Bowing again to opposition from Second Amendment supporters, the Obama administration Tuesday backed off on another gun control proposal, specifically a proposal to ban ammunition commonly used in AR-15 rifles.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it was dropping the proposed ammo ban — at least for now — due to overwhelming opposition from the public.
“The vast majority of the comments received to date are critical” of the proposal, ATF said in a statement, adding that officials plan to give the issue “more study.”
On its Twitter account, the agency told the public, “You spoke, we listened.” More than 80,000 people had written to the agency, which pulled the proposal even before its public comment period was to end Monday.
Republican lawmakers and other Second Amendment supporters hailed the decision, saying it demonstrated the strength of gun owners and/or was a rebuke to another attempt at executive power overreach by the Obama administration.
“The strength of people who support and take their Second Amendment rights seriously has never been stronger,” said Larry Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “I frankly don’t think ATF had much choice in the matter. It was clear that Congress was not going to let it go forward.”
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A majority of the House and Senate already had gone on record in opposition to the proposal, which would have banned .223-caliber M855 “green tip” ammo.
Senate Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, said the ATF’s proposal to eliminate a legal exemption for the armor-piercing ammunition “was met with stiff rebuke.”
“ATF’s original proposal to short-circuit the exemption and limit access to rifle ammunition was an affront to the Second Amendment to the Constitution,” Mr. Grassley said.
It was another sharp setback for President Obama’s efforts at gun control, though on a lower profile than the administration’s failed attempt to enact background checks on gun purchases in 2013. Just on Monday, the White House had said the proposed ban was a “common-sense” measure that would save the lives of law enforcement officers.
“This seems to be an area where everyone should agree that if there are armor-piercing bullets available that can fit into easily concealed weapons, that it puts our law enforcement at considerably more risk,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
But law enforcement groups didn’t come out in support of the proposal, and some were outspoken in their opposition.
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Congress has banned armor-piercing ammunition for handguns since 1986 as a way to protect police officers. Gun rights groups have argued that the ammo ban was a backdoor attempt to ban rifles such as the AR-15, mostly used for target shooting or hunting.
“Today’s announcement proves what we have said all along — this was 100 percent political,” said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association. “Obama failed to pass gun control through Congress, so he tried [to] impose his political agenda through executive fiat.”
The decision also came amid a six-figure ad campaign by the Second Amendment Foundation, launched nationwide Monday on TV and radio, aimed at exposing legal holes in the proposed ammo ban. The ads urged Americans to call a toll-free number and voice their opposition to “another executive power grab” by Mr. Obama.
There was no shortage of lawmakers taking credit for the ATF’s reversal.
Rep. John Abney Culberson, Texas Republican and chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the ATF, said he had a meeting with ATF officials on Thursday that resulted in “a consensus on how to best move forward.”
“This is an example of how regulators and Congress should work together,” Mr. Culberson said. “All of us in Texas love law enforcement and want to help ATF officers stop gun smugglers, drug smugglers and other criminals — not law-abiding American sportsmen who use this ammo every day for target practice, shooting competitions and hunting.”
The ATF said after the public comment period closes Monday, it will “further evaluate the issues raised” by the public and provide “additional open and transparent process” before proceeding with any further action. It did not specify what action that might be.
“Although ATF endeavored to create a proposal that reflected a good faith interpretation of the law and balanced the interests of law enforcement, industry and sportsmen, the vast majority of the comments received to date are critical of the framework, and include issues that deserve further study,” the ATF said.
The proposed regulation, which would have banned the production and sale of the steel-tipped ammunition, was a response to an ATF report that claimed new handguns are capable of firing the ammunition. But the new AR-15 “handguns” are nearly 2 feet long and weigh about 6 pounds, making them difficult to conceal in the manner handguns are usually defined as being.