New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman, Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and Sen. Chris Murphy are urging the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to renew its attempt to ban M855 armor-piercing bullets.
Earlier this month, the ATF proposed a ban of M855 “green tip” rounds — which can be fired from some handguns and can penetrate bulletproof vests — but they withdrew that proposal after receiving widespread criticism from members of the public, congressional Republicans and the National Rifle Association. In response, Esserman and Blumenthal held a press conference on March 13 to encourage people across the state to write to Congress and to the ATF in support of the ban.
“[Police chiefs] worry every day and every night about the safety of our officers. An officer who wears a bulletproof vest should be one who has a sense of some safety,” Esserman said during the conference. “A bullet that can pierce a bulletproof vest can also pierce their body. It’s just something that none of us can accept.”
Blumenthal told the News that the ATF had succumbed to pressure from a small minority of Americans opposed to the ban and that the purpose of the press conference was to ensure that the ATF hears from the “vast majority of Americans who agree with common-sense measures” such as the regulation of armor-piercing ammunition.
A proposed ban would prevent manufacturers from producing, selling, importing or distributing M855.
The ATF announced the withdrawal of their proposal for an indefinite amount of time. ATF Public Affairs Chief Ginger Colbrun said in an email that the withdrawal was motivated by widespread criticism of the ban.
“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 were critical of the framework, and include issues that deserve further study,” Colbrun wrote.
M855 rounds were originally produced for the military and were later adopted by civilians for sporting purposes. The majority of armor-piercing bullets are already banned under federal law. However, the Gun Control Act of 1968 allows for the exemption of armor-piercing ammunition that the Attorney General determines “primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes” — such as M855. The ATF recently proposed banning M855 because it is now used in some handguns, which were not commercially available in 1986 when the ammunition was granted exemption from the federal ban.
Catherine Mortensen, a spokesperson for the NRA, characterized the attempted ban as “backdoor regulation,” stating that Blumenthal and Murphy are urging the ATF to ban the bullets because they know any attempt to ban the ammunition through legislative action would fail.
“They’re doing this because they’re desperate, and they don’t have the will of the American people on their side,” she said.
According to Mortensen, 239 members of the House of Representatives and 52 members of the Senate signed letters to the ATF opposing the ban. Mortensen added that no law enforcement official has ever been killed by M855.
In response, Blumenthal said in an email to the News that police have sound reason to be concerned about the ammunition.
“Chief Esserman told me that he worries every day and every night about the safety of his officers,” he said. “I fully understand his concern since there are bullets being sold — legally — capable of piercing his officers’ bulletproof vests. For police in New Haven, and in all communities across the nation, we simply cannot wait for tragedy to act here.”
Under the proposed ban, gun owners who had purchased the bullets before the ban could continue to own them legally.