My Response To The ATF Framework

Given that I put the “pro” in procrastinate, waiting to submit my comment on the ATF Framework (and M855 ban) until the last day is par for the course. While I have submitted other comments using some of the comment generators, I really wanted to submit a fairly comprehensive comment as to why the ATF Framework was flawed. My comment is a mixture of original research along with some good research done by others.

The BATFE is accepting comments through the close of business today. While they have decided to punt a final decision until a later date and have suspended the ban on the M855 bullet for now, I thought it was important to get this on record. Below is my comment which I submitted by fax just a few minutes ago.

I do plan to send copies of this comment to Senators Burr and Tillis and to Rep. McHenry. I am pleased to note that all three signed the Congressional letters to the BATFE demanding an end to a potential ban on the M855 bullet and cartridge.

March 2015
Programs and Services
of Regulatory Affairs
of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
New York Ave. NE
DC 20226
fax: 202-648-9741
Ms. Brown:
I am
writing in response to your solicitation of comments regarding the proposed ATF
Framework for Determining Whether Certain Projectiles Are “Primarily Intended
for Sporting Purposes” Within the Meaning of 18 USC 921(a)(17)(C).
Specifically, your agency requested comments regarding how it best can
implement the withdrawal of the exemption for M855/SS109 ammunition while
minimizing disruption to the ammunition and firearm industry and maximizing
officer safety.
I am pleased that your agency has decided to back down from this proposal to
ban M855/SS109 ammunition for now, I would still like to make my opinion known
in the event that your agency revives this proposal and framework.
ATF Framework states that M855/SS109 ammunition was previously “not classified
as ‘armor piercing’ under the statute because there no handguns that could ‘use’
it.” (p. 6) This statement by ATF is erroneous. Prior to the passage of the
LEOPA and the granting in 1986 of an exemption from classification as armor
piercing to M855/SS109 projectiles, there was in fact a semi-automatic handgun
that did fire the 5.56×45 cartridge. This was the Bushmaster Armpistol
introduced by Gwinn Firearms Company in 1977. After the purchase of Gwinn
Firearms Company by Bushmaster, it was continually made up through 1990. This
pistol used standard M16/AR-15 magazines much like the more modern AR-15
pistols do today. Photos of the Bushmaster Armpistol may be seen on the
Internet at
BATFE does not have any statutory authority to prohibit civilian distribution
or possession of M855 cartridges under 18 USC 921(a)(17)(B) regardless of any “sporting
purpose” determination made by the Attorney General under 18 USC 921(a)(17)(C).
Nor does the BATFE have any statutory authority to prohibit civilian distribution
of NATO STANAG 4172 specification cartridges (SS109) under under 18 USC
921(a)(17)(B). The statutory language of under 18 USC 921(a)(17)(B) defines
armor piercing projectiles as follows:
            (B) The term “armor piercing
ammunition” means—
a projectile or projectile core which may be
used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of
traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys,
steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium; or
a full jacketed projectile larger than .22
caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a
weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile.
projectile specified in M855 specification ammunition, US Army TACOM ARDEC
Drawing 9342869, has a combined steel and lead core. 18 USC 921(a)(17(B)i
specifies that the core must be constructed entirely of one of the specified
substances. M855/SS109 projectiles fail this test.
Continuing, 18 USC 921(a)(17)(B)ii states that the
projectile must be “larger than .22 caliber designed and intended for
use in a handgun”. Again, the M855/SS109 specification ammunition fails this
test as a) the projectile is not larger than .22 caliber; b) MIL-C-63989C (AR),
the US Army specification covering M855 cartridges does not mention handguns as
a use for which the cartridge was intended; and c) the gas port pressures
requirements established in Section 3.10.3 of MIL-C-63989C (AR) constructively
exclude the “AR Type handguns” cited in the ATF Framework as an application for
M855 cartridges.
The sporting purposes exemption given to M855/SS109 based
cartridges in 1986 was made in error. They were not then nor are they now what
can be classified as “armor piercing”. As such, no exemption for sporting
purposes was even needed. I will leave it to the BATFE to determine the
historical rationale for this superfluous action.
BATFE Director Jones in his recent Congressional
testimony has expressed concern about the ability of any 5.56×45 bullet to
penetrate soft body armor. Virtually all center-fire rifle cartridges used in
hunting and target shooting will penetrate soft body armor which was only designed
to stop pistol caliber bullets. 5.56 bullets and especially M855/SS109 bullets
are no more amenable to misuse by criminals than any other rifle cartridge. I
would ask that BATFE permanently retract their proposal to ban M855/SS109 based
Finally, your intended framework for future
determinations of “sporting use” regarding ammunition that can be used in
handguns is flawed. Under Category II, the BATFE states that the presumption
that a cartridge is “primarily intended for sporting uses” only applies to
those cartridges for which the only handgun readily available is a single shot
handgun (bolt or break-open). There currently exist revolvers readily available
that chamber such cartridges as the .30 Carbine, the .30-30 Winchester, and the
.45-70. These revolvers are large, heavy, can mount scopes, and are intended
primarily for the sporting purpose of hunting and target shooting. To presume
that a revolver weighing five pounds has anything other than a sporting purpose
is, to be blunt, ridiculous.
Thank you for consideration of my comments.

John P. Richardson

3 thoughts on “My Response To The ATF Framework”

  1. Very nicely done. Good work!

    I believe that there is an error in your letter, though. The core of an armor piercing projectile does not have to be made from just one material on the forbidden list. It can be made from a combination of forbidden materials. However, lead is not on the forbidden materials list, so a combination of lead and steel is not forbidden. Your conclusion was correct.

    There is an interesting NATO slide presentation at The author is very familiar with the development of the SS109/M855. In slide 10, he says: There were no requirements to penetrate body armor. He repeats the same statement in a 2012 article in Small Arms Defense Journal. The M855 was not designed to penetrate body armor. The extra penetration discussed seems mostly concerned with penetration in flesh

    Under maximum velocity conditions, M855 will NOT penetrate AR500 body armor steel plate, Brinnell Hardness 500. However, at the same speed, common garden variety lead core 55 grain bullets WILL. The difference seems to be in the fact that M855 is a 62 grain bullet, which is isn’t as fast as 55 grain bullets like the M193. See the video at

    Back in the 1940s, P.O. Ackley demonstrated that a factory loaded, copper jacketed, lead core 220 Swift bullet will penetrate a ½” armor plate from the front of a US military half-track.

    The point is that the M855 presents absolutely no extraordinary hazard to police officers or anyone else. Ordinary rifle cartridges of almost all types, fired from a rifle or a handgun will penetrate police armor up to Level IIIA. There is nothing special about the M855.

    1. @Denton: You are probably correct on that. That part was something I lifted from another letter.

      Let me say up front that I'm not a physicist but I do remember the basic equation from class. F = MA where F is force, M is mass, and A is acceleration. The force with which a bullet hits an object is dependent upon both its mass and acceleration (velocity squared). It takes a combination of both M and A.

      From what "Doc Wesson" has said on The Gun Nation podcast, the shape of the bullet has something to do with it as well. "Doc" is a PhD polymer chemist creating and testing fibers that will be woven into body armor. His research has shown that a spire point bullet or spitzer is more likely to penetrate woven body armor as it pushes the fibers apart. I would add that concentrating the force on a very small point helps.

Comments are closed.