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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Special Advisory

For Immediate Release

Friday, February 27, 2015
Contact: Public Affairs Division

Armor Piercing Ammunition Exemption Framework

The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), as amended, provides the Attorney General the authority to exempt projectiles from the restrictions applicable to “armor piercing” ammunition if he determines the projectile is “primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes.” Between 1986 and 2011 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) received few requests for such exemptions. Since 2011 ATF has received approximately 30 such exemption requests.

The GCA defines “armor piercing ammunition” as:

“(i)      a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium; or

(ii)        a full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile.” 

Pursuant to the GCA, ammunition that meets this definition may be eligible for an exemption from the statutory restrictions placed on armor piercing ammunition if ATF finds the ammunition is “primarily intended” for sporting purposes. As part of its review process of the pending exemption requests, ATF sought input from industry and law enforcement organizations on the application of the “sporting purpose” exemption set forth in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(17)(C).

ATF released for public comment a framework, including legal and technical analysis, to guide its determinations on what ammunition is “primarily intended for sporting purposes.” The framework is intended to uphold the requirements of the statute and its goal of law enforcement protection while respecting the interests of sportsmen and the industry. The framework is not a final determination; ATF will accept comments for 30 days, and will finalize the framework after considering those comments and making any appropriate adjustments.

It is important to note that the limitation on “armor piercing ammunition” in the GCA does not apply to projectiles manufactured exclusively from non-restricted materials such as copper and lead; it only applies to projectiles that include the specifically restricted materials, and can be used in a handgun. The framework will not apply to projectiles manufactured exclusively from non-restricted materials; licensed manufacturers will continue to be free to manufacture such projectiles without seeking an exemption.