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Proposed ban triggers run on ‘armor-piercing’ ammunition |

Proposed ban triggers run on ‘armor-piercing’ ammunition

| Saturday, February 28, 2015 12:01 a.m

The potential is the thing.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is floating the idea of prohibiting the public sale of steel-tipped 5.56-millimeter ammunition.

A report outlining the proposal labels the ammunition as “armor piercing” and says it’s capable of penetrating the bulletproof vests worn by police officers.

The ammunition has been legal since 1986 for use in rifles for “sporting purposes.” More recently, handguns able to utilize it have hit the market, and the bureau is not sure the exemption should apply, according to its report.

That’s baloney, people in the firearms industry say.

Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry’s trade group, said all rifle ammunition — including that used by hunters targeting deer, bears or even groundhogs, or by competition shooters punching holes in paper targets — is capable of penetrating a police officer’s vest. The steel-tipped variety is no more or less of a threat, he said.

It’s the guns they are most typically fired from that the government is really after, he added. That means AR-style guns, also called “modern sporting rifles,” “black guns” or — incorrectly — “assault rifles,” as AR stands for ArmaLite, the name of the company that developed them in the 1950s.

The Obama administration is on record as saying it would like to ban them, Keane said. It has had no success, and so is going after their ammunition instead.

The administration has not responded to critics on the issue.

Gun control groups support the ban.

“We understand why law enforcement has always been concerned about the threat of armor-piercing bullets,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told

But Keane said, “The reality is there’s not been a single police officer in the United States who’s been killed by this ammunition fired from a handgun that penetrated their vest.

“This is just another example of the Obama administration overreaching through executive power to further its gun control agenda,” he said.

In a letter to supporters, the National Rifle Association opined: “If they can’t ban the pie, so the thinking apparently goes, they might at least get the apples.”

Data on whether steel-tipped 5.56-caliber ammunition is used in assaults on law enforcement officers is hard to come by.

The FBI tracks firearms and other “weapons” data in connection with some crimes, said spokesman Stephen Fischer of its criminal justice information services division in Clarksburg, W.Va. But the most detailed information he was able to provide makes no distinction about caliber or type of bullet used.

The Pennsylvania State Police have experienced “no high-profile incidents where our troopers have been shot at with this type of ammunition,” said Trooper Adam Reed, a spokesman in Harrisburg.

Word of a possible ban has spurred recreational shooters to act.

Steel-tipped, 5.56 ammunition has never been the most popular variety, said Josh Rowe, assistant manager of Anthony Arms, a gun shop in West Mifflin. It often costs 20 percent more without offering any performance benefits, so it’s never been a “huge mover.”

“There are certain people who like it because it’s what the military uses. But it’s not as common among shooters as some people would have you believe,” Rowe said.

If the ammunition were to be banned, those who own it now could legally keep it. That has caused a run on supplies, said Todd Edmiston, owner of A&S Indoor Shooting Range in Youngwood.

The real concern a lot of shooters have is where the ban might lead, he said.

“Most of the bullets that come in that caliber could meet the definition of ‘armor piercing’ if they really started pushing the limits. It’s so vague, even a .22-caliber rifle could be considered armor-piercing,” Edmiston said.

“There are a lot of guns sitting out there that would become absolutely useless if you can’t buy any ammunition.”

The bureau will accept public comment regarding the matter until March 16.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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