Why You Should Care About the ATF's Latest Ban (Even If You Don't Own A Gun)
In America, the elected legislators of Congress build the machinery of law and political appointees to various regulatory bureaus and agencies are authorized to keep it running. The problem is, those regulators are throwing an awful lot of our liberty into the gears and Congress doesn't seem to be inclined to care, much less stop them. A prime example - and one frequently used here - of this is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE or, commonly, "the ATF").
Those of you who aren't "gun people" will likely suffer a severe case of eye glaze if I allow my inner mechanical geek to take over so I'll try to simplify things without - hopefully - losing any salient points. Trust me and keep reading - you'll soon see why it all matters to you as well.
In 1986, the ATF banned "armor piercing ammunition," which was defined as anything with a projectile assembled from specific materials, in a specific manner, capable of penetrating soft body armor (the example constantly used for emotional effect was "police-issued bullet proof vests") and that is commonly used in a handgun. The decision explicitly exempted a specific type of 5.56mm projectile designated as "M855" or "SS109," since ammunition making use of it was most commonly fired through rifles. On February 13th, 2015, this same agency released a notice, stating that it was "reclassifying" M855/SS109 projectiles, banning their further sale, manufacture, and/or import.
The notice, however, was not published in the Federal Register. When questioned about this by a reporter with The Examiner, Denise Brown of the ATF stated that it wasn't necessary as the ban would “not actually be a [regulatory] change, more of a policy along those lines.” In other words, the unjustified change affecting a huge number of legal gun owners isn't really a "change" if we use the right words.
There was no precipitating event. No one committed some crime involving the use of such projectiles. The projectiles themselves are not new, having been commercially sold and used by recreational shooters since the early 1980s. They aren't even made of the materials and in the manner the agency very explicitly identifies in their own legal definition of "armor piercing," which means they could further reclassify nearly every rifle round, since most are capable of penetrating soft body armor due to their projectiles' pointed shape and velocity.
The ATF just... decided to.
The agencies main premise is that the ammunition is being used in AR15-style pistols so it has lost its justification for exemption. Except such pistols aren't really anything new, either - they've also been around for decades and no evidence was presented to support the notion that their use has increased. They also haven't been involved in some recent, sensational headline (which still wouldn't be right, but at least would be comprehensible). And, per their own notice, single-shot hunting handguns "don't count." So somehow, through some unknown alchemy, this evil and dangerous armor-piercing ammo magically stops being all that stuff if you simply shoot it out of a different gun.
This would be the "why you should care" part.
Regulatory agencies employ - ostensibly - experts, not gods. They are not infallible and, if recent disclosures are any evidence, frequently make mistaken and sometimes malicious decisions that can unjustly affect thousands if not millions of citizens. They are granted the authority to oversee the minutiae of laws but they have a very bad habit of redefining the definition of the terms used within their charter. In 2014 alone, the Environmental Protection Agency redefined "navigable waterways" to expand their authority, citing and fining citizens thousands of dollars for building - or even draining mosquito habitat - on their own property. The Bureau of Land Management, in all but geographic terms, redefined the very border between Texas and Oklahoma in order to seize 90,000 acres from a rancher. And now, the ATF wants to redefine "armor piercing ammunition" without any real evidence to back up its premise or even any logical, mechanical justification.
Every legal battle involving government authority over our lives expands beyond the immediate argument. Every win, every loss sets precedent for future battles. The ATF, already under legal attack for its misuse of its authority, is responding to citizen pressure. A 2014 attempt at redefining terms involving the legal use of trusts has been met with fierce opposition and was pushed to January - and now May - to allow all public comment to be considered. An equal show of resistance against the M855 reclassification stands a greater-than-normal chance of success which, in turn, would reaffirm that "we, the people" are still the final arbiters of the limits of acceptable law. This is an opportunity to set precedent by telling a regulatory agency, "No. We reject your argument and you do not have our consent to do this."
If you are willing to make your voice heard, email, fax, or send a hard copy letter to the BATFE as soon as possible as all comments must be received by March 16th, 2015. Email may be sent to APAComments@atf.gov. Physical letters may be faxed to (202) 648-9741, or mailed to 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. All communication should include your name and address, to avoid it being "disqualified" for consideration.
Remember to mention:
- M855/SS109 is not handgun ammunition. This is commonly used rifle ammunition that has been in circulation publicly for over 30 years.
- If its use in a handgun is what makes the ammunition dangerous enough to ban, why is there an exemption for single-shot pistols?
- It is frequently used for legal sporting purposes, such as target shooting and competition.
- This ammunition does not meet the agency's own criteria to be considered armor piercing, as it does not have a core made of the metals listed in the classification.
We, as citizens, cannot directly elect or remove the leadership of these agencies but we can influence their decisions by voicing our public opposition, even if their actions would not directly affect us personally. If we can stand united in opposition of their overreach and make them back down in one area, we will set a precedent that can be used against other agencies' abuses in any area.
We not only have a right to do this, we have an obligation as citizens - especially if Congress will not rein them in.