The Obama Administration has launched its second major regulatory attack on American gun owners in less than a year, and they’re will to risk the lives of law enforcement officers in the balance.
Obama’s ATF has just proposed outlawing SS109/M855 ammunition, one of the two most common types of ammunition for AR-15-style rifles and pistols.
The 62-grain 5.56 NATO ball ammunition that Obama wants to ban is a lead bullet with a mild steel core. It was first adopted by NATO militaries in the 1970s because NATO wanted a cartridge that was more humane and caused less damage to enemy soldiers than the higher-velocity 55-grain M193 cartridge then commonly in use. They fears that the tumbling and fragmenting M193 might violate Hague Conventions (which the United States never signed, but other NATO countries did).
The SS109/M855 also provided slightly better performance against harder targets at distance, which seemed to justify the trade-off when NATO was expecting that World War Three would be an attempt to repulse a Soviet Army rolling across the open plains of Europe.
Over time, military surplus and factory new SS109/M855 became common on the civilian market, where it was adopted as inexpensive practice and general purpose ammunition in AR-15 rifles.
Millions of semi-automatic AR-15 rifles have been sold since 1964, and AR-15s are the most popular rifle sold in the United States year in and year out. They are used in various forms of competition shooting, are increasingly common in various forms of hunting for medium and big game across the United States, and are increasingly selected as home defense firearms by knowledgeable shooters due to the numerous advantages the AR-15 platform has over pistols and shotguns in both remote rural environments and crowded urban settings.
The ATF’s stated reasoning for banning SS109/M855 is the popularity and recent rise in the sales of AR-15 pistols. These pistols sacrifice distance and a great deal of muzzle energy, generate a significant muzzle blast, and compromise on reliability to achieve their size, but have become popular as “range toys” all the same.
The ATF is claiming that SS109/M855 ammunition in these AR-15 pistols is a risk to police officers to justify the ban. That is a bald-faced fabrication. It is quite transparently designed to dry up common and economical ammunition for the more than 5 million owners of AR-15 rifles and carbines.
Here is the reality that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Mexican Drug Cartel Weapon Supply is not telling you as they attempt to use the claim that SS109/M855 is an “armor-piercing” threat to American police officers.
There is no such thing as a “bulletproof” vest.
“Bulletproof” is an interesting but abject fantasy. Nothing yet made to be worn by man is light enough to classify as “bulletproof,” which is why real-world body armor manufacturers have various grades of body armor designed to stop various threats.
Police officers and sheriff’s deputies on patrol are most commonly going to run into offenders armed with handguns, and so they typically wear “soft” armor made out of layers of Kevlar or similar fabrics that will stop the most commonly used pistol bullets. The law against armor piercing ammunition was written to ban handgun ammunition made to penetrate bullet-resistant vests, not rifle bullets fired from pistols.
Soldiers and SWAT officers going into high-threat environments where rifles are going to be more common wear vests with rigid armor plates either in place of soft armor or in addition to soft armor.
The goal of the commonly worn soft armor is to slow the bullet as it penetrates through multiple layers, bleeding off more energy as the bullet penetrates each layer until it is finally slowed to a stop. If you ever get a chance to see soft body armor shot with a pistol bullet, you will see that the front side of the armor carrier (vest) is easily penetrated, but that the bullet is typically caught among more than two dozen layers of fabric before it penetrates all the way through to hit the wearer’s body.
The more velocity a bullet has the more energy it has, and the more energy body armor has to absorb. Rarer higher-velocity pistol bullets and common rifle bullets will penetrate all the way through soft body armor that is designed for more common pistol bullets.
Defending against an imaginary threat.
Criminals like to conceal their weapons as much as possible in order to drawing attention to themselves from police. The large size and bulk of AR-15 pistols that makes them such fun range toys makes them impractical for criminals to carry. Due in large part to that fact, the use of AR-15 pistols in crime is so rare that no known agencies are even tracking data on their use.
If there are instances where officers have been shot and killed with an AR-15 pistol loaded with SS109/M855 ammunition, we have not yet been able to find even anecdotal evidence of such an event… not even once.
The ATF is attempting to restrict some of the most common and accessible ammunition for the most common rifle sold in the United States based on what appears to be a completely hypothetical situation.
A SS109/M855 ban could make even this hypothetical situation more deadly for law enforcement.
As stated above, there is no known evidence to suggest that the ATF is addressing a real problem. The blatantly obvious goal of the proposed ban is to choke off ammunition for AR-15 rifles and carbines, using a purely hypothetical pistol situation as an excuse.
But would the proposed hypothetical even save lives if it were implemented?
No, it wouldn’t.
It would actually serve to increase the risk to law enforcement officers, by forcing rifle and pistol users alike to return exclusively to the full-metal-jacketed 55-grain M193 round that NATO wanted to get away from in the 1970s with the adoption of the very SS109/M855 cartridge that Obama’s ATF is attempting to ban.
Yes, the proposed ATF ban would return everyone to the round NATO said was too “inhumane” for use against expected waves of Soviet troops because it caused “devastating” wounds. It appears Obama’s ATF cares more about the survival of Soviet infantry than they do American law enforcement officers.
If we’re going to play hypothetical games with the lives of law enforcement officers—which the ATF clearly does—we need to look at the strengths and weaknesses of both bullet designs against police issue soft body armor and the human body beyond it.
The reality of the matter is that both rifle cartridges will easily penetrate common soft body armor. As we noted in the section above about soft body armor, soft body armor is designed to bleed off energy/velocity through multiple layers of ballistic fabrics. These fabrics will stop a relatively slow pistol bullet, but simply will not stop a centerfire rifle bullet, even when that bullet is fired by a rifle-caliber pistol. The real question is what the bullet will do to the human body beyond the armor after it penetrates.
American soldiers who have used the SS109/M855 will be among the first to tell you that the round under-performs in most situations, with the bullet creating an “icepick” type through-and-through wounds. Enemies shot with the SS109/M855 may eventually die from their wounds, but they remain “in the fight” longer than they should, even when shot multiple times.
The SS109/M855 has performed so poorly in combat that the Marines in Afghanistan shift to a completely different bullet, the MK 318. Special operations forces and designated marksmen in the Army and Navy have likewise shifted to the MK262 cartridge because of the inadequate performance of the SS109/M855 in the real world. This does not matter to American civilian shooters, who use the SS109/M855 as an economical training rounds against paper or steel targets.
Hypothetically speaking, if a police officer is ever shot in the real world with an AR-15 bullet through his or her body armor, will that officer stand a better chance of surviving an “icepick” type wound, or a bullet that tumbles and fragments inside his body? I’m not a surgeon, but I think I stand a better chance against one relatively narrow wound channel than multiple wound channels.
Conclusion: The ATF doesn’t think that police lives matter, and Congress should act.
The ATF’s excuse to attack common AR-15 ammunition is based on the weakest of hypothetical situations using poorly-crafted existing federal laws that were written by lawmakers who knew little or nothing about firearms and ammunition. The Republican House and Senate can easily fix this problem for once and for all with a simple amendment to any bill before either house that would remove the existing law against so-called “armor-piercing” rifle ammunition that the Obama administration has now used for a second time in economic warfare against American gun owners and the Second Amendment.
Last April, the ATF used an identical argument to create an ban on the importation of surplus and newly manufactured 7N6 ammunition, which allowed shooters of 5.45×39 caliber rifles to target shoot cheaply.
They are now attempting to do the same with the most common rifle in the United States.
This cannot be allowed to stand.