Segments of the gun-rights community are trying to block a proposed ban on certain kinds of bullets by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Paul Bedard, a columnist with the conservative Washington Examiner, recently took up the cry.
"President Obama is using executive actions to impose gun control on the nation," Bedard wrote Feb. 27, 2015. "Targeting the top-selling rifle in the country, the AR-15 style semi-automatic, with a ban on one of the most-used AR bullets by sportsmen and target shooters."
We left phone messages and sent emails several times to Bedard and did not hear back. Our focus is whether Obama is using executive action to impose gun control through a bullet ban.
There’s some information to unpack here.
Where the claim comes from
Though we didn’t hear back from Bedard, he’s talking about the ATF’s plan for one particular type of bullet -- a 5.56 mm "green tip." It is found in SS109 and M855 cartridges, and it’s one of the more popular types of ammunition in America, experts told us.
But this February, the ATF announced a proposal to remove an exemption that allowed gun owners to use this particular kind of ammunition. The agency’s reasoning? It can pierce the sort of body armor often worn by police, and it can be fired from a handgun.
The ammunition isn’t new, nor is its ability to pierce body armor. What is new is that gun manufacturers are making handguns that use a 5.56 mm "green tip."
That, ATF says, violates the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 1985 that aimed to ban armor piercing bullets.
"The AR-based handguns and rifles utilize the same magazines and share identical receivers," the ATF wrote in an explanatory brief. "These AR-type handguns were not commercially available when the armor piercing ammunition exemption was granted in 1986. To ensure consistency, upon final implementation of the sporting purpose framework outlined above, ATF must withdraw the exemptions for 5.56 mm "green tip" ammunition, including both the SS109 and M855 cartridges."
The public has until March 16 to comment on the proposal. ATF will assess those comments and then issue a final ruling. It has not said when it will decide.
Nearly 240 members of Congress signed a letter to ATF opposing the change.
‘Using executive actions’
That’s the background. Now how does that jibe with Bedard’s claim?
Bedard called this an executive action by the president. That is a stretch of the common reading of the phrase.
Yes, ATF is part of the executive branch, but there’s no evidence this was a decision made by Obama (compared to, say, Obama’s executive action on immigration.)
ATF said the proposal came after it received 30 requests for exemptions to permit this sort of bullet in handguns between 2011 and today. Until then, the agency said it had received few such requests. ATF spokeswoman Janice Kemp told PunditFact "this started with us."
When this issue came up in a daily White House press briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest said this was an ATF process that was open to public comment. (The comment period ends on March 16.) However, he said the administration supports the proposal as a "common sense" step.
"This seems to be an area where everyone should agree that if there are armor-piercing bullets available that can fit into easily concealed weapons, that it puts our law enforcement at considerably more risk," Earnest said.
‘Impose gun control on the nation’
Bedard also said Obama’s actions "impose gun control on the nation."
That claim is also a stretch of the common meaning of the phrase. The ATF says that banning this particular kind of bullet would leave gunowners with 168 other varieties of bullets to use in the same weapons. Bullets made with copper or lead remain legal under the 1986 law.
Steven Howard, a Michigan attorney and firearms specialist, agrees with ATF’s basic point. "Instead of shooting this particular cartridge with the forbidden bullet, you’d still have a whole bunch of different ones that you could run through," he said. "A lot of this is fear mongering more than anything else. People are afraid that the list of banned ammo will grow." (Howard among them, he told us.)
Another important point: People who already have these bullets could still use them, but they wouldn’t be able to get any more in the future.
That said, removing the exemption for this type of bullet would have consequences.
Sam Raheb owns Close Focus Research, a ballistics testing lab in California. Raheb said the main impact on shooters is that their ammunition might cost more. "Before this, you could get a green-point for about 40 cents a round," Raheb said. "If you had to buy a commercial hunting grade cartridge, it could cost you $1 a round."
Kyle Weaver, the National Rifle Association’s executive director of operations also cited cost during a recent interview. Weaver was asked about the effect on shooter training. "This is the inexpensive ammo they train with and shoot with," Weaver said. "This is not the high-end stuff. This is what they shoot every day."
And Wes Mason, manager of technical operations at another testing center, HP White Laboratory, said the proposal wouldn’t address other types of handgun ammunition that could pierce armor and would still be legal under the proposed change.
"Its counterparts have the same characteristics when you’re talking about piercing body armor," Mason said.
That would make the proposal ineffective in protecting police.
Lastly, Bedard said the administration was targeting the rifle version of the AR-15. That is his interpretation. It is the pistol version that drew the ATF’s attention. The agency’s proposal would leave both the pistol and rifle versions untouched, although the ammunition for both would be affected if the "green tip" is banned.
Bedard said Obama was using executive action to impose gun control through a ban on certain bullets.
An executive agency, the ATF, has proposed removing an exemption for a specific type of ammunition because gun manufacturers have started selling handguns that fire the rounds. That violates a 1986 federal law, the ATF says, aimed at protecting police from armor piercing bullets.
Bedard’s shorthanding this as "executive action" is misleading, though Obama does support the proposal.
Also, it’s worth noting that the ban would not amount to gun control per se; the ATF notes that 168 other varieties of bullets will work in the same weapons. The primary impact would be a higher price for ammunition. And while Bedard says the move targets the rifle version, it is the pistol version and the cartridges it uses that lie at the center of the ATF proposal.
The claim contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give another impression. We rate it Mostly False.
Note: This claim was fact-checked as part of a reward to our Kickstarter campaign to live fact-check the 2015 State of the Union. Thanks to all who contributed.