Blunt, Long bash ATF's proposed bullet ban

Posted on March 11, 2015 09:27 am CDT

Springfield News-Leader
Deirdre Shesgreen

Missouri Republicans say an Obama administration proposal to ban a type of armor-piercing bullet would infringe on Americans' Second Amendment rights.

Supporters say the pending rule — outlined last month by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — could make the streets safer for police officers.

But critics in Congress — including Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield — say ATF's move is an unnecessary overreach that could eliminate a popular bullet used for hunting.

At the center of the new gun-rights skirmish is a steel-tipped 5.56 mm bullet. Right now, it is exempt from the 1986 Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act, which prohibits the import, manufacture, and distribution of "armor piercing ammunition" that can be used in a handgun.

ATF has previously allowed the sale and production of the 5.56 mm rounds because they had a "sporting purpose" and, until recently, they could only be fired from rifles. But now ATF says a new kind of firearm — a semiautomatic pistol based on a shortened AR-15 rifle — poses a threat to police officers because the smaller gun can fire armor-piercing rounds that can blow right through an officer's protective vest.

ATF is seeking public comment through March 16 about its plan to end the manufacture and sale of armor-piercing 5.56 mm rounds.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a former prosecutor, said she supports the proposed ban.

"I'm not aware of any deer, quail, ducks, turkeys, or doves that wear bulletproof vests, but police officers do," McCaskill said.

"Congress never intended for ATF, or any other government agency, to ban this type of ammunition commonly used for sporting purposes," Blunt said Monday. He has signed on to a letter, spearheaded by Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, opposing the ban.

Long and Rep. Vicky Hartlzer, R-Harrisonville, were among the 236 House members who signed a similar letter, released last week by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

In a statement, Long called the ATF proposal a "backdoor attempt to ban ammunition, rather than guns themselves, through market controls."

Hartzler called the proposed ban an unconstitutional "overreach."

"It is people who commit crimes, not bullets," she said, "and those issues need to be handled without infringing on constitutional rights."

James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, said his group is "always concerned about ammunition falling into the wrong hands." But, he added, "there is no evidence that the round in question has been used against police officers."

Pasco expressed concern that a battle over the ATF proposal could ignite a charged debate over gun control and distract from other pressing priorities.

"We've got so many (other) legislative issues," he said.

Among other things, the August shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson has sparked calls for sweeping legislative changes — from changes to the justice system to requirements that law enforcement wear body cameras.

"There's no hotter button that the firearms button on Capitol Hill," Pasco said. But "we're talking about police reform and Ferguson and hate crimes."

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