Monday, February 16, 2015

My letter to the ATF regarding the proposed M855/SS109 ban.

Here, in entirety is my letter to the ATF regarding the proposed amendment to the 1968 GCA.  I had enough people ask what I put in mine that I decided to publish it here.

This letter serves to notify all concerned of my deep opposition to the proposed ban on M855 and SS109 ammunition detailed in the BATFE White Paper titled:


As a proposed amendment to the 1968 GCA, this ban if implemented will remove M855 and SS109 from the citizen market, the reasoning for this detailed by the ATF is “To protect the lives and safety of law enforcement officers from the threat posed by ammunition capable of penetrating a protective vest when fired from a handgun, the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), as amended, prohibits the import, manufacture, and distribution of “armor piercing ammunition” as defined by the statute. The GCA, however, allows for the exemption of ammunition that would otherwise be considered armor piercing if the Attorney General determines that the specific ammunition at issue is “primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes.”

Having served in law enforcement for nearly 10 years in addition to serving as a firearms instructor and training developer, I find that this proposed amendment to the 1968 GCA both an egregious mistake and a foolish attempt to further tighten already nonsensical firearms laws.  As the ATF believes that removal of the M855 and SS109 will help prevent law enforcement deaths as both rounds can penetrate common law enforcement soft body armor, I can only point out that many other government agencies including the FBI and the National Institute for Justice (specifically the  NIJ Ballistic Resistance Standard, 0101.06) state that any 5.56mm or .223 round, even the most common 55 grain FMJ can penetrate the level II and level IIIA armor so banning what is considered by the ATF to be an “armor piercing” round, the M855/SS109, is misinformed, disingenuous or improperly researched.  As the ATF has extensive existing research and capability for additional research, this move is both curiously timed and disturbingly ill conceived.

Furthermore, when referring to the FBIs Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted annual report,   of the 535 Officers feloniously killed 2003-2012 (the most current statistics) only 92 were killed with rifles and of those killed with rifles, only 5 were killed by a rifle chambered in .223/5.56mm.  It’s also telling that of the 535 officers killed, 21 died as a direct result of a body armor penetration (identified as the round fired exceeding the vests protection rating) and only one of total body armor failure.  Looking strictly at statistics, a ban on M855/SS109 does not equal a common sense approach to officer protection or a wise use of tax payer money.

 If anything, the ATF’s proposal looks more and more like an attempt to remove a threat that doesn’t factually exist from a round that is used overwhelmingly more in sport, hunting and training than in felony attacks on peace officers.  While the round is more dangerous for those facing an assailant armed with a rifle chambered to fire it, specifically the identified and imagined threat from an AR pistol, there simply are no facts to back up a ban on the M855/SS109 for the reasons stated and banning a certain type of bullet based on what may happen is not common sense nor a move meeting even the weakest burden of proof for justification.

To identify the M855/SS109 as “armor piercing” is to label it incorrectly and shows little understanding of modern ballistics in rifle calibers.   These rounds are no more dangerous (in fact, remarkably less so) than the dangers presented by law enforcement vehicle pursuits.   The loss of any life is a tragedy, and being in law enforcement I know the anger and loss felt when an officer is killed in the line of duty, however this proposed ban will not bring back the 5 officers killed by .223/5.56mm rounds and will do exactly nothing to prevent a future crime.  This ban will directly affect the citizen shooting population and ammunition companies (and their employees) by removing one of the most economical and versatile rounds on the market.  The ATF would better serve the shooting public and the Second Amendment by conducting a full review of their regulations and removing those that no longer (or never did) apply to the modern world.

It is also worth noting that the “sporting purpose” clause as cited by the ATF is a government manifested category that is loosely interpreted and boldly draconian as it does not address the very real nature of ammunition being used for self-defense purposes as well, which would not fall into a “sporting” or “hunting” category.  Given the sheer amount of ammunition on the market that is identified by the manufactures as being “self-defense” focused in its design, the ATF is focusing on an imagined threat while circumventing, in my opinion, the constitutionally protected rights of the citizenry.

As a law enforcement officer this proposed amendment will not make me any safer; its lip service only.

I honestly hope that more educated positions will prevail and this proposal will be abandoned in favor of an informed approach to correcting not only this situation, but previously modified, amended or arbitrarily changed regulations so that the American public can enjoy all the freedoms intended to them.  It should not be the ATF’s mission to constantly introduce new and more restrictive laws/regulations; rather it should be their duty to see the rights of the people protected by monitoring wise and fact based changes that reflect both the spirit of the Second Amendment and its specific wording.


Aaron Cowan


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