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ATF Reverses Course On Ammo Ban

Gun rights advocates are declaring victory over what they call the latest federal attempt at gun control.

A federal proposal to ban the general public's access to a specific kind of rifle ammunition is now, at least temporarily, off the table.

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, or ATF, is backing-down from a plan that would have banned ammunition the agency says is particularly dangerous to police.

Missoula's Axmen Firearms salesman Danen Brucker says his customers have recently scooped up lots of that ammunition:

"It has dwindled to basically next to nothing. I've got bits and pieces coming and going, but it doesn't last long."

The ammo is called  "Green Tip", due to the coloring found on the tip of the round.

"It was designed for NATO purposes and it has a tiny penetrator tip in the front end of the bullet between the jacket and the lead core, which is most of the weight of the bullet," says Gary Marbut, President of the Montana Shooting Sports Association.

That steel penetrator caught the attention of the ATF.

Last month it proposed a new regulation to ban armor piercing ammo.

There are, however, exemptions granted if that ammo is used primarily for sporting purposes. That "green-tip" ammo is commonly used for hunting and target shooting and has been legal since 1986.
Last month ATF proposed the new ban partially on the grounds the bullet can also be used in AR-15-style pistols. The agency says those pistols can be easily concealed and the ammo is powerful enough to penetrate law enforcement body armor.

Axmen Firearms's Danen Brucker says those handguns hardly qualify as "concealable".

"The length that we're talking about, the 7 to 10 inches, that's just the barrel. That doesn't include the length of the receiver and then the length of the buffer tube that's required for the gun to function. Anyone who's ever handled one of these, I don't think anyone could reasonably describe them as "easily concealable."

Brucker adds the Axmen has sold hundreds of AR-15 style rifles, but sold perhaps a dozen AR-Style handguns over the past 5 or 6 years.

ATF's proposal also disturbed at least one of the people it was designed to protect: Ravalli County sheriff Chris Hoffman.

"Personally I was a little bit insulted that Attorney General Holder's administration, or the President, either one, would use law enforcement as a means to ban any kind of ammunition or weapon."

Hoffman says the pistols don’t appear to be a threat.

"The fact of the matter is, I can't find a single incident of a law enforcement officer in the last 20 years being killed with this ammunition or what they're touting as an AR-15-style pistol. As far as I'm concerned this is just a move towards gun control."

In announcing the ammunition ban reversal ban, ATF said it's received over 80,000 comments on the proposal, most of which were critical.

Jonathan Hutson of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says gun manufacturers knowingly provoked ATF, "by beginning to make handguns chambered for these military-grade, armor piercing rounds that in the ATF's estimation only poses a threat to law enforcement officers."

Hutson says the ATF's reversal is disappointing, but adds that within the past two years, five states have expanded Brady background checks to all gun sales.

"What that tells you is that in the wake of Sandy Hook, gun violence prevention activists have a string of successes at the state level, putting further pressure on Capitol Hill to finish the job and keep guns out of dangerous hands by expanding Brady background checks to all gun sales including on-line and at gun shows."

Montana's entire congressional delegation opposed this most recent ATF proposal.

Republican Senator Steve Daines describes it as a "misguided ammunition ban."

"Unfortunately this is probably not the first, nor the last time the Obama administration will use these back-door maneuvers to restrict American and Montanans' 2nd amendment rights, but we'll keep up the good fight."

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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