At the end of February, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms issued a lengthy epistle on "determining whether certain projectiles are 'primarily intended for sporting purposes.'" Anyone who read the 17-page memo would learn that the ATF was considering a ban on M855 ball ammunition, and that citizens had until March 16 to comment.
Now that the ATF has buckled, and bailed on the rule, we can find lessons in the wreckage.
Anyone who had a glancing familiarity with gun rights or gun owners—anyone, it seems, who didn't work for the ATF—could have predicted the next step. M855 "green tip" ammo flew off the shelves, as ammo and guns have every time President Barack Obama's administration made a move. Obama's election in 2008 kicked off a surge of gun-buying, and it's never been controversial to call him America's "number one gun salesman." On conservative news sites, at gun shows, it's been easy to find people fretting the coming gun grab. And here was the Obama administration, grabbing ammo.
"He can't win at the ballot box, he can't win in the Congress," said NRA vice president Wayne LaPierre to Fox News last week. "Now, he is trying to act like a dictator and planning on forcing this ban, ammo ban, on the American public by executive regulation."
Outside the conservative media, coverage of the panic came in two flavors. The first: Color stories about people snapping up ammo. The second: Eye-rolling about the Republicans telling people to fight the ATF rule. TheDaily Beast, for example, used a PAC message about the rule from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul as a case study in how he seized on conservative panics to build his e-mail list.
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