The exchange occurred during a U.S. Senate Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing to review the budget request for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Read the full text of Murphy’s exchange with Director B. Todd Jones below.
Report by Paula Antolini
March 19, 2015 6:39PM EDT
MURPHY QUESTIONS ATF DIRECTOR ON DECISION TO ABANDON EFFORT TO BAN ARMOR-PIERCING BULLETS THAT ENDANGER POLICE
WASHINGTION – On March 12, 2015, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) questioned the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) on the Bureau’s decision to abandon its proposal to ban the manufacturing and sale of armor-piercing bullets in the United States. In 1986, Congress passed the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act (LEOPA) to protect police officers from death or injury as the result of criminals using armor-piercing ammunition in handguns. The bill was overwhelmingly passed by the Congress and signed into law by President Reagan. The ATF’s recent framework was a recognition that AR-style handguns are now available and that law enforcement is at an increased risk.
The exchange occurred during a U.S. Senate Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing to review the budget request for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
The full text of Murphy’s exchange with Director B. Todd Jones of the ATF is below:
Murphy: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I wanted to follow-up on some of the early questions regarding the work that the ATF is doing following on the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act (LEOPA). This was – just for the committee’s recollection – a piece of legislation that was passed in 1986 by a 400-21 margin in the House of Representatives, passed by a unanimous consent in the United States Senate. And President Reagan said, upon signing it, that there are “certain forms of ammunition that have no legitimate sporting, recreational, or self-defense use, and thus, should be prohibited.”
This has always been tricky work to try to stay true to the Act’s intention of stopping criminals from killing law enforcement officers with a specifically dangerous type of weapon while also preserving the right of sportsmen hunters to enjoy their pastime. But I just want to first thank the ATF, you mentioned in your prepared testimony, for the amazing work that they did around the Sandy Hook shooting, but also just relay a story. I was in that firehouse mere hours after the shooting took place, and I had a law enforcement officer who was standing next to me, remark that, in a way, he was glad that Adam Lanza took his own life because he feared for the life and the safety of his officers should a shootout have occurred, given the ammunition, given the power of the weapons that were found on Mr. Lanza’s possession. And that speaks to why we passed this Act in the first place.
So I wanted to just, maybe, ask a follow-up question as to why we were considering this particular type of ammunition in the first place. It’s my understanding that what has happened here over time, when we talk about these “green tips” is that they were initially exempted in part because they were only used in rifles, but they now are able to be used in handguns. And we look at handguns in a different way given that they are much more likely to be used in an assault on an officer and, in fact, that underlying legislation specifically references handguns as something that ATF should be looking at. So, I think it would be helpful for us to understand why you got to the point of proposing that we take a new look at a type of ammunition that had been exempted, as you said, for a period of time; it’s used in a different way today – that’s the reason for the re-look, correct?
ATF Director B. Todd Jones: Senator, I think it’s important to remember that this 30-day period for public comment on a framework involves additional exemptions. The classification for that particular round, which is military surplus – which is 5.56 62 Grain Steel Core following into the parameters of LEOPA armor-piercing – it’s had an exemption for 30 years. It’s been on the market for that long. It’s been available to folks for 30 years or more. I think the challenge for us – separate and apart from how do we grant exemptions going forward, and given recent experience, that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon – is the evolution of firearms technology and some of the platforms. Assault rifle based platforms that have evolved over those 30 years, and the capabilities of those and concealability of those, and in fact, some of them that would qualify as pistol platforms create some challenges for us. Now I do believe that this is going to take work across the board, that this is not going to be something that ATF alone is going to do through a regulatory process. LEOPA is absolutely critical to officers’ safety. I think, everybody, if you’re paying attention to some of the challenges there – the handgun phenomenon, the crime gun phenomenon, primarily pistol phenomenon. But as we see more and more of the firearms that can be classified as pistols being able to use not just this m885 round but any 5.56 round, it’s a challenge for officer safety, public safety. Bottom line, you all have an opportunity maybe to have a discussion that we would gladly help you with on LEOPA, because it was passed in ‘86 and a lot happened in the last 30 years.
Murphy: I appreciate it, my time has expired, I appreciate the answer to the question. I just point out the genesis of the law to just remind folks that this was bipartisan at the outset and as we perfect it and as you mention this rule contemplates exempting far more types of ammunition than it involves prohibiting, that we should remember the bipartisan spirit in which we began this effort. Hopefully we can regain that. Thank you very much Mr. Chairman.