Politics & Policy

Dems Now Aim for Broad Ammo Ban

Representative Steve Israel (D., N.Y.) (Win McNamee/Getty)
The ATF failed to ban the M855 round; Representative Steve Israel wants to go much much further.

Reacting bitterly to the news that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives had yielded in its attempt to ban the M855, one of the most popular rifle rounds in the country, a small group of congressional Democrats yesterday announced plans to destroy the entire American rifle market. Touting his strong support for what the clique has rather cynically christened the “Modernize Law Enforcement Protection Act,” Representative Steve Israel (D., NY) rehearsed a familiar linguistic trick. “The Second Amendment, which I support,” Israel contended, has “well-intended 18th-century protections.” “But,” he lamented, “we live in a world with 21st-century criminals and increasingly lethal weapons.” As a result, Washington has been left with little choice but to take away your bullets.

In a dull and meaningless sense, Israel’s observation is exact. The Constitution does, in fact, contain “well-intended 18th-century protections”; and we do, in fact, “live in a world with 21st-century criminals and increasingly lethal weapons.” And yet it is difficult to divine what exactly Israel believes this indicates. Far from ushering in ubiquitous carnage and a slew of dead cops, the advent of the “21st century” has brought with it a remarkable reduction in crime, a dramatic diminishment in the unlawful use of firearms, and no real change in the number of police officers who are killed on the job. Since 1993, DOJ statistics show, the number of homicides carried out with firearms has been cut in half, while the number of gun-related violent crimes has dropped a staggering 75 percent.

As for those “increasingly lethal weapons” of Israel’s nightmares — well, it remains the case that the lion’s share of the 21st century’s gun-related transgressions are conducted by criminals in possession of firearms that were designed between 1860 and 1945. Indeed, beloved as they may be within America’s thriving leisure market, the “modern weapons” that keeps Israel and his ilk awake at night are not at all popular among the small criminal element that is responsible for almost all of the gun-related crime in the United States. Nobody, suffice it to say, is knocking over 7/11s with tricked-out AR-15s or handguns that have been altered to accept rifle rounds; instead, they are almost exclusively using the double-action six-shot revolvers and magazine-fed semi-automatic pistols that were regarded as innovative by the generation that fought in the First World War. If modernity has accorded an advantage to America’s outlaws, they are yet to receive the message.

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Equally unclear, but no less curious, is why the gun-control movement has chosen this moment to zero in on so-called “armor-piercing ammunition.” Representative Israel is again technically correct when he suggests that “an armor-piercing bullet in a concealable handgun is not for sport — unless the sport is shooting cops.” But it is downright bizarre to watch him imply that this is a “sport” that anyone is actually playing. For a start, the scenario that apparently haunts both ATF and the House Democratic Caucus — that in which a police officer is shot through his protective vest with an M855 round fired from a handgun — has never come to fruition in all of American history. Nor, for that matter, has the M855 been used to target law enforcement in any other way: “This specific round,” the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police confirmed earlier this month, “has historically not posed a law-enforcement problem.” The rifle-round-ready “handguns” to which Israel and his comrades refer in their press release, meanwhile, are not really “handguns” at all. Rather, they are slightly shortened AR-15-style rifles that have had their stocks removed or altered. Below, you will see a photograph of the sort of “handgun” that is capable of firing a rifle round such as the M855. Clearly we are not dealing here with the sort of light, concealable, and easily brandishable weapon that criminals tend to favor, but with what to all intents and purposes is a small rifle. And rifles, as the FBI confirms, are not the problem.

In friendly circles, the Democrats’ bill is being sold as an attempt to achieve via legislation what the ATF could not manage by fiat. In truth, however, the proposal goes much, much further than that. Per The Hill, the measure “would adjust the definition to any handgun bullet that can shoot through even the weakest body armor worn by police.” (In a similar bill, introduced in 2013, the definition of “weakest” was left to the discretion of the attorney general.) If it were taken literally, Bob Owens notes over at Bearing Arms, such a rule would bring pretty much every handgun round in the country into the fold. Because the “weakest” vests that are worn by police are “designed to stop only shell fragments and anemic handgun and standard .22LR rimfire rounds,” Owens explains, “any modern defensive pistol bullet in 9mm, 40 S&W, and .45ACP” could find itself on the chopping block.

Worse:

the bullet ban legislation would encompass all forms of armor-piercing ammunition that can be used in handguns, even if the ammunition is also popular with hunters, Israel said.

“You don’t have to use an armor-piercing bullet in a hunting rifle,” Israel said. “That’s the point. There are other bullets you could use.”

As a matter of fact, there aren’t, no. As anybody with so much as a fleeting acquaintance with firearms knows, a round’s “armor piercing” capability is primarily a function of its velocity: The faster a round is traveling, the more likely it is to push through a given piece of protective clothing. Because hunters use their firearms to bring down large, muscular, hide-bearing animals — and to do so without causing them too much pain — pretty much all “hunting rounds” are high-velocity, and are therefore likely to be deemed “armor piercing.” Naturally, a bullet that is capable of knocking down a buffalo is also going to be capable of knocking down a man wearing an armored vest. By suggesting that one doesn’t “have to use an armor piercing round in a hunting rifle,” Israel is essentially proposing that one doesn’t have to use a hunting round in a hunting rifle — an inherently ridiculous idea.

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Would his legislation, then, get rid of all hunting rounds entirely? Well, that would depend entirely on how zealous the ATF chose to be with its enforcement. Ostensibly, the bill in question seems to outlaw only those rounds that both are “armor piercing” and can be used in a “handgun,” however that might be defined. In reality, it does a great deal more. Right off the bat, such a law would lead to the prohibition of more than 50 commonly used hunting rounds, including all ammunition for the AR-15, the most popular rifle in the country. And, if the ATF chose to implement the initiative harshly, it would likely be able to find an excuse to prohibit anything it saw fit to remove from the market. Providing that the round could be fired from a handgun, and that it could feasibly make its way through basic body armor, the government could ban it — and with the tacit blessing of Congress, too

Which is to say that the gun-controllers may be down, but they are not out. Far from it, in fact. With this proposal, Steve Israel and his friends have signaled their willingness to react to small losses by proposing massive gains. They have indicated that, long term, they hope to move the gun-control battle into the friendlier and less accountable administrative realm. And they have confirmed that there are many who still hope to bring resounding hammer blows down upon to the right to keep and bear arms, thereby awarding a hostile and mistrustful federal government yet another opportunity to abridge the liberties of the people in the interest of solving problems that simply don’t exist. To even consider the proposal would be to consider the slow bleeding of the Second Amendment itself. The response of all right-thinking people must be loud, and it must be simple: Molon labe.

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