Fact Check

Obama to Outlaw .223 Ammunition (M855) Through Executive Action

Rumor: The BATF plans to ban 'green tip' ammunition due to an executive order issued by President Obama.

Published Feb. 26, 2015


Claim:   The BATF plans to ban "green tip" ammunition due to an executive order issued by President Obama.


TRUE: The BATF has proposed a reclassification of "5.56mm constituent projectiles of SS109 and M855 cartridges" from "primarily used for sporting purposes" to
"armor piercing ammunition."
FALSE: President Obama initiated the proposed reclassification, or codified it through executive order.

Examples:   [Collected via Twitter, February 2015]

Obama just bypassed congress to ban .223 ammo.


Obama illegal executive order to ban AR-15 ammo on March 16th. All Patriots, speak out for 2nd Amendment Rights HERE


Backdoor #Obama# #executive #ammo ban on ar15 in partnership with the #ATF. obviously don't take #oath seriously


@SpeakerBoehner Third Gun Control Exec Order This Year.Of course Congress will just sit on their thumbs and pivot.


Origins:   On 13 February 2015, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF) released a document [PDF] that proposed the reclassification of "5.56mm constituent projectiles of SS109 and M855 cartridges" from the category of "primarily used for sporting purposes" to that of "armor piercing ammunition." The 17-page document was titled

"ATF FRAMEWORK FOR DETERMINING WHETHER CERTAIN PROJECTILES ARE 'PRIMARILY INTENDED FOR SPORTING PURPOSES' WITHIN THE MEANING OF 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(C)" and uploaded to ATF.gov, in part to enable interested parties to review it and submit comments before 16 March 2015.

The proposal cited the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-408, known as "LEOPA") and referenced discussions with law enforcement agencies across the country about whether "green tip" ammunition could reasonably be construed an exempt form of sporting ammo under the 1986 guidelines. The publicly available document noted that handguns made to employ the potentially affected ammunition were not available to civilians at the time the exemption was initially granted, and that the ammo type in question did not appear to meet the standard for a sporting purpose exemption:

Applying the sporting purposes framework set-forth above, the 5.56mm projectile that ATF exempted in 1986 does not qualify for an exemption because that projectile when loaded into SS109 and M855 cartridges may be used in a handgun other than a single-shot handgun. Specifically, 5.56mm projectiles loaded into the SS109 and M855 cartridges are commonly used Framework for Deciding Sporting Purpose Ammunition pursuant to 18 USC 921(a) in both "AR-type" rifles and "AR-type" handguns.

The AR platform is the semi-automatic version of the M16 machinegun originally designed for and used by the military. The AR-based handguns and rifles utilize the same magazines and share identical receivers. These AR-type handguns were not commercially available when the armor piercing ammunition exemption was granted in 1986. To ensure consistency, upon final implementation of the sporting purpose framework outlined above, ATF must withdraw the exemptions for 5.56 mm "green tip" ammunition, including both the SS109 and M855 cartridges.

The ATF's proposal was immediately controversial, particularly among gun rights advocates. On 14 February 2015, a guns and ammunition retailer published a blog post titled "Obama to Outlaw .223 Ammunition (M855) Through Executive Action":

It is doubtful that anyone reading this article will truly be surprised that Obama and his cronies in key government posts are trying to once again de facto suppress our Second Amendment rights. They were not able to make it happen through the legislature, but Obama has his phone and his pen. Currently, it seems the President is using both to target gun owners, specifically owners of AR-15s. If you can't outlaw the guns, get rid of the ammunition.

The popularity of the AR-15/MSR is the reason it is a target of the Obama administration. The latest assault on the Second Amendment came after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) unexpectedly announced on Friday the 13th that it intends to ban commonplace M855 ball ammunition as "armor piercing ammunition." Instead of going through the legislative process as intended, President Obama is using his executive authority to once again impose gun control measures.

Another blogger published an entry on 19 February 2015 that made similar claims:

President Obama is taking executive action to bypass Congressional authority and the will of the American people. This time the objective is backdoor gun control.

Obama is trying to justify the proposal by arguing that the M855 ball, the most widely used .233-caliber round, is "armor-piercing" and cannot be used in handguns, per the Gun Control Act of 1968 amended by Congress in 1986. He is also claiming that the ammunition in the AR-15 and similar rifles puts the lives of police officers at risk.

While it's true that the ATF proposed a ban on "green tip" ammunition in February 2015, President Obama was not involved through executive action of any description. The ATF described the proposal as the result of a long-term examination, several years in the making, of whether the ammunition fit the criteria for an exemption for sporting purposes:

In light of recent developments in the firearm and ammunition marketplace, ATF sought input from industry, law enforcement organizations, and the general public on the application of the unique "sporting purpose" exemption set forth in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(C). In November 2012, ATF held four meetings with interested parties representing law enforcement, the firearms and ammunition industries, and non-governmental organizations. In addition, after completion of these meetings, ATF also solicited and accepted comments from the general public through December 31, 2012. All of that input was considered in interpreting the meaning of the statutory language, and developing the framework described below.

On 10 March 2015, the ATF released a statement confirming that the reclassification proposal was halted indefinitely due to overwhelming public commentary opposing it:

Notice to those Commenting on the Armor Piercing Ammunition Exemption Framework

Thank you for your interest in ATF's proposed framework for determining whether certain projectiles are "primarily intended for sporting purposes" within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(C). The informal comment period will close on Monday, March 16, 2015. ATF has already received more than 80,000 comments, which will be made publicly available as soon as practicable. Although ATF endeavored to create a proposal that reflected a good faith interpretation of the law and balanced the interests of law enforcement, industry, and sportsmen, the vast majority of the comments received to date are critical of the framework, and include issues that deserve further study. 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 (for example, through additional proposals and opportunities for comment) before proceeding with any framework.

Last updated:   10 March 2015

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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