I’m about to make a bunch of my friends really uncomfortable. Those of us who believe strongly in Second Amendment rights have to stand united in our opposition to the proposed reclassification of M855 (or Green-Tip) ammo. We cannot fight this ban by misreading regulations or engaging in wishful thinking. I’m about to pick apart some of the most vocal arguments I’ve heard in the last week. I want to make it clear–I’m doing this in support of this fight. We will not win by butchering facts.
And yes, we do have a lot more at stake in this argument than M855. Read on. Read carefully. This is about to get complicated. There are two key things to know now:
- M855 ammunition does have a steel core. Keep your finger off the comment button until you’ve read why.
- There’s a lot more at stake than just M855.
The proposed ban of M855 (SS109)
Let’s begin with the basics. The BATFE has announced that it intends to revoke the exemption previously granted to M855, more commonly known as Green-Tip, .223. More specifically, they’re looking for a working guide for classifying ammunition as armor piercing.
DOJ spokesman Patrick Rosenbush said in a statement:
“Under the Gun Control Act [of 1968], Congress acted to protect law enforcement from armor piercing ammunition that can be fired from a handgun. The law explicitly authorizes the Attorney General to exempt ammunition ‘primarily intended for sporting purposes.’ No action has been taken –ATF is simply proposing, and requesting public comment on, a framework to enforce the law that Congress passed and provide guidance for the industry through a transparent process for making exemption decisions.”
Let’s look closely at the BATFE’s rationale. The M855 round is armor piercing. No thinking human being can dispute this. M855 is easily capable of penetrating Type I, IIA, II, and IIIA. Even when fired from most AR pistols, the M855 can penetrate some types of armor. It is pointless (and counter productive) to argue that–because it can be stopped by Type IV armor–it isn’t armor piercing (an argument I’ve heard more than once this week). Most police officers wear IIIA vests, at most,–and it is their safety that is (dubiously) in question.
Interestingly, the original Gun Control Act referenced above contained a provision that allowed some “armor piercing” rounds escape the ban. The GCA took into account intent. If a round was intended to be fired from a rifle, it was exempt from the handgun provision. There were few rifle caliber pistols at that time. Not anymore. The incredible popularity of the AR pistol has (the ATF argues) increased the chance that LEOs will face criminals with more easily concealed rifle caliber pistols capable of shooting through their inadequate vests.
Enter in the LEOPA of 1985
Concerned that the GCA of 1968 left ambiguity in this question of intent, lawmakers revisited the issue in the 1980s. The Law Enforcement Officer Protection Act removed the question of intended use and replaced it with this articulate definition.
The M855’s bullet is comprised of three main components: the jacket, the lead core, and the steel core.
Yes. You read correctly. The M855 has a steel core. Green tip. Steel core. I’ve listened to a lot of conflated nomenclature in the last week that wishfully combines the two into steel-tip, in an attempt to skirt the “core” definition. It doesn’t help that M855A1 does have a steel tip–but that’s a different essay.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve argued with in the last week about this very issue. All of the arguments go something like this: “The M855 has a lead core with a steel tip.” Too many of us want to simply ignore what the statement above says about projectiles and cores. Instead, we read what we want to read. And if you look at the image on the right, you will see that the M855 actually has a tip comprised of its jacket. No steel.
Consider this well intentioned letter:
To Whom It May Concern:I oppose reclassifying M855 ammunition as “armor piercing.” Because of the high lead-content of its bullet, M855 does not meet the BATFE’s own definition of armor piercing ammunition.
To Whom it May Concern:I am writing to comment on the proposed determination regarding SS109/M855 .223/5.56 ammunition.Based on the language used within 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(B), I believe that this ammunition is, in the first place, improperly classified as armor piercing:[…]First, as can be seen in Figure 1, the core is NOT constructed ENTIRELY of any of the listed materials, but instead consists of a two-part core comprised of lead and steel.
The mistake is more subtle. “…the core….” But honestly: “I believe”? This part of the argument isn’t about opinion.
Here’s the crux of the biscuit:
“a projectile or projectile core….”
You will note the omission of the indefinite article “a” between the words “or projectile core.” Had there had been a limiting constraint put on the word core, like “one” core, or “the” core, we might be able to argue against the existence of a steel core. But we can’t. No matter how you cut up that single description, the M855’s projectile fits the bill.
There is no article preceding the noun “core.” Nor is there a indefinite article. Instead, we’re looking at a a grammatical absence known as the “zero article,” which essentially means that the noun lacks an identifier. The noun, then, becomes indefinite. This is not about just one core. The projectile in this equation can be made up of multiple cores.
While I agree with the “one core” wishful thinking from a philosophical perspective, it doesn’t change the fact that the component parts of the M855 projectile have a long paper trail that includes actual names for these parts.
Semantics. Grammar. Syntax. They matter. I know I’m the editor of a blog, and I play fast and loose with language–but I’m pulling rank in this argument. On behalf of all of us who love M855, I want to advise against anyone using the one-core line of attack. We can’t fight lawyers and politicians by making up our own terms for items that have already been named.
I’m having difficulty putting my hands on the patent drawings for the original SS109 projectile, which would later be designated the M855. But there are numerous patents that include descriptions of bullets based on the bullet. Here’s one (emphasis added):
Examples of jacketed, boat-tailed bullets can be found in small caliber, 0.5 inch and under, penetrator projectiles used by military forces worldwide. For example, the United States and NATO military forces use vast quantities of M855 cartridges containing 62 grain penetrator bullets, one of which is depicted generally at 10 in FIG. 1. As shown in FIG. 1, the M855 bullet 10 has two aligned cores12 and 14 enveloped by a brass jacket 16. A steel core12 is located in a nose section 18 of the bullet 10 and a 32 grain lead core 14 is swaged into a rear section 20. The bullet 10 has a heel that is tapered to form a boat-tail 22, which provides the bullet 10 with ballistic stability and improved aerodynamic performance. In this case, the boat-tail 22 extends from a bearing surface 24 of the bullet 10 to a base 26 of the bullet 10. At a total weight of 62 grains, the M855 bullet 10 has the kinetic energy required to penetrate a 10 gage steel plate when fired from a distance of 600 meters.
If you’re keeping score at home, note the inclusion of these phrases: “the M855 has two aligned cores”, “steel core”, “lead core.” In other places, you’ll find phrases like “front core,” too. We will not win an argument–any argument–by attempting to redefine the word core, or by attempting to limit the number of cores a single bullet can contain. Case in point:
Cutting through our own bullshit
Here’s a subtle lie that’s being perpetuated on FoxNews.com:
“The law, which was passed in 1986, gives the agency authority to ban bullets that are ‘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.’”
The article’s author, Maxim Lott, is guilty of a very serious infraction. The law does cover “bullets that are ‘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,” but that isn’t the M855. That is in no way the M855. M855 isn’t “constructed entirely” of any one thing. Those bullets exist, but are not M855. And pretending, in print, that this is what we’re fighting about makes it harder for us to win this fight.
Follow me through this people. Mr. Lott, in constructing his argument for Fox News, has chosen to leave out the part of the ruling that does define M855. The question of the steel core. I can understand why Lott and the editors of FoxNews.com screwed up. This is complicated. This is way more complicated than most Americans, firearms enthusiasts or not, are capable of understanding.
Even our long-time friend and ally, Alan Gottlieb–arguably one of the most ardent defenders of freedom I could name–seems confused about the issue. Here’s his contribution to FoxNews.com’s fair-and-balanced article:
“Almost any hunting rifle bullet will go through body armor, so you could prohibit almost any rifle bullet with this. This is the administration redefining the law on its own.”
On the surface, Gottlieb appears mistaken about the language of the ban. We’re talking about pistol rounds, not rifle rounds. The M855 began its life as a rifle round, but now can be fired from an AR pistol. Still, I give Gottlieb more credit than I do most mainstream journalists. And I think I see a more worrying message hidden in Gottlieb’s statement. At the risk of attempting to speak for Gottlieb, which I would never presume to do, I will explain what his quote may imply.
“Almost any hunting rifle bullet [capable of being fired from a pistol platform] will go through [type II soft] body armor, so you could [if we were to ignore the component classification of core design and jacket weights] prohibit almost any rifle bullet [capable of being fired from a pistol platform]. ” What he’s saying is that M855 is on the chopping block, and if we were to use the ability to puncture type II soft body armor as a rule, than all 5.56 and .223 would disappear.
In other words, we do have something to actually fear. The BATFE’s attempt to choke off the supply of available M855, using the LEOPA’s language, is nothing. There could be far worse to come.
Consider this. If the M855 ban passes muster this time, based on the skewed logic that these bullets pose an extraordinary risk to LEOs, than that decision could be used as precedent to widen the ban and ban all rifle bullets that could be fired from pistols. Goodbye .223, 7.62×39, 5.56, .30 Carbine, .308, 5.45…. How long is this list?
So what do we do?
We continue to fight. We protest the reclassification of M855, if it indeed gets passed. We plan our arguments more effectively. If we attack the logic of this ban based on our own wishful thinking, we deserve what we get.
If you would like to contact the various powers-that-be, use an argument that will withstand basic tests of logic. This is one of the best letters I’ve seen to date, and it addresses the real issue: banning M855 in the name of officer safety simply makes no sense.
Allow your voice to be heard clearly. Don’t give in. Never give in. Stand. Fight. But for our sake, make sure you know what the hell you are talking about.