Federal laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report

The Connecticut General Assembly


January 17, 1995 95-R-0168


FROM: Veronica Rose, Research Associate

RE: Armor Piercing Bullets

You want to know if federal law bans armor piercing ammunition.


Federal law, with minor exceptions, bans the manufacture, importation, sale, and delivery of handgun armor piercing ammunition made of certain metal alloys. Violation carries a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment for up to five years, or both. The law defines "armor piercing ammunition" as:

(i) a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium; or (ii) a full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile (18 USC, Sec. 921(a)(17)(B)) as amended by the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act--PL 103-322).

The term does not include any "shotgun shot" required by federal or state regulations for hunting, "frangible projectiles" designed for target shooting, or projectiles that the treasury secretary finds are primarily for sporting or industrial purposes (id.). (Appendix A includes examples of armor piercing ammunition, and Appendix B is a bill that was introduced in Congress on January 4, 1995 to expand the definition of armor piercing ammunition.)


The ban on armor piercing ammunition does not apply to manufacturers and importers under certain limited circumstances. They may manufacture, sell, or deliver armor piercing ammunition for export. And they may manufacture, import, sell, or deliver such ammunition (1) for use by federal, state, or local agencies or (2) for authorized testing and experimentation (18 USC, Sec. 922(a)(7)).

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) director must authorize armor piercing ammunition for testing and experimentation. Anyone who wants the authorization must submit a written application to the director and include, among other things, a description of the nature or purpose of the testing or experimentation, a description of the ammunition, and the identity of the manufacturer or importer providing the ammunition (27 CFR, Sec. 178.149).

Another minor exception allows licensed firearm dealers who had armor piercing ammunition in their inventory before August 1986 to transfer the ammunition to federal, state, or local agencies if they kept appropriate records. Violation is punishable by license revocation (27 CFR Sec. 178.99(e)).

Importers and manufacturers of armor piercing ammunition must clearly identify each projectile by painting, staining, or dying the exterior with an opaque black coloring. They must clearly and conspicuously label packages that contain such ammunition. The label must include the words "ARMOR PIERCING" in block letters at least one-quarter inch high. The package must also contain the following words at least one-eight inch high: FOR GOVERNMENTAL ENTITIES OR EXPORTATION (27 CFR Sec. 178.92 (b)).


Manufacturers and importers of armor piercing ammunition must be licensed annually for a $1,000 fee by the BATF, and the bureau may, after notice and hearing opportunity, revoke the license of any manufacturer or importer who transfers such ammunition illegally.


Anyone who transfers or disposes of armor piercing ammunition must maintain a record of:

1 the transfer or disposition date;

2. the manufacturer's or importer's name;

3. the caliber or gauge;

4. the quantity of projectiles;

5. the name, address, and date of birth of the purchaser or name and address of the governmental entity to which the ammunition was transferred; and

6. the method used to establish the purchaser's identity.

Records must be available for inspection by BATF officers.

The law allows the BATF director to exempt from the record keeping requirements armor piercing ammunition for sporting or industrial purposes. An application for an exemption must be in writing and include a complete and accurate description of the ammunition; the manufacturer or importer's name and address; the purpose of and use for which the ammunition is designed and intended; and photographs, diagrams, or drawings (27 CFR, Sec. 178.148).

The law requires the court to impose a fine of up to $1,000, a prison term of up to one year, or both on anyone convicted of making false statements or representations with respect to any information required in the above records.


The law provides an enhanced mandatory, minimum five-year term, without the possibility of parole, for anyone who commits a violent or drug trafficking crime with a firearm if the perpetrator is in possession of armor piercing ammunition that is usable in the firearm. The enhanced penalty is in addition to any enhanced penalty for the underlying crime (18 USC, Sec. 929).


The U.S. Treasury has identified as armor piercing ammunition:

λ KTW ammunition, all calibers (identified by a green coating on the projectiles).

λ ARCANE ammunition, all calibers (identified by a pointed bronze or brass projectile).

λ THV ammunition, all calibers (identified by a brass or bronze projectile and having a head stamp containing the letters SFM and THV).

λ Czechoslavakian manufactured 9mm Parabellum (Luger) ammunition having an iron or steel bullet core (identified by a cupro nickel jacket and a head stamp containing a triangle, star, and dates of 49, 50, 51, or 52. This bullet is attracted to a magnet).

λ German manufactured 9mm Parabellum (Luger) ammunition having an iron or steel bullet core (original packaging marked Pistolenpatronen 08 m.e. This bullet is attracted to a magnet).

λ MSC .25ACP caliber ammunition (identified by a hollow point bronze bullet).

λ Black Steel Armor Piercing Ammunition as produced by National Cartridge, Atlanta.

λ Black Steel Metal Piercing Ammunition as produced by National Cartridge, Atlanta, Georgia.

λ 7.62mm NATO AP (identified by a black coloring on the bullet tip. This ammunition is produced in various NATO countries. The U.S. military designation is M61 AP).

λ 7.62mm NATO SLAP (identified by a projectile having a plastic sabot around a hard penetrator. The penetrator protrudes above the sabot and is similar in appearance to a Remington accelerator cartridge).

λ PMC Ultramag .38 Special caliber constructed entirely from a brass type material, and a plastic pusher disc located at the base of the projectile.

λ Omnishock; A .38 Special cartridge with a lead bullet containing a mild steel core with a flattened head resembling a wad cutter.