Unable to Implement Actual Gun Control Legislation; Executive Branch Decides to, Get This, Start Making Things Up

I’ll preface this with the disclaimer that if Brad were running this blog, you wouldn’t see this story. He’s not a gun person (and chances are that you aren’t either) so this story wouldn’t really even be on his radar. However, Brad’s not home. So I’m going to talk about the ATF’s illegal ban on M855 ammo. But let’s start at the beginning. What is M855 ammo, you ask?

M855 ammunition is a 5.56 x 45mm cartridge, which is the round originally chambered in the M-16, and the civilian variant – the ubiquitous AR-15.

When the M-16 was originally designed, the 5.56 ammo for it was all-lead, or what is commonly referred to as “ball” ammunition. After the Vietnam war, soldiers reported some issues with the all-lead design, and wanted a round that would have more energy at longer ranges. Essentially, they wanted a heavier round.

In response, the M855 round was developed. The difference in the M855 round is that it has a steel-core, just at the tip. The steel doesn’t deform as much as the lead, so there’s better accuracy over long distances, and better stability when the round hits clothing or glass. Now, this cartridge isn’t designed to be “armor piercing”. It’s just a more effective rifle round at range than an all-lead round.

Nowadays, the US Army has since moved on to a newer round, but there’s a ton of surplus M855 ammo that is popular with target shooters because it’s accurate over long distances compared to “ball” ammo…and it’s relatively cheap because it’s military surplus.

So, along comes the ATF and now they say that because this round has “armor piercing” capability, it can be banned under the existing law. The New York Times, loves the idea. Except, get this, the New York Times doesn’t know anything at all about the M855 round. They just know that they don’t like guns or the things that go inside guns. And they really don’t like the scary looking guns.

The fact is, almost all rifle cartridges can pierce standard body armor. Even the original all-lead 5.56x45mm cartridge easily penetrates standard body armor. That’s because standard body armor isn’t intended to stop shots from rifles – it’s intended to handgun rounds, which are comparatively lower powered. To take the ATF’s reasoning to it’s logical conclusion, you’d have to ban most center-fire rifle ammo. The ATF knows this, but it’s doing it anyway, using the helpful idiots at the New York Times to promote this myth of police officers needing this ban for safety. There’s only one factual little problem with this reason: the Fraternal Order of Police says that an M855 cartridge ban is not necessary to protect police officers.

To say that the M855 round should be banned because it’s “armor piercing” is dumb, because almost all the other rifle rounds out there, available at every Wal-Mart are also “armor piercing” under this silly definition. Banning M855 ammo would do next to nothing to lower crime rates or police fatalities, because it’s hardly ever used in crimes.

But hey, actual facts don’t matter to gun control advocates, the ATF or this White House. They want to use every excuse possible to get what they want, and when they got stopped with the legislative path, they just decided to use administrative action to accomplish their policy objectives – and stretching beyond the bounds of the law to do it.

See, I told you Brad wouldn’t have posted this. :)

23 thoughts on “Unable to Implement Actual Gun Control Legislation; Executive Branch Decides to, Get This, Start Making Things Up

  1. Mark Stewart

    I agree that the ATF position is a bit tenuous.

    However, I do think that there is a larger public policy at play here that ought to be considered. Do we as a nation want to continue a “bright line” separation between handguns and rifles, or are we going to accept the inevitable slide toward hybrids (which is what is happening now)? For lot’s of reasons, I myself am not keen on the idea of rifle ammunition becoming a handgun cartridge. I also think it is almost ironic that the projectile formulation that was developed to support long range rifle accuracy would be the very thing that would create an issue in handguns.

    Seen in that light, this may be a shot across the bow of the gun manufacturers who are pushing their designs into the handgun category. Is this a warning to say are your incremental sales worth risking your bread and butter business?

    Reply
    1. Bryan Caskey Post author

      Do we as a nation want to continue a “bright line” separation between handguns and rifles, or are we going to accept the inevitable slide toward hybrids (which is what is happening now)?

      Again, thanks for engaging! I think that the variety of guns out there is so vast, it’s impossible to categorize them all. With some, it’s easy to say this is a rifle, or this is a handgun. But there are carbines out there that have a rifle stock (you mount them against your shoulder) but shoot handgun ammo. My brother-in-law, who is a Lt. Col. in the Army actually has a really cool one of these carbines. It’s a Beretta carbine that even uses the same magazines as his Beretta handgun, so you can use the same ammo and mags for both guns. It’s really convenient, and it’s amazingly fun to shoot his carbine. Mostly, it’s fun to shoot because it’s really easy to be accurate. However, even though it “looks” like a “rifle” we can shoot it at indoor ranges where only “handgun ammo” is allowed.

      So I guess my point is that we’re already past the point where all firearms are either on one side or the other of a bright line. Heck, we passed that point back in WWII. I get your point about not wanting high-powered rounds coming out of handguns. However, those kinds of handguns are (1) very expensive; (2) not that common. Therefore, in my opinion they are not the problem guns when it comes to 98% of crime. Focusing on those guns is really straining at a gnat.

      Reply
      1. Mark Stewart

        I agree, turning handguns into rifles isn’t the problem. But the reverse is the issue; despite your comments about the cost/limited appeal of these rifle caliber handguns also being true. Which is why I think this is more about saying in the only way the ATF can “stop making rifled caliber handguns so we can go back to permitting this type of ammunition for rifles.”

        There was a reason sawed off shotguns and short rifles were prohibited in 1934. Everyone accepted this bright line until recently. Now, having rifle caliber handguns breaks that distinction. I think the ATF is more interested in upholding the bright line than anything else. They don’t have the power to have these new rifle caliber handguns included in the NFA structure – and they know Congress won’t act – so they seem to be taking the action that will cause the greatest numbers of firearms owners to squeal and raise a stink. Then, either the manufacturers will stop making these weapons or Congress might be compelled, by NRA supporters, to restrict the fraction of one percent of firearms so that the supply of this type of ammunition can return to the many who use it.

        Reply
        1. Mark Stewart

          If I had made the call, I would have held the line.

          Sometimes we have to fold on our positions, but hardly ever this quickly, and never when it is the same group of people railing against the same things. That’s just same as it ever was…

          Reply
          1. Bryan Caskey Post author

            I think this letter from 52 Senators is actually what caused ATF to reconsider.

            Speaking of letters, it sure seems like the Senate is all about writing letters these days. Someone should really tell them that they can do a lot more than write letters. They can even propose actual laws and stuff.

            Reply
            1. Kathryn Fenner

              They seem sort of “Get offa my lawn.” See also Rusty DePass’s letter to the editor in today’s The State. Nothing like mocking people’s points of view to change hearts and minds!

              Reply
            2. Doug Ross

              The fact that both Lindsey Graham AND John McCain signed the letter should be enough evidence for pseudo-Brad to defend their action to the death. One wonders, though, if Lindsey asked McCain for permission first.

              Reply
              1. Bryan Caskey Post author

                I do get the point that the letter is not supportive of the President. But ok, so what? It’s not exactly “breaking news” that the majority of the Senate isn’t supportive of this agremeent. So now it’s in a letter, which is essentially an Op-Ed, if you ask me.

                Whether Graham or McCain signed it is irrelevant.

                Reply
  2. Norm Ivey

    To be the Devil’s advocate…..

    You say: That’s because standard body armor isn’t intended to stop shots from rifles – it’s intended to handgun rounds, which are comparatively lower powered.

    NYT says: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said this month that it planned to restrict the armor-piercing 5.56-millimeter “M855 green tip” rifle bullet because of new handguns that use the ammunition and pose a greater threat to the police. Previously, the millions of inexpensive green-tip steel and lead bullets sold each year were only for rifles typically used by target shooters and hunters. Link (emphasis added)

    Would you support a ban on armor-piercing handgun ammunition?

    [For the record, I’m mostly “meh” about gun control measures of this sort. I don’t see that it would save many lives, nor do I see that it places severe hardships or restrictions on sporting enthusiasts.]

    Reply
    1. Bryan Caskey Post author

      Would you support a ban on armor-piercing handgun ammunition?

      First of all, thanks for engaging. I know that this is my hobby-horse, and it doesn’t interest most people here. To me, there’s also a larger issue about how this administration pushes the boundaries of what is legal to achieve a policy goal.

      In regards to your question, it’s the same cartridge. The ATF is saying that because this cartridge could be possibly shot out of a handgun, they’re banning it entirely. And the handguns that shoot this 5.56 cartridge are not in wide use. I mean, if the Fraternal Order of Police is saying that this is not necessary, that really should be the end of it.

      And to your point about not putting “severe” hardships or restrictions in place, that’s all a matter of perspective. To someone who doesn’t shoot, it’s no hardship at all. But if you’re a law-abiding sport-shooter, this ban is a big deal, and it’s based on bad reasoning.

      Reply
  3. Doug Ross

    Guns don’t kill people, bullets kill people. :-)

    I don’t care what you put in your handgun, rifle, cannon, catapult, or rocket launcher. All I care about is that if you use it in a lethal manner in a non-self defense situation, you should either spend the rest of your life in jail or be shot by a firing squad with those sorta-piercing bullets.

    Reply
  4. bud

    Maybe in some technical sense the ATF is in a grey area. But to fully understand the issue you have to appreciate that any round has greater penetration ability at close range. So while it is true a standard rifle round can probably penetrate body armor at close range it may not be able to do so at some distance. So the concept of armor piercing comes down to the various issues of range, type of body armor as well as the weight of the round. I believe the more we can reduce the overall ability of firearms to cause damage at a distance the safer we’ll be as a nation. Don’t have much passion for guns but do care about human life. Simply put anything that reduces the aggregate damage-causing capability of the gun population the fewer innocent people will die. Don’t see any benefit at all to these particular rounds.

    Reply
    1. Bryan Caskey Post author

      Looks like the ol’ ATF realized how upset I was and decided to delay the implementation of this rule. From an ATF press release today: “…the vast majority of the comments received to date are critical of the framework, and include issues that deserve further study. Accordingly, ATF will not at this time seek to issue a final framework.”

      What’s next?

      Reply
  5. Harry Harris

    It seems correct that Brad wouldn’t have posted this. Aside from his non-interest or different position on guns and ammo, he likely wouldn’t start a piece with “illegal ban” or include the terms “helpful idiots” or “promote the myth.” I also doubt he would quote a pro-gun source as authoritative or promote the idea that somewhat armor-piercing and really armor-piercing makes no real difference. He might not even imply that the problem is more with the quality of police body armor than with the easy ability of people to get weapons and ammo capable of making the armor ineffective.

    Reply
    1. Bryan Caskey Post author

      Again, thanks for engaging. I’ll admit to everything except the last sentence you have there, and I stand by what I wrote.

      As to your last sentence: I hope I didn’t imply that there’s any problem with the vests that police use. If you inferred that, please don’t. The “bullet-proof vests” that police wear are exactly what they need. It’s just a fact that soft body armor (the kind commonly worn by law enforcement) is not designed to stop rifles. If you want to stop rifles with body armor, you need serious stuff. We’re talking steel plates. Those are heavy and expensive. Moreover, police officers very rarely engage criminals who use long guns, so it’s pointless anyway. Almost all of the time, threats to law enforcement come from handguns.

      Actual armor piercing rounds are already illegal and are already banned. If you want to get rid of “ammo capable of making the armor ineffective” you’re going to have to ban every single rifle cartridge currently in existence. Are you prepared to tell me that I can’t buy any more rounds for my .270? Because that’s widely available and capable of making the armor ineffective.

      Reply
  6. Doug T

    “Actually, there are still charges pending on the airport outfit” That’s funny. I thought I was the nerdiest guy on the planet…..

    Reply

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