GOODBYE GREENTIP? ATF Seeks To Ban Common SS109/M855 5.56 Ammunition

Via TWANGnBANG this morning comes the news that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, And Firearms wants to reclassify common SS109/M855 5.56 NATO ammunition as “armor-piercing” and ban it from import, manufacture, or sale.

The cartridge had previously been classified “exempt” from the ban on so-called “armor-piercing” ammunition.


SS109/M855 is one of the two most common loadings for 5.56 NATO chambered AR-15 rifles, featuring a 62-grain bullet with a mild steel penetrator core. The cartridge was adopted by NATO in the late 1970s to give soldiers better long range performance, and reduce the possibility of fragmentation seen in the prior 55-grain M193 round cartridge that some viewed as “inhuman” and “devastating.” Civilian shooters like it because it is accurate, plentiful, and relatively economical to shoot.

The 55-grain FMJ M193 round is the other most common .223 Remington/5.56 NATO cartridge used by civilian shooters, and typically provides better performance across a wider range of practical scenarios.

SS109/M855 has been harshly criticized by combat troops for it’s tendency to completely penetrate through enemy combatants with narrow “icepick” type wounds that allow enemy combatants to remain in the fight despite multiple strikes, only killing them later. The failure of the SS109/M855 led the U.S. Marines to adopt the 62-grain open-tip Mk318 Mod-0 SOST cartridge for combat in Afghanistan, and for special operations forces and designated marksmen to adopt the 77-grain open-tip Mk262 Mod-1.

The “logic” behind the ATF reclassification attempt it is that recent prevalence of AR-15 pistols means that the SS109/M855 cartridge is now an armor-piercing pistol bullet according to the absurd definitions crafted by politicians and bureaucrats who can’t tell a bolt-face from a “shoulder thing that goes up.”

The bizarre reality of the ATF letter is, that if it goes into effect, the ruling would have the opposite effect of its stated purpose.

The ban on “armor-piercing pistol ammunition” is a great idea in theory, but is utterly absurd as a practical matter. Rifle caliber bullets are much more powerful than true pistol calibers, and all will easily penetrate Level IIa, Level II, and Level IIIa “soft” body armor worn by police, even fired from  rifle-class “pistols.” The key difference is velocity, not the metals used in bullet construction.

Both lead-core M193 and steel core SS109/M855 easily penetrate all police soft body armor, but the tendency of lead bullets to mushroom and fragment means that a ban on the steel core bullets that holds their shape better would mean that people shot by rifle-caliber pistols (both armored and unarmored) are more likely to suffer “devastating” wounds once the bullet penetrates the body.

By banning a less damaging bullet, the ATF would create the potential for more grievous wounds.

While I would really like to rip the corrupt cartel-arming ATF for this decision, they didn’t write the law.

The obvious and immediate stop-gap remedy for this absurdity is for the Republican-controlled House and Senate to craft legislation—a simple one or two-line bill amendment would do—to make the existing conditional exemption for SS109/M855 ammunition a permanent one.

The letter—like the on-going battles over so-called “80-percent” receivers and arm braces which is actually a battle over the absurd and arbitrary definition of “short-barreled rifles” not even recognized in most other countries—points out the capricious and often nonsensical nature of most federal firearms legislation, which were both written in periods of panic (the Great Depression) and fear (after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy) that now bear little resemblance to our modern world.

It is our opinion here at Bearing Arms that as the explicit and implicit purpose of the Second Amendment is to ensure that the citizenry be armed with weapons and ammunition of contemporary military utility. We hold that a ban on the most common forms of ammunition for the most common contemporary rifles for militia service is a gross and blatant violation of the letter and the spirit of the Second Amendment.

While it is imperative for the House and Senate to pass legislation protection .223 Remington/5.56 NATO ammunition as a constitutional matter, the on-going absurdity of the laws that the ATF is trying to enforce show a compelling need for the House and Senate to consider a drastic re-working of federal firearms laws, particularly sections of the National Firearms Act of 1934, the Gun Control Act of 1968, and the striking of the Hughes amendment from Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986.

This must not stand.

UPDATE: Here’s what Congress must do to fix this problem.