ATF shelves bullet ban proposal

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The Obama administration is backing off its plan to ban a type of armor-piercing ammunition following a deluge of criticism from gun rights groups and congressional Republicans.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said Tuesday it will not ban bullets commonly used in AR-15 hunting rifles “at this time,” after receiving more than 80,000 comments on the proposal.

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“The vast majority of the comments received to date are critical of the framework, and include issues that deserve further study,” the agency said in a statement. “Accordingly, ATF will not at this time seek to issue a final framework.”

The National Rifle Association (NRA), which launched a campaign against the ban immediately after it was proposed last month, declared victory.

“NRA members fought back as the tip of the spear” said Chris Cox, executive director of the powerful group’s lobbying arm.

“This is a win for not only America’s gun owners, but everyone who supports the Constitution, because if the president can undermine a fundamental freedom such as this, then he can undermine anything.”

Democrats and gun control groups blasted the move, accusing the administration of caving.

“It’s shameful that the gun lobby has, yet again, successfully worked to block an effort that would keep our communities safer from the threat of gun violence,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).

Hunters and sportsmen have long used the bullets in question — 5.56mm projectiles for M855 cartridges — but the ATF had argued the ammunition can now be used in certain handguns, giving criminals easier access and putting police officers in greater danger. The ban would have prohibited the sale and manufacture of the bullets.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence cast the decision to halt the proposal as the ATF hitting “the pause button” on the ban, and called into question the logic of permitting the armor-piercing bullets.

“The question remains, ‘Why would a civilian need to walk the streets with a handgun chambered with military-grade, armor-piercing ammunition?’” asked Brady spokesman Jonathan Hutson.  

The ATF has argued that the proposal wouldn’t stop hunters from using AR-15s, because there are 168 other types of bullets that can be used in that rifle. But gun advocates warned the proposal would open the floodgates to new ammunition bans. 

Congressional Republicans joined the gun rights groups in rallying against the ban.

“It’s that fuzzy thinking that it’s the nature of a bullet that causes crime,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP senator praises Supreme Court's abortion ruling This week: Zika, Puerto Rico fights loom ahead of recess Juan Williams: GOP sounds the sirens over Trump MORE (R-Texas) told The Hill after Tuesday’s announcement. “It’s not the bullets, it’s the people who pull the trigger.”

“The focus should not to be on law-abiding citizens, because they are not a threat to the public,” he added. “It ought to be on the people who are criminals.”

A day earlier, Senate Republicans had ramped up the pressure on the ATF to scrap the plan, writing to ATF Director B. Todd Jones, “Second Amendment rights require not only access to firearms, but to bullets.”

“If law-abiding gun owners cannot obtain rifle ammunition, or face substantial difficulty in finding ammunition available and at reasonable prices because government entities are banning such ammunition, then the Second Amendment is at risk,” the letter signed by 53 senators states.

Hundreds of House Republicans last week sent a similar letter to Jones demanding the ATF withdraw the rule.

Leading the House letter was Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteOvernight Finance: Anxiety grows over Brexit vote | Investors prefer Trump to Clinton in poll | Key chairman open to censuring IRS chief Judiciary chairman signals openness to censuring IRS chief A fix for the well-intended ethanol flop MORE (R-Va.), who said Tuesday he was “pleased that the Obama administration has abandoned its attack on the Second Amendment.”

“It is entirely inappropriate for President Obama to stretch his regulatory authority to implement partisan policies that Congress has refused to enact,” Goodlatte said in a statement.

The ATF is also facing GOP legislation that would roll back the agency’s authority to regulate bullets. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) introduced the Protecting Second Amendment Rights Act last month in response to the bullet ban.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyDozens of senators push EPA for higher ethanol mandate Civil liberties group mobilizes against surveillance amendment Brother may I? Congress must reform senseless drug regulation MORE (R-Iowa) said Tuesday the ATF pulled back because of a “stiff rebuke” from Republicans.

In fact, Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) threatened to practically defund the ATF in an agency meeting last week.

“I explained to the ATF that if they continued to interfere with law-abiding Americans’ Second Amendment rights, they were going to have a very bad budget year,” he told The Hill.

In shelving the plan, the ATF did not close the door to moving forward with the ban at a later time, saying the agency would take time to “further study” the issue. 

“They have not backed off their desire to ban ammunition or rejected the proposal entirely as they should,” Cox said. “So this fight keeps going.”