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More questions--and more answers--needed about 'armor piercing' ammo standards

Be vewy, vewy quiet--I'm hunting jackbooted thugs
Photo © Oleg Volk. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) reports that U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has written a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, asking how the BATFE will be defining "armor piercing" ammunition, which would thus be denied to the general public.

As NSSF's article in points out, the importance of these questions has increased with the growing pressure to restrict--or even ban outright--lead ammunition (last year, California outlawed all hunting with lead ammunition), and that's without even trying to address concerns of reduced availability of lead for bullet manufacture.

Senator Graham's letter notes that current federal law defines ammunition as "armor piercing" if it "may be used in a handgun," and if the bullet is made from any of a list of particularly hard and/or dense metals--and if the Attorney General does not find that the ammunition is "primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes."

In light of that, he asks (paraphrasing here): 1) How many requests for exemptions for "sporting purposes" is the Justice Department processing (Answer: 17 requests, from two different ammunition manufacturers), 2) What is the status of these requests (Answer: mealy-mouthed non-answer), 3) When will the BATFE respond to Freedom of Information Act requests for information about that agency's meetings in 2012 with manufacturers, gun rights advocacy groups, and forcible citizen disarmament advocacy groups about what will constitute grounds for a "sporting purposes" exemption (Answer: as if Holder and the BATFE are trying to administer a lethal overdose of irony--none).

Sen. Graham's questions are good ones (better, at least, than the answers so far received--those that have been received), but perhaps a bit less than complete. One that springs to mind right away is what, exactly, is meant by "may be used in a handgun"? If, after all, that encompasses every cartridge for which someone, somewhere, has chambered a handgun, one would be hard pressed to find a cartridge that has not been fired from a handgun--that includes the mighty (and mightily hated by the gun prohibition lobby) .50 BMG.

For that matter, with the popularity of the Taurus "Judge," and Smith and Wesson "Governor" revolvers, chambered for the .410 shotshell, would .410 shells with "Hevi-Shot" or other tungsten alloy pellets (like a .410 version of these "Dead Coyote" shells) be a federal crime?

Much more fundamentally, by what mechanism would the Attorney General--or even an elected official within the federal government--acquire the authority to determine what is a "legitimate sport"? If someone were to decide to form a "Vest Busting League," by what Constitutionally enumerated federal power can the federal government claim the authority to deny the legitimacy of that sport?

More fundamental even than that, though, is the question of what relevance to a Constitutionally guaranteed, fundamental human right can "sporting purposes" have in the first place? That's a troubling question even before the unsavory origins of this pernicious idea of limiting private citizens' access to life and liberty preserving firepower is considered.

The Second Amendment--10% of the Bill of Rights--was not written to protect the right of the people to keep and bear sporting goods. Those who do not want to see the American people playing "Kill the Tyrant" would be well-advised to separate official recognition of the right to keep and bear arms from "sporting purposes."

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