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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