Thursday, March 12, 2015

Updated: M855 Ban Threat Over? Not Quite...

There has been much back and forth banter about the ATF’s proposed ban of M855 ammunition and other 5.56 caliber rounds that meet its “Framework For Determining Whether Certain Projectiles Are ‘Primarily Intended For Sporting Purposes’ Within The Meaning of 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(C).”

For the past few weeks, gun blogs and groups like the NRA have been in a tizzy expressing their outrage over the proposal which would have banned 5.56/.223 caliber rounds that were putatively armor piercing. The ban is pretty much worthless and legally dubious, stretching both the definition of ‘handgun’ and ignoring congressional intent. On the political front, the usual theatrics were in play. The president prevaricated, calling it “common sense” and accusing gun owners of not valuing police lives. As a result of this proposal and the voluminous public outcry, Congress stepped in and started pumping out resolutions and bills against the proposal and warned oflarger grabs.

The argument centered around a federal law banning armor piercing handgun ammunition and the M855 round’s composition (and others like it). Those who are fans of the popular American rifle, the AR-15 know that it is easy to ‘convert’ a rifle/carbine into a ‘pistol’ by removing the stock and adding a shorter barrel. Since it can be fired with one hand (and designed to be fired that way), it is considered a pistol. It’s considered a pistol because with a short barrel and a shoulder stock, it falls into the category of a short barrel rifle. Thus subtracting the shoulder stock makes it into a ‘pistol’ to avoid paying the $200 tax for a short barrel rifle. More about that here.

Many gun websites are heralding this as a victory, including the NRA, who said “NRA Forces Obama to Wave White Flag on Proposed Ammo Ban … For Now.” Of course, the NRA statement leaves out any mention of what was actually said. The same theme carries over into many other sources’ articles and the atmosphere on Facebook and Twitter is ecstatic that the threat of a ban is over. But is it?

Take a look at the actual announcement from the ATF and read carefully.

Notice that it does not say their proposal has been discarded, cancelled, or delayed. It merely states that:

“Accordingly, ATF will not at this time seek to issue a final framework. After the close of the comment period, ATF will process the comments received, further evaluate the issues raised therein, and provide additional open and transparent process [...] before proceeding with any framework.”

Why is this wording so careful and so important?

In other words, they are not making a final decision. The process of developing the framework will continue based upon public input, which has been strong. Basically, they're saying: "We're listening! We haven't decided yet though." They are not saying "Wow, you sure showed us. We give up!" Quite the contrary. This is just PR of the same kind they've been showing through this process.

This weekend’s history regarding the so-called ban is important. On Friday, March 6, it was reported that the ATF’s 2014 Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide had any mention of the exemption that M855 and similar rounds enjoyed removed. The implication was that the ATF had already made its decision, public comments be damned, and the only mistake was someone catching it before the ATF fully implemented the ban. Later that evening, the ATF tweeted that it was a simple ‘publishing error.’ How convenient. Their full statement is here.

The Wayback Machine last crawled the ATF website on 9/26/14, showing the 2005 version. It’s unclear when the 2014 version was posted, but it shows it was updated on 3/07/2015. This adds credence to the accusation that the ban was a fait accompli. The fact that an agency, scrupulous to the point of being anal, which considers typos and mistakes on forms to be serious violations, would make such a potentially grievous oversight in a publication is ludicrous. People’s businesses and freedoms depend on accuracy in this document; if this was indeed a ‘publication error’ their bureaucrat in charge of this Guide failed at a level of incompetency of the first order.

The ATF’s attitude of doing things in the un-American style of regulations by decree, is highlighted in this Washington Post article. “Last year, the ATF successfully banned Russian-made 7N6 bullets on the grounds they were armor-piercing. Some gun-rights groups objected, but that ruling stood. ‘We didn't put it out to comment,’ Seward noted.” By allowing comments (and targeting one of the most popular rifles in America), the public raised such a ruckus over this blatant attempt at infringing on 2nd Amendment rights that the ATF could not simply sail full steam ahead to into the ban. These kinds of tactics are right in line with President Obama’s promise to useexecutive action to further gun control because Congress democratically refused to do what he said and infringe upon the Second Amendment.

It’s interesting to note that President Obama’s plans for a renewed ‘assault weapons’ ban follows in the footsteps of the Clinton-era ‘Assault Weapon’ Ban of 1994 (which expired in 2004 and Congress refused to renew). Previously, AR-15s were not sold since the ban was enacted, as their pistol grips and collapsing stocks (among other cosmetic features) supposedly made them more deadly, which is a myth. The market for pre-ban rifles and magazine was huge. Everyone though that the expensive, weird rifle that weren’t so popular in Vietnam their fathers and uncles fortuitously bought would be rare, collector items grandfathered into legality.

But that all changed in 2004. The AR-15 took off as the ‘American’ rifle, due to its iconic design, popularity with the military and police, as well as its incredible versatility. Untold numbers of manufacturers offer their own rifles and skilled craftsmen can make their own. Partly fueled by rumors of another ban, AR-15s have flown off the shelves since December of 2012. Some call it the most popular American rifle.

Is it any coincidence that the government is trying to ban one of the most popular rifles on the market through ammunition control? Like starving a person will kill them, taking away a rifle’s ammo, or ‘food’, will render it useless. And once AR-15 ‘handgun’ ammunition is banned, the ATF could easily use its regulatory powers to ban other kinds of ammo.

The final verdict? The M855 battle is not over. There will be hoarders hoarding and gougers gouging for the green-tipped round (which ironically was panned by the US military). Regardless of the cause, attempting to infringe upon ammunition and firearms is why the Second Amendment exists. We shall see what the ATF does, but we, the American gun owning public, shall not go quietly into the night.

Many have feared the moment when the only recourse to dissolving an abusive government is with a rifle. None but the crazy want a civil war or insurrection. Far too many gun owners have been passive in past battles, content to complain or let the NRA do the fighting for them. This time, gun owners spoke up and did their part, forcing the ATF on the defensive and warning them that further attempts at regulation by fiat will be fought tooth and nail. Most importantly, gun owners showed that they can, are willing to, and prefer to, fight with words rather than turning to arms. Gun owners seek peace after all, but maintain the ability to preserve it.

Update: 3/12/2015

As I predicted, the assault on M855 is still going on. The ATF director Todd Jones is testifying to Congress that "'Any 5.56 round' is 'a challenge for officer safety." The good news is they actually are going to suspend altering the 'Framework' now. So did we win? Sorta...

Democrats in Congress are doing the opposite of Republicans (no surprise there) and writing a letter to urge the ATF to adopt the ban.
"Congressional Democrats are pressuring the Obama administration to move ahead 'swiftly' with a proposal that would ban a form of armor-piercing ammunition.

In a draft letter first obtained by The Hill, Democrats are urging the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to use his “existing authority” to keep 'dangerous ammunition out of our communities.'

'We hope that the Bureau will swiftly review comments on the proposed framework and issue a revised proposal that will address the danger posed by handguns that fire 5.56mm and other rifle ammunition,' Democrats write in the letter."
The moral of the story is speak up. Makes lots of noise. The American government, though bulky and pretty intransigent at times, does listen to its people. You just have to remind them that we're in charge. We have won this round, but the battle continues.

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