Letter to the Honorable B. Todd Jones, Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - Reclassification of M855 Ball Ammunition to "Armor Piercing Ammunition"


Date: March 5, 2015
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Guns

Dear Director Jones:

We write today concerning the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) proposed reclassification of the incredibly popular M855 ball ammunition as "armor piercing ammunition" under the Gun Control Act of 1968 ("GCA") and the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 1986 ("LEOPA"). Said reclassification is a blatant attempt to diminish consumers' and gun owners' Second Amendment rights. We are concerned that this proposed rule, which reverses decades of ATF precedent, is beyond the statutory authority of the ATF and is contrary to the very clear intent of legislation passed by Congress. Additionally, this reversal by ATF will substantially harm consumers and will have a negligible (if any) positive affect on officer safety--the Congressionally-intended goals of GCA and LEOPA. ATF should act immediately to reverse course and rescind this rule which clearly violates Americans' Second Amendment rights.
The Gun Control Act, as modified by LEOPA, contains a two-part test for determining whether a projectile in question is "armor piercing." The first criterion relates to the composition of the projectile and whether it may be used in a handgun, and the second test addresses jacketed bullets of calibers greater than .22 inches that are "designed and intended for use in a handgun."

A plain reading of the statutory authority cited in "ATF Framework for Determining Whether Certain Projectiles are "Primarily Intended for Sporting Purposes' Within the Meaning of 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(C)" makes clear that M855 projectiles do not conform with the first definition of "armor piercing" because they do not contain a core "constructed entirely" of one of the hardened metals described in the statute. The M855 projectile core is made of lead with a steel insert in front of it, which clearly doesn't satisfy the statutory definition of "armor piercing." That it "may be used in a handgun" is totally irrelevant, and appears to be a political attempt by ATF to infringe on Second Amendment rights.

The second test focuses on fully-jacketed ammunition "larger than .22 caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun." The M855 projectile diameter is 5.7 mm, or .224 inches, while the diameter for .22 rim fire projectiles is 5.72 mm or .225 inches. Both are referred to as ".22 caliber" and it does not make sense to classify one as larger than the other. Furthermore, the clear intent of the 1986 LEOPA amendments to the GCA are to protect law enforcement officers from the threat of easily-concealable handguns firing projectiles capable of penetrating bullet proof vests. Nothing in the history of the M855 projectile or the AR-15 rifle--for which it was designed--indicates it was developed for use in a handgun.

The AR-15 rifle design dates back to the 1950s and the .223/5.56mm round designed for this rifle platform has been in use by the U.S. military and civilians since the 1960s. The M855 cartridge was developed by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries in the 1970s as the standard NATO cartridge and has been in use ever since. There is no doubt from the historical record that the M855 round was developed for use in the AR-15 rifle.

The first AR-15 "pistol" was manufactured by Olympic Arms in 1993 and few manufacturers began producing them until after 2004 when the failed "Assault Weapons Ban" expired. The term "pistol" is a bit of a misnomer because one look at this firearm proves that this is not a handgun in any traditional sense. In reality, the AR-15 "pistol" is functionally-identical to the rifle except that the shoulder stock is removed and the barrel is shortened. They typically weigh between five and six pounds and are between 23 and 27 inches in length. In other words, they are not easily concealed.

The stated purpose of the LEOPA changes to the Gun Control Act are to protect law enforcement officers from the threat of easily-concealed handguns firing rounds capable of overcoming their bullet proof vests. There's no evidence that a law enforcement officer has ever been fired upon by an AR-15 "pistol" shooting the M855 round. This reversal of long-standing precedent seems to be a vindictive attempt to attack users of the most popular sporting rifle in the United States: the AR-15 series of firearms. This is nothing more than an overreaching attempt at expanding gun control. Therefore, we strongly urge the ATF to scrap this heavy-handed and misguided effort.


U.S. Senator David Vitter
U.S. Representative Steve Scalise