The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms just halted a rule that would have banned a certain type of armor-piercing ammunition, leading Tuesday to a lot of absurd National Rifle Association bragging about its latest victory.
“The lies used to justify the ban were shameful,” the NRA’s Chris Cox roared. “This proposal was never about law enforcement safety, it was about the Obama administration’s desire to pander to billionaire Michael Bloomberg and his gun control groups. Since they haven’t been able to ban America’s most popular rifle, they are trying to ban the ammunition instead.”
Amazingly, the NRA was even more obviously wrong than it usually is.
In fact, it was Congress that banned armor-piercing ammo in 1986, not the Obama administration in 2015. Police officers understandably worried that the bullets could penetrate the body protection they wear. However, dealers have been able to sell the ammunition in question, 5.56mm “green tip” bullets, under an exception to the law that exempts bullets used primarily for sporting purposes. The ammunition continues to be a popular match with the semi-automatic AR-15 rifle.
Yet there’s now a handgun on the market that can accept the 5.56mm bullets, too. Though many sportsmen use this type of ammunition, the introduction of a compatible handgun makes it easy for criminals to chamber the armor-piercing bullets in small concealed weapons, the sort of firearms that cops generally encounter and fear. If the 1986 law means anything, the ATF concluded, armor-piercing ammunition “for two-shot and semi-automatic handguns cannot be characterized as ‘primarily intended’ for use in sporting purposes.’”
Congress long ago established the principle that armor-piercing bullets posing a threat to police officers should be illegal. The ATF was merely trying to apply that principle. People can load different bullets into their AR-15’s.
So the NRA cartoonishly attacked a simple gun-control policy — what else is new? This time, the pressure group’s conspiracy theories about the elite’s plotting to disarm the populace is even weirder than usual. Erika Soto Lamb, spokesperson for Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety, points out that her group never asked the administration to ban the 5.56mm ammo. “We didn’t take a position on the ATF ammo ban,” she explained to me in an e-mail. “We focus on keeping guns out of dangerous hands (background checks, etc.) instead of on the guns/ammo themselves (this, for instance, assault weapons ban, etc.).”
Bloomberg probably wouldn’t mind seeing military-style ammunition off store shelves. But his organization hasn’t been pushing it, reflecting a quiet but broad shift in emphasis among some gun-control advocates away from restrictions on which firearms can be sold and toward restricting who can buy guns and how. Perhaps the ATF was simply reading the law sensibly, not breaking it as part of some corrupt political payoff.
It also important not to grant the NRA’s premise that it would be illegitimate for elected officials to heed Everytown’s actual recommendations — such as analyzing lost and stolen firearms, cracking down on illegal online gun sales, and notifying state and local authorities when people fail background checks — which are extremely modest and sensible.
The point is that the NRA’s maximalist rhetoric, designed to stoke paranoia about liberal elites disarming, then tyrannizing everyday Americans, isn’t just unconvincing — it’s often insultingly so. It’s incredible that there is still a choir that nods along with this sermon.