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Obama agency caves to criticism from gun supporters

The bureau that regulates interstate firearm commerce decided to shelve a proposal that called for a ban on a popular type of armor-piercing ammunition.
Green tipped armor-piercing 5.56 millimeter ammunition is shown on Feb. 27, 2015 in Chicago, Ill. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)
Green tipped armor-piercing 5.56 millimeter ammunition is shown on Feb. 27, 2015 in Chicago, Ill.

An Obama administration agency has decided to shelve a proposal that called for the ban on manufacturing and selling a popular type of armor-piercing ammunition used in AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, after widespread opposition by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and some congressional lawmakers.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), part of the Department of Justice, will first study more than 80,000 submitted comments on its proposal to prohibit the "green tip" ammunition before moving forward with any potential rule change.

"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 to date are critical of the framework, and include issues that deserve further study," the agency wrote Tuesday in a public statement.

The calculated retreat is a surprising move for the Obama administration, which launched a massive public relations and political campaign for increased gun control following the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. For nearly two years, Congress has been in a stalemate on gun-safety legislation, following the failure of the Senate to pass a comprehensive and bipartisan background checks bill in April 2013.

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The controversial ammo is currently sold under a "sporting purposes" exemption to a 1986 law designed to protect police officers from death or injury caused by handgun ammunition capable of penetrating protective vests and other soft-body armor items.

The ATF proposed banning the ammo in February to prevent it from being used in AR-15 handguns, a move commended by gun-control groups. But supporters of gun rights felt differently.

A letter written by Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte expressing "serious concern" with the proposal was signed by 236 members of Congress and delivered to ATF Director B. Todd Jones on March 4. The letter argued the move would inhibit the development and use of rifle ammunition containing non-lead materials and could result in drastically reduced options for lawful gun users.

The decision by the ATF to back away from its proposal comes a week before the March 16 deadline for Americans to submit informal comments about the proposed rule change. The agency will instead continue to evaluate the issue and provide a transparent process before proceeding with a new regulatory framework.