The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is taking public comments on its website until December 31, with regard to how it should determine what types of projectiles meet the "sporting purposes" exception to the federal "armor piercing ammunition" law. At this time, the question centers primarily around rifle-caliber projectiles made of metals harder than lead, such as the Barnes Bullets solid brass hunting bullets.
Under the law, adopted in 1986, "armor piercing ammunition" is defined as "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." A second definition, added in the 1990s, includes "a full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile."
Because handguns have been made in certain rifle calibers, many bullets that were designed originally for rifles also "may be used in a handgun." If such projectiles are made of the metals listed in the law, they are restricted as "armor piercing ammunition" unless they meet one of the law's exemptions. Being considered at this time is the exemption for "a projectile which the Attorney General finds is primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes."
Last week, BATFE met separately with gun control activist groups, firearm industry groups, and groups representing hunters and other gun owners. The latter meeting included the NRA; Safari Club International; representatives of state wildlife agencies; and firearm and ammunition importers.
BATFE has expressed two opinions about the law and exemption that warrant particular scrutiny.
First, BATFE suggested that it believes that the "armor piercing ammunition" law was intended to affect all ammunition capable of penetrating soft body armor worn by law enforcement officers. NRA reminded BATFE that the law was intended to protect law enforcement officers against the potential threat posed a very narrowly-defined category of projectiles: those, such as KTW and Arcane, which by virtue of their hard metal construction were designed and intended to be used by law enforcement officers to shoot through hard objects, such as automobile glass and doors, when fired at the velocities typical of handgun-caliber ammunition fired from handguns. Neither before nor since the law's enactment, has an officer been killed due to such a bullet penetrating soft body armor.
NRA further pointed out that the legislative history of the law clearly shows that members of Congress, including the sponsor of the law in the House, Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-N.Y.), a decorated former NYPD police officer, expressly did not want the law to restrict rifle-caliber bullets that happen to also be useable in handguns chambered to use rifle cartridges.
Second, BATFE says it considers projectiles to not be exempt under the "sporting purposes" test if they "pose a threat to public safety and law enforcement." BATFE also expressed concern that since the law was adopted, various new rifle-caliber handguns have been invented. On that point, NRA made clear that the sporting purposes exemption is straightforward: it applies to all projectiles that are "primarily intended for sporting purposes"--nothing more, and nothing less. Under the law, a projectile would be exempt if it is primarily intended for sporting purposes, even if it is secondarily intended for self-defense or some other legitimate purpose. Furthermore, the law does not condition its restrictive language or its "sporting purposes" exemption on the design of a particular handgun; the law is concerned only with specific projectiles that can be used in handguns. NRA cautioned the BATFE against interpreting the law in a manner more restrictive than Congress intended.
For more information on ATF's position and information on how to submit comments by the Dec. 31 deadline, go to www.atf.gov/firearms/industry/.