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BATFE Reviewing "Sporting Purposes" Exemption to AP Ammo Law

Friday, March 1, 2013

After a series of meetings with the nra and other organizations representing hunters, members of the firearm and ammunition industry, law enforcement groups and gun control groups, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) is considering what guidelines it can use to interpret the “sporting purposes” exemption to the federal “armor piercing ammunition” law. 

The law, enacted in 1986, defines “armor piercing ammunition” to include any projectile or projectile core made of one or more metals listed in the law, and which can be used in a handgun. Congress used this narrow approach, rather than banning the manufacture of any bullet that can penetrate a bullet-resistant vest, because the NRA, along with the Justice and Treasury departments, pointed out that a “performance test” would have banned most center-fire rifle ammunition used for hunting and other sport shooting. A second definition, added in 1993, applies to any fully jacketed handgun bullet larger than .22 caliber if the jacket accounts for more than 25 percent of the projectile’s total weight. 

“Armor piercing” projectiles and cores may not be manufactured or imported for sale to the general public. However, the law exempts certain projectiles, including any projectile “the Attorney General finds is primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes.” BATFE is reviewing the issue because several manufacturers of hunting bullets have asked the batfe to grant the exemption to their products.

At a November meeting at the agency’s headquarters, NRA representatives pointed out that the law was intended to restrict only a very narrowly defined class of handgun-caliber bullets that were designed for use by law enforcement officers, but are rarely, if ever, used by law enforcement agencies today. These bullets, constructed of metals harder than lead, were designed to shoot through hard objects, such as automobile doors, even at the relatively low velocities typical of handgun ammunition fired in handguns.

The NRA also pointed out that the congressional sponsors of the law did not intend it to affect rifle-caliber ammunition used for sporting purposes, and that the sporting purpose exemption should therefore apply to any rifle-caliber bullet that is designed primarily for sporting purposes, regardless of whether it can also be used for other legitimate purposes, or whether it can be used in a handgun. The batfe has previously interpreted “sporting purposes” to include hunting and target shooting.

The nra pointed out that the development of non-lead projectiles has been driven in part by increasing regulation of lead ammunition for dubious environmental reasons, and that the development of non-lead projectiles for hunting and target shooting will likely continue at a greater pace in the years ahead. The nra encouraged the batfe to interpret the “sporting purposes” exemption broadly in order to avoid regulating more bullets than Congress intended.

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