(Reuters) - The attorneys general of Montana and 22 other states are urging U.S. firearms regulators to drop a proposed ban on a type of ammunition popular with shooting sports enthusiasts but which regulators said could be used by criminals to harm police.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives last month proposed prohibiting the manufacture and sale for the general public of a certain type of military-grade ammunition, M855 5.56 mm, widely used in the AR-15 rifle, because it can pierce protective vests or soft body armor worn by police.
The bullets have for decades been exempt from federal ammunition prohibitions designed to protect law enforcement agencies from armed criminals because the cartridges were geared toward rifles used mostly for shooting sports.
But the exemption came under scrutiny by the ATF in recent years with the rise of commercially available handguns designed to use conventional rifle ammunition, including the M855, according to the agency.
The ATF’s proposal in February to ban the M855 triggered protests by the National Rifle Association and hundreds of members of Congress who feared infringements on gun rights spelled out in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The agency last week said it shelved the proposal after being inundated with 80,000 comments mostly in opposition.
The public comment period on the issue ended Monday. On Tuesday, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox released a letter he and 22 other attorneys general submitted to the ATF in which they argued that any rifle round – not just the M855 – could theoretically pierce soft body armor under certain conditions.
They said the M855 did not constitute a particular threat to law enforcement and was not known to have been used against police in their states.
“Instead, (the proposed ban) threatens Second Amendment freedoms and deprives shooting sports enthusiasts of a popular cartridge for a popular rifle,” wrote Fox and attorneys general from such states as Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Fox, a Republican, said the ATF’s decision to indefinitely shelve the proposed ban was insufficient.
“(It) doesn’t belong on the shelf, it belongs in the shredder,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
The ATF declined to comment on the letter on Tuesday.
Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Beech