ATF Bans More Ammo
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has declared that Russian 7N6, 5.45x39 rifle ammunition is “armor piercing handgun ammunition,” and therefore illegal for importation into the US. The ammunition has been widely available in the US for decades and was originally designed for the AK74 service rifle, a smaller, lighter adaptation of the AK47. The “handgun ammunition” label arises from an obscure Polish company importing a short-barreled, removable-stock model of the AK74 that is technically labeled as a pistol. Since this “pistol” is chambered in 5.45x39, that cartridge has been ruled to be included under the definition “may be used in a handgun,” resulting in the 7N6 ammo, with its steel core, being forbidden for importation, sale, or manufacture in the US under provisions added to the Gun Control Act in 1986.
This ruling is particularly significant to us because the law it is based on was at the heart of the creation of our organization, The Firearms Coalition. Back in 1982, a report on NBC News Magazine stirred up a huge controversy over a steel, Teflon-coated, pistol bullet called the KTW. The bullet was designed primarily for police use in special circumstances such as dealing with assailants wearing body armor or hiding behind barricades, and had been on the market since the 1960s. Though the ammunition was expensive, typically sold only to law enforcement, and had never been used to kill a police officer by penetrating his vest, it was nonetheless labeled as “Cop Killer Bullets.” The hype grew and was even incorporated into popular movies like the absurd “Lethal Weapon 3.”
By 1984, pressure was on in Washington to ban these bullets, which had almost never been used in crime, and wouldn’t have been even known about by most criminals had it not been for the exaggerations in the media. Various proposals were introduced in Congress and the momentum for passage of one of them was very strong. While the NRA was reporting to their members that they were strongly opposed to all of this legislation – and calling for donations to help them fight it – they were in fact working with elements in Congress to develop language that they believed gun owners “could live with.” My father, Neal Knox, was adamantly opposed to any legislation suggesting that some bullets are too dangerous for responsible Americans to possess. He was also outraged at the duplicity of NRA leadership for the way they were misleading their members about their position. Dad had been fired as NRA’s chief lobbyist just two years earlier and the tensions between him and his former employer were high.
In these pre-Internet days, keeping gun owners informed about pending legislation was much more difficult. Then, as now, the primary source for firearm-related legislative news was the NRA, but their main outlet the American Rifleman magazine, had an almost 3-month lead time; much too long to keep concerned citizens abreast of fast-moving congressional actions. The weekly newspaper that my father helped to create in 1966, Gun Week, was timelier, but had limited circulation.
Through friends in the industry and other connections, Dad put together a list of gun rights leaders and activists around the country, and on July 4, 1984 he put out the first edition of his newsletter, the Hard Corps Report, informing people of what was really going on and inviting them to join his new organization, The Firearms Coalition. The mission of the new organization was to publish what NRA and Congress were really up to, and encourage people to contact their elected representatives – and the NRA – to urge them to stand by the principles of freedom. For the next two years, he led the fight to stop the banning of hard metal bullets; pointing out that we had previously fought against attempts to ban bullets that opponents said were too soft – causing too much damage on impact – and that any ban would have no effect on criminals or police safety, but would interfere with, and potentially make criminals of, regular gun owners.
In the end a ban on the manufacture, sale, and importation of handgun ammunition made from several specific, harder metals, was passed with the NRA’s blessing, and signed into law by President Reagan. The NRA assured its members that their definition had so watered-down the law that it would make no difference to regular gun owners, but Dad warned that the language adopted left the door open for future expansion of the ban, potentially covering military surplus and certain types of hunting and target ammo.
That prediction has proven accurate. Today, even as anti-hunting and “environmental” groups are howling for bans on traditional lead bullets for hunting and target shooting, ATF is redefining rifle ammunition as handgun ammo based on a few chopped-down or built up firearms that are handguns only through the most tortured reading of the law. Specialized, solid brass hunting bullets have been banned along with inexpensive, military surplus products like 7N6. The fact that armor-piercing ammunition has never been a significant factor in crime makes little difference to the anti-gunners. Neither does the fact that virtually any rifle round will easily penetrate standard police body armor, regardless of bullet construction. But those facts don’t fit the narrative and have no place in the rulemaking exercise.
Legislation based on little knowledge and lots of hype results in bad laws, infringement of rights, and criminalization of non-criminal behavior.
As we at The Firearms Coalition prepare our 30th anniversary edition of the Hard Corps Report, we look back and acknowledge once again that, as usual, Dad was right.
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