A federal judge is upholding the ATF’s ban on importing a specific ammunition cartridge. The judge agreed with the ATF’s decision to classify 7N6 surplus ammunition as armor-piercing handgun ammunition and, therefore, ban it.
The cartridge, 7N6, is — or was — a popular product among AK and some AR rifle enthusiasts. A military surplus cartridge, 7N6 was dirt cheap, one of the least expensive intermediate rifle cartridges on the market.
In the spring of 2014, the ATF argued that it was an armor-piercing handgun round and blocked it from all future imports. For shooters, this was an especially bold move as the cartridge does not conform to the ATF’s own guidelines. According to the ATF, an armor-piercing handgun cartridge must contain:
- A projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is 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, or,
- A full jacketed projectile larger than .22-caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile.
While the 7N6 projectile is part steel, it only has a mild steel core and the steel only makes up part of the bullet. Secondly, being a 5.45x39mm round, 7N6 uses a .22-caliber bullet. And finally, no production 5.45x39mm pistol has ever been commercially available — it’s a rifle cartridge, not a handgun cartridge.
Still, the fact the cartridge does have steel in its core and it’s possible to make pistols chambered for it was enough for the judge to uphold the ATF’s decision. The U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour handed down the ruling on Wednesday.
Coughenour argued that because 7N6 bullets are capable of penetrating some types of body armor that the case, brought to the court by Washington-based P.W. Arms, Inc, was “disingenuous,” reports the Seattle Times. P.W. Arms filed suit in late 2015 after initially getting the approval to import at least 100 million rounds of the ammo. When the ATF banned 7N6, P.W. Arms argued that the move cost the company millions.
However, this is typical of all conventional rifle ammunition — most centerfire rifle ammo can penetrate some kind of armor. For example, armor rated for handgun rounds generally won’t stop any popular rifle rounds for hunting or self-defense. A bullet doesn’t need a special penetrating core to pass through steel plates if it’s got enough speed and mass.
And the steel insert in 7N6 isn’t there to improve the penetrating power of the bullet — it’s a cost-cutting measure. The Firearm Blog explains, saying that it “follows the Soviet practice established in the 1950s of using a steel core insert inside of a lead sheath, instead of a plain lead core. This design has the purpose of conserving lead for economic reasons, a critical concern during warfare.
“This style of core is made of very soft (and therefore inexpensive) mild steel and has been demonstrated in multiple different calibers to add no substantial armor piercing effect to a round versus lead-only cored steel-jacketed ammunition of otherwise similar design.”
In 2015 the ATF attempted to ban 5.56x45mm “Green Tip” ammunition for similar reasons. Due to overwhelming public and political outcry, the ATF chose not to classify the ammo as armor-piercing handgun ammunition.