ATF misfire? Guide indicates bullets at center of firestorm already banned; agency blames 'error'
As the ATF faces a firestorm of controversy for seeking public comment on a proposal to ban a popular type of bullet, critics last week claimed the agency may have decided in advance how it would rule.
They pointed to the ATF's latest "Firearms Regulation Reference Guide," released in January 2015. The guide, curiously, did not contain an exemption for popular ".223 M855 "green tip" ammunition" that was included in earlier guides. Without that exemption, the ammunition is illegal to sell. (The change in language was first noticed by Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich at Townhall.com.)
So did the ATF already make up its mind?
No, the agency claims. The ATF has responded that the reference guide is not legally binding, so the bullets have not actually been banned yet, and has apologized for leaving the exemptions out of the guide. They say it was an innocent mistake. And the proposed ban is apparently still under consideration.
"[It] was an error which has no legal impact on the validity of the exemptions," ATF public affairs chief Ginger Colbrun told FoxNews.com in an emailed statement, adding that it will be corrected soon.
"The 2014 Regulation Guide will be corrected in PDF format to include the listing of armor piercing ammunition exemptions and posted shortly... ATF apologizes for any confusion caused by this publishing error."
As of Monday, the 2014 guide with the error was no longer available on the ATF website.
Case closed? Perhaps. Gun-rights supporters say that such errors are common for the ATF -- but that it could also have been a tip-of-the-hand that the administration already had reached a decision on banning the bullets.
"This is either real incompetence or ATF got caught with their pants down. With this administration it could be both," Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation told FoxNews.com.
The author, Maxim Lott, can be reached on Facebook or at firstname.lastname@example.org