Monday, March 16, 2015

Are you being lied to about M855?

This project typically focuses on the lies marketers tell the public in order to sell their products, but from time to time I also discuss lies that are told to push political agendas. Today, let's examine the recent controversy behind 5.56 mm M855 ammunition.

Here are some of the allegations being made by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE), the White House, and various activist groups about the supposed dangers of the M855 cartridge:
  1. M855 is armor piercing
  2. Handguns chambered for M855 are easily concealable
  3. M855 places law enforcement officers at increased risk
  4. M855 has been used in all mass shootings in the United States
  5. The prohibition of the M855 cartridge is a common sense safety measure
I have a stake in both sides of this argument, as a gun owner, and as a paramedic who wears a ballistic vest on duty. I certainly don't want to be shot through my vest with armor piercing bullets, but I also don't like the idea of the government deciding by executive fiat what I'm permitted to own or not own, especially when their decisions encroach upon my rights. We'll go through these allegations one by one.

Claim 1: M855 is armor piercing.

It is inarguable that M855 does not meet the legal definition of armor piercing. An excellent analysis of that can be found here, so I won't duplicate the effort.

One could argue that if the clear language of the legal definition is not met, then the BATFE obviously cannot interpret the provision of the 1968 Gun Control Act that deals with armor piercing handgun ammunition to include M855. But we can go a step further than that.

Thanks to the modern power of youtube, we have access to all sorts of practical testing of the actual armor penetrating qualities of M855. Here's one of my favorites:


This guy shot a level III plate with 90 rounds of M855, and it took over 60 hits with many of them in the same spot before one pentrated. Outstanding!

The results of this video evaluating the penetration of various 5.56 mm bullets fired through plywood were shocking to say the least. M855 was outperformed by cheap wolf 55 grain, and far outperformed by an M856 tracer, neither of which have the steel "penetrator" nose cone of the M855.

Furthermore, no soft armor vest can protect against any standard cartridge fired from the 5.56 mm chambered firearm. Here is a video of the same type of vest that I wear being defeated by a standard ball round from a 5.56 rifle. Being that the 5.56 is an intermediate rifle cartridge (despite the myth perpetuated about AR-15s being "high power rifles"), it is a sure bet that any round from a standard hunting rifle will zip straight through a soft armor vest like a hot knife through butter. It takes a hard plate rated at level III or IV to stop these common rifle rounds. Law enforcement officers typically wear soft armor vests rated lower at level II or IIIa for routine work.

 This is what standard 55 grain XM193 ball did to my 3/8" hardened steel gong at 25 yards. Does soft armor stand a chance?


Claim 2: Handguns chambered for M855 are easily concealable.


This is an AR-15 pistol. It is approximately the size of a man's arm. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated in a well publicized press briefing that this is an easily concealable weapon. I'm not really sure what more I can say about this. You either have more than 10 brain cells in your head, or you look at a two foot long firearm and think it could fit easily inside your front pocket. 

Claim 3: M855 places law enforcement officers at increased risk. 

As I stated above, law enforcement officers routinely wear soft armor as they go about their daily patrols. All centerfire rifle ammunition defeats soft armor. When entering an environment that they know to be high risk, they don hard armor. As established above, it takes 60 rounds fired into the same location on a level III plate for M855 to penetrate. This is not a realistic scenario. Any LEO shot in his hard armor plate is going to move to cover and return fire, not stand in one spot and absorb five dozen rounds to the chest. 

The Fraternal Order of Police have stated that M855 "has historically not posed a law enforcement problem," and the Second Amendment Foundation have been unable to find any incidents of M855 being used against law enforcement. 

Even 5.56 ammunition designated as armor piercing incendiary does not readily penetrate level III armor

Rifles are used in something like 2% of gun crimes. I would venture to guess that criminals are even less inclined to pay over $1000 for a properly pedigreed AR-15 pistol with the unremarkable M855 cartridge. The M855 cop killer handgun bullet dog just don't hunt. 

Claim 4: M855 has been used in all mass shootings in the United States.

Former Clinton campaigner Marjorie Clifton's claim that M855 has been used in all mass shootings in the United States couldn't be more verifiably false. Many mass murderers have used handguns which aren't even capable of being chambered for 5.56 (Ford Hood and Virginia Tech, for example) and there is no evidence that M855 was used even in mass shootings where AR-15s were utilized.

And let us not forget that the deadliest school massacre in US history was prosecuted with explosives, not a firearm, in 1927. Thirty two years before the first AR-15 was ever built. Don't think for a minute that modern regulations on explosives keep you safe in a world where gunpowder can be made from dirt and charcoal.

Claim 5: The prohibition of the M855 cartridge is a common sense safety measure.

In his recent press briefing on the subject, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called the proposed prohibition of the M855 cartridge a "common-sense step." This statement defies common-sense.

  1. The cartridge doesn't meet the legal definition of armor piercing.
  2. Handguns chambered for the cartridge are effectively legal short barreled rifles, and are not easily concealed.
  3. It does not have enhanced armor penetration properties.
  4. It is no more dangerous than any other rifle projectile (and may be less dangerous).
  5. Actual cops aren't worried about it. 


 I rocked this coyote from 125 yards with 1981 IMI surplus 55 grain M193 ball ammo through the lungs and heart. It dropped in its tracks. There was a fist sized chunk taken out of the other side of the animal, and the hide was ruined.


This doe ate it with a 75 grain OTM neck shot at 75 yards. It did not take another step. I later found the c-spine had been obliterated, despite the bullet not having actually struck the spine. 

As you can see, the M855 cartridge is nothing special, and the AR-15 is quite effective with a variety of bullets which do not use steel in their construction. And being that the 5.56 is an anemic cartridge in comparison with the millions of 30 caliber hunting rifles in private ownership on this continent, the whole M855 ban debacle amounts to nothing more than a red herring to demonize private gun ownership.

Fortunately, the BATFE has backed off on their proposed ammo ban for the time being, albeit with an ominous foreshadowing from their Director B. Todd Jones who stated that "any 5.56 round" is a challenge for officer safety. Mark my words that the BATFE and their puppetmasters will be back with more of these same lies, counting on the gullibility of the masses in order to accomplish their malevolent ends. I urge you to educate yourself on this topic.


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