators’ inclusion of the word “entirely” in the law moot, and there’s a rule the courts use that when interpreting an ambiguous law the interpretation that gives meaning to all the words is the preferred one.

  • scarps51

    The National Shooting Sports Foundation provides a pre-drafted letter opposing the ban:

  • FightTheATF

    If you want to stop the AR-15 ammo ban the deadline to submit opposing comments is March 16th!
    You can sign the letter, spread the word, and join the fight at:

  • EnGlobalNewsUS

    prolifeunity Ban AR 15 ammo

  • speedy3car

    All this freaking out for nothing. I’m laughing my ass off at how stupid people are being. Obama has done NOTHING to take away your guns or ammo. You all freaked out and made the prices go way up out of your own fear. Now everyone is complaining about prices. You did it to yourselves, jackasses. Ain’t you smart.

    • Bert Bankovic

      The media did; hence AR prices are lower, AK’s are up….jackass. LOL. It all depends on what major crimes occur.

  • Hollywood_Nite

    If you ever want to get rid of excess ammo, then just spread the word the ATF is going to ban it. Works every time. And works with all ammo too. LOL

  • MichaelPratt1

    As you said it yourself this ammunition is out of Pandora’s box and the box cannot be resealed without severe collateral damage to the law abiding citizens of this country. Besides most of if not all terrorist and criminal action is performed with the Cheaper more inexpensive standard 5.56 round or even better yet the .223 round. Criminals do not go out of their way in search of the green tip rounds to do their dirty deeds. On top of that it is not as easy to find it as you would think. All in all the bad guys use standard FMJ ammunition in their weapons as you will see from many of the previous attacks on our Liberty. I myself own thousands of rounds of the aforementioned green tip ammunition. I myself will never used for nefarious purposes. I keep it safe and dry at a temperature that lengthens the life of ammunition. The ammunition in question is for sporting reasons as outlined by the ATF. I cannot do what I need to do with standard ammunition if you have ever shot a armadillo before you will know that they are not like shooting a soft target. And at long ranges even deer hide can be an obstacle. These rounds are needed for quite a few reasons in the sporting and game hunting world. Removing this ammunition from our repertoire will severely diminish our ability to perform our day-to-day tasks and even diminish our ability to put food on the table. Not to mention you will open up a huge wound in the white market and create a massive black market demand turning law abiding citizens into criminals overnight just trying to provide into their jobs. This ammo is not and will not ever be a threat to our national security or our police force. The bad guys use the cheap stuff because they know for the most part it is just as effective to kill a man as the expensive stuff is. So my only question is who is trying to outlaw this ammunition a bunch of cavern dwelling worm-eating disease ridden armadillos. Or some disease ridden cavern dwelling politician. Keep the agendas out of our law. That is the only way we will stay a free country. After all the politicians know that the general public does not have body armor so if they were to send the government after us they would have body armor and this looks like the government wanting to remove one more piece of Defense from the people. They must all be stinky disgusting armadillos for them to want to remove this simple ammunition from our stockpile.

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