Just weeks after the nation’s top gun regulating agency banned some uses of a device meant for AR-style pistols, officials with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives took another swing at the rifle caliber-firing handguns, barring the sale, importation and manufacturing of a widely-used military ammunition that it feels puts law enforcement officers at risk.

On Friday, the ATF issued a notice saying so-called M855 “Green Tip” 5.56 ammunition has the capability to penetrate body armor widely used by law enforcement and does not qualify for an exemption issued by Congress that allows the sale of the ammunition for “sporting purposes.” Previously the military surplus ammunition had been perfectly legal for shooters to buy and use, and many took advantage of its accuracy in AR-15 rifles and low price.

Since 1986, shooters have been barred from purchasing armor-piercing ammunition in handgun calibers, such as .44 magnum, 9mm and .357. Lawmakers tried to exempt rifle ammunition and restrict only armor-piercing ammo “designed to be fired from a handgun.”

But the ATF says that given the popularity of shortened AR-15-style pistols, the 5.56 is now a handgun caliber.

“5.56mm projectiles loaded into the SS109 and M855 cartridges are commonly used … in both ‘AR-type’ rifles and ‘AR-type’ handguns,” the ATF wrote. “These AR-type handguns were not commercially available when the armor piercing ammunition exemption was granted in 1986.”

“To ensure consistency …  ATF must withdraw the exemptions for 5.56 mm ‘green tip’ ammunition, including both the SS109 and M855 cartridges.”

News of the ban has ignited the firearms world as it is the first sign the ATF intends to ban ammunition commonly used among shooters who own the most popular rifle in America.

The move was “clearly intended by the Obama Administration to suppress the acquisition, ownership and use of AR-15s and other .223 caliber general purpose rifles,” the NRA said in a statement. “The decision continues Obama’s use of his executive authority to impose gun control restrictions and bypass Congress.”

The ruling also takes another slap at the booming AR-style pistol market by arguing it doesn’t matter the M855 was originally designed to be used with a rifle; since it fires from an AR pistol, it is armor-piercing pistol ammo.

“It is with the increasing prevalence of handgun versions of rifle platforms, that ATF now apparently sees an opening to now ban the widely used M855 and SS109 ammunition,” the National Shooting Sports Foundation said in a statement.

The ATF says armor-piercing rifle ammo can only be exempt from the ban if it is fired from single-shot pistols, not semi-automatic or magazine-fed ones. Armor-piercing .22 ammo will not be banned. Previously exempt 30-06 M2AP ammunition will still be allowed.

“The proposal is useless since standard lead-only 5.56 ammunition is ‘armor piercing’ simply due to the round's velocity,” NSSF explained. “Rifles in this caliber, or any caliber for that matter, are rarely used in crimes.” 

If you still own and fire M855 ammo, the ATF won’t come after you, officials say. You just won’t be able to buy any more to replenish your stocks.

“Because it is legally permissible to possess armor piercing ammunition under current law, withdrawing the exemption will not place individuals in criminal possession of armor piercing ammunition,” the ATF says. “However, with few exceptions, manufacturers will be unable to produce such armor piercing ammunition, importers will be unable to import such ammunition, and manufacturers and importers will be prohibited from selling or distributing the ammunition.”

The agency is soliciting comments “on how it can best implement withdrawal of this exemption while minimizing disruption to the ammunition and firearm industry and maximizing officer safety.”

To comment, contact ATF via email: APAComments@atf.gov

Fax: (202) 648-9741.

Mail: Denise Brown, Mailstop 6N-602, Office of Regulatory Affairs, Enforcement Programs and Services, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, 99 New York Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20226: ATTN: AP Ammo Comments.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Denise Brown, Enforcement Programs and Services, Office of Regulatory Affairs, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, U.S. Department of Justice, 99 New York Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20226; telephone: (202) 648-7070.