WASHINGTON, March 4 (UPI) -- The leader of a national police union this week said a proposal to ban armor-piercing 5.56mm pistol rounds would be less effective than the government thinks.
Last week, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it plans to outlaw steel-tipped 5.56mm ammunition because it now qualifies as an armor-piercing round. Sale of the ammo has been legal since 1986 because it's a round that could not, until recently, be fired from a handgun -- the stipulation necessary for prohibition of any bullet. Traditionally, the 5.56mm bullets have been fired only in AR-15 rifles.
In a 17-page report, the bureau cited new handguns that are able to fire the round, increasing the likelihood, the ATF believes, that the bullets will be used against law enforcement officers.
However, James Pasco, executive director of the Washington office of the Fraternal Order of Police, believes that banning the ammunition wouldn't amount to much additional protection.
"This specific round has historically not posed a law enforcement problem," he said in a report by the Washington Examiner. "While this round will penetrate soft body armor, it has not historically posed a threat to law enforcement."
With around 325,000 members, the Fraternal Order of Police is the largest organization of sworn officers in the world.
Supporters of the proposed ban, however, feel that newer handguns available to shoot 5.56mm ammo increase the threat to police.
"We are looking at additional ways to protect our brave men and women in law enforcement and believe that this process is valuable for that reason alone," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. "If there are armor-piercing bullets available that can fit into easily concealed weapons, that it puts our law enforcement at considerably more risk."
Still, opponents to the ban believe it's unlikely criminals will purchase the expensive handguns -- and even if they did, the firearms are much too large to be considered a concealed weapon.
The ATF is asking for public comment regarding the ban, to be concluded March 16. But the proposal has encountered stiff resistance. In the House of Representatives, more than half of lawmakers have signed a letter challenging the ban, and the National Rifle Association is urging the public to ask Congress to prevent it. A similar measure is moving through the Senate.
Since news of the proposed ban earlier this month, sporting goods stores have been selling large quantities of the affected ammunition -- now at higher cost.