Green tip 5.56mm bullets

Green tip 5.56mm bullets are popular with many AR-15 rifle owners. However, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is looking to ban the ammo for civilian use.

The federal government is looking to ban a popular type of ammunition used in AR-15 rifles. 

In a 17-page proposal issued on Feb. 13, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced its intention to reclassify the 5.56mm green tip bullets used in both M855 and SS109 cartridges in the same category as armor-piercing rounds. 

The reclassification would prohibit ammo companies from manufacturing and selling the 5.56mm green tip bullets for civilian use.  

Green tip ammunition is commonly utilized in the military’s M-16 assault rifle and its civilian counterpart, the AR-15. 

The ATF has specific guidelines determining what ammunition is classified as armor-piercing, as defined in the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 1986. The act prohibits the sale of armor-piercing bullets to civilians in order to protect law enforcement officers.

According to the guidelines, the bullet must be larger than .22 caliber, must contain a projectile or projectile core that can be used in a handgun, and must be constructed entirely from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium, copper or depleted uranium. 

Green tip 5.56mm rounds were initially exempt from the armor-piercing classification because they were not bullets used in handguns. But the recent popularity of AR-15 style pistols that can fire the green tip bullets has caused the ATF to propose the ban.

“The 5.56mm projectile that ATF exempted in 1986 does not qualify for an exemption because that projectile when loaded into SS109 and M855 cartridges may be used in a handgun,” the ATF proposal states. 

ATF’s announcement of its intention to remove the exemption has caused a backlash from numerous gun rights organizations. Groups like the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Rifle Association are encouraging their members to contact the ATF in opposition to the proposal. 

Gary Pruett, the president of the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance, said the green tip 5.56mm bullet is popular with target shooters, sport shooters and hunters. 

“There’s no reason to ban it. It’s just another round,” Pruett said. “This won’t accomplish anything, but the ATF and the Obama administration want to have their way.”

Besides the colored tip and a slightly heavier weight, what distinguishes a green tip 5.56mm bullet from standard 5.56mm caliber ammo is the steel penetrator tip inside the bullet. The military added the tip to stabilize the bullet in-flight and increase penetration on impact.

Sam Laoboonmi, owner of Sam’s Gun Shop in Pocatello, said his shop does not sell the green tip 5.56mm ammunition because the bullets damage the walls of his indoor shooting range. 

Tucker Bloxham, owner of the High Desert Tactical gun shop in Pocatello, said the green tip ammunition is not the best available.

“There’s nothing special about it, if you can find it,” he said, noting his store sold the ammunition in the past but the green tip bullets have since become difficult to locate. “It was designed for use in machine guns and it’s not the most accurate ammo you can buy.”

A customer at Bloxham’s store, Richard Merrill of Pocatello, said he originally started purchasing military surplus green tip ammunition in the 1990s because it was affordable, saying he could buy them at 15 cents per round. He also said the military added the green tip to make the ammo more distinguishable to soldiers. 

But currently, the price for the green tip ammo has increased to around $1 per round, according to Laoboonmi. Fears of increased gun control policies in recent years have encouraged some shooters to hoard ammunition, causing shortages and inflating prices. 

This most notably occurred with .22 ammunition in recent years. 

“It’s asinine party politics,” Merrill said. “People are going to freak out and start hoarding ammunition, which will create a temporary bubble. There’s so many other things we should be focused on right now.”

The ATF said that because the green tip ammunition is widely available, citizens in possession of 5.56mm green tip bullets will not face criminal prosecution. But the manufacture and sale of the ammunition for civilian use would be prohibited under the ATF proposal.

The ATF will be considering public comments on the implementation of the green tip ammo ban until March 16. Comments are being accepted through mail, email and fax. 

Comments can be made through email at and through fax at 202-648-9741. Comments can also be made by mailing Denise Brown, Denise Brown, Mailstop 6N 602, Office of Regulatory Affairs, Enforcement Programs and Services, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, 99 New York Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20226: ATTN: AP Ammo Comments.

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