The Obama administration’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or BATF, recently announced its intention to ban the manufacture, importation and distribution of popular SS109/M855 ammunition commonly used in AR-15 type rifles, based on the construction of the projectile it uses. This ammo served as the standard issue, 5.56 x 45mm round used by the U.S. military and most NATO countries around the world. It is commonly referred to as “Green Tip” because the military puts a bit of green paint on the tip of the bullet to help soldiers easily identify it.
Since the AR platform is the single most popular rifle in the country, and M855 is one of the most common types of ammunition used in AR rifles, banning this ammo would have a significant effect on the market, by reducing ammo supply, driving up prices and forcing the military to spend money to destroy their older stocks, rather than making money by selling it to shooters. And since the U.S. recently transitioned to a new, slightly different loading as their primary round, designated as M855A1, being unable to sell surplus M855 and its European equivalent SS109 to U.S. consumers could become a costly problem.
The proposed ban won’t apply to other common types of 5.56 ammunition, only the SS109/M855 rounds. It also won’t ban possession of this ammunition, just manufacture, importation and distribution. So someone with a crate of this stuff in his basement won’t have to worry about becoming a felon overnight. But that is small consolation.
The justification for banning M855 arises from a 1986 law that was supposed to help protect police officers. As more police were wearing body armor, handgun ammunition capable of penetrating their vests was considered a serious threat. So in 1986 Congress passed the Law Enforcement Officer Protection Act, which banned manufacture, importation and sale of armor-piercing handgun projectiles – and ammunition loaded with such projectiles.
The law defines these projectiles in two ways: one describes a fully jacketed projectile that is “designed and intended for use in a handgun,” where the jacket constitutes more than 25 percent of the projectile’s total weight. The other, the one BATF is applying to M855, says; “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.”
Notice the phrase, “may be used in a handgun,” as opposed to the other section, which specifies “designed and intended for use in a handgun.” This terminology opens up the definition to include any projectiles designed for rifles, because a handgun can be built to shoot any rifle round, and any rifle bullet can be loaded into a handgun round.
Back in 1986, when the law was passed, someone anticipated that M855 might be subjected to the ban, so it was specifically exempted by Reagan’s BATF as being “primarily intended,” within the civilian market, to be used for sporting purposes. It is this “sporting purpose” exemption BATF is now proposing to do away with. They say that upon review, they have determined that M855 ammunition does not meet their current criteria for “primarily intended for sporting purposes,” and therefore, they are going to order it off of the market.
But there’s a catch. M855 Ball ammunition doesn’t meet the law’s definition of “armor-piercing.”
The bullet in M855 ammunition does not have a core “constructed entirely” of tungsten, steel, iron, etc. In fact, its core is predominantly lead. At the top of the core is a small piece of mild steel; then all of this is wrapped in a jacket of soft copper alloy.
The 5.56 NATO round fires a very small bullet, that is the same diameter as a .22 rimfire, at very high velocity. The penetration power of the round comes from the bullet’s speed, not its construction. The projectile of M855 weighs in at a whopping 62 grains, which translates to about 4 grams, or about the equivalent of four regular paper clips. The steel tip accounts for about one-fourth of the total weight, about the same as one paperclip.
That little tip gives the nose of the bullet a little more strength to avoid its being deformed in rough handling, and helps it go through some barriers that might stop regular, lead-cored 5.56 rounds at longer ranges, but standard police body armor is no match for any 5.56 x 45mm round, especially at ranges less than 100 yards. That’s the extreme stupidity of this law. Police body armor is designed to stop handgun rounds. It is not capable of stopping any standard rifle ammunition more powerful than .22 rimfire. Any centerfire rifle round, no matter how the bullet is made, is going to go right through regular police body armor, even a pure lead unjacketed bullet.
The BATF has invited comments on their ban announcement – not whether it’s a good idea or reasonable, but rather how best to implement it with the least disruption to manufacturers and importers. We’re asking people to comment on the announcement anyway, and to share those comments with elected officials.
Comments may be submitted via email to [email protected]
In your comments, point out that M855/SS109 does not have a core made entirely of steel, and that it does not penetrate police-style body armor any better than other common 5.56 ammunition. Tell them that removing M855/SS109 from the market will cause great disruption to the hundreds of thousands of people who buy and shoot millions of rounds of this ammunition every year, and that this massive consumption of this ammunition – with extremely rare use in any criminal activity – clearly demonstrates that it is primarily used for sporting purposes. The proposed ban on manufacture, importation and distribution of this ammunition serves no legal or officer safety function and should be tabled permanently.
The message need not be long or detailed, but we need as many comments against this proposal as possible, and we need them immediately. The window for comments closes on March 16. Once you submit your comment, please forward a copy to each of your U.S. senators and your representative, and ask them to sign on to Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s, R-Va., letter to BATF. This ridiculous action must be stopped.
Media wishing to interview Jeff Knox, please contact [email protected].