A majority of House lawmakers now are on record opposing the Obama administration’s proposed ban on ammunition commonly used in AR-15 rifles.
A total of 239 lawmakers, including seven Democrats, have signed a letter to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Director Todd Jones urging the agency to abandon the proposed ammo ban.
“Under no circumstances should ATF adopt a standard that will ban ammunition that is overwhelmingly used by law-abiding Americans for legitimate purposes,” the lawmakers wrote Wednesday. Among them was Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said this week that President Obama supports the move because he believes a prohibition on armor-piercing bullets will save the lives of law-enforcement officers. The ATF said in a report that newer handguns are capable of firing the ammo, which is primarily used in rifles for target practice or hunting game.
But the lawmakers and others who track Second Amendment issues say the steel-tipped, .223 caliber M855 ammunition has not been used in any fatal shootings of police officers. Opponents are concerned that the proposal is a backdoor effort by the administration to eliminate the use of AR-15 rifles, and many police officers also oppose the ban.
“The ATF should refocus its efforts on serious threats to law enforcement officers,” the lawmakers wrote. The agency “has not even alleged — much less offered evidence — that even one such round has ever been fired from a handgun at a police officer.”
Rep. Scott Rigell, Virginia Republican, said Mr. Obama “is proposing to make an end run around Congress to advance his attack on the Second Amendment.”
“Congress is firmly against this violation of our constitutional rights, and is committed to ensuring this idea dies on the vine,” he said.
Sale of the ammo has been legal since 1986. There are more than 5 million AR-15 rifles in the U.S. There is a handgun version of the AR-15, but it costs about $1,000, is nearly two feet long, weighs about six pounds and isn’t easy to conceal.
As the issue heats up, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, is circulating a letter to lawmakers in support of the ATF’s proposed ban.
“It is prudent to consider the likely use of ammunition in these non-sporting handguns, and the danger they present to law enforcement officers and our communities,” she said in the letter.
Ms. Maloney mounted an effort to ban the AR-15 rifle and similar firearms in 2013.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, and Mr. Goodlatte have said if the ATF bans the ammo, they would support legislation to overturn the action.
Opponents of the ban also say that the move runs counter to the intent of Congress when it approved the law governing armor-piercing ammunition in 1986.
During a Senate hearing on the subject in 1985, bill sponsor Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York Democrat, said the legislation “would not limit the availability of rifle ammunition with armor-piercing capability.”
“We recognize that soft body armor is not intended to stop high-powered rifle cartridges,” Mr. Moynihan said at the time. “… only bullets capable of penetrating body armor and designed to be fired from a handgun would be banned; rifle ammunition would not be covered.”