An engineer says he is on the cusp of developing legal armor-penetrating ammunition that skirts a 1986 law intended to ban “cop-killer” bullets — and that he plans to eventually turn over the plans to the public along the lines of what others have done with blueprints for 3D-printed firearms.
Austin Thomas Jones, who has worked in the aerospace field and helped craft “smart” body armor technology for competitive martial arts, said he is close to figuring out a replacement compound that can mimic the properties of metals in current armor-penetrating rounds. When he does, he said, he will make the instructions available publicly via his company, Atlas Arms.
The project is part business but is also intended to expose the government’s bungling regulatory attempts to keep up with technological developments in weaponry.
“This was the first way I felt like I could hit gun control and obsolete some of the regulations,” Mr. Jones said. “One thing I’d like to kind of expose is that the government is only ever reactive. They are very slow to act, and they only barely understand the world as it currently is.”
His initial focus will be on making a 9 mm Luger round, plus digital code for public distribution.
He declined to reveal the exact materials he plans to use to circumvent current rules but said what he is planning is “definitely, absolutely, not on the list” of banned metals.
“I’m not looking to start a manufacturing empire,” he said. “I don’t wish to monopolize it. I don’t want to restrict access. I would hope [that] the public would support me, and in return I will give everything that I do back to them.”
Armor-penetrating ammunition became known colloquially as “cop-killer bullets” after an alarmist 1982 NBC News report, and the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act, signed in 1986, effectively banned the rounds for average Americans.
The law defined “armor-piercing” ammunition as projectiles made for handguns based on tungsten alloys, steel, brass, bronze, beryllium copper or depleted uranium. Ammunition larger than .22 caliber with a jacket that makes up more than 25 percent of its weight is also deemed “armor-piercing.”
The law didn’t criminalize the possession or sale of the ammunition, but new manufacturing restrictions dried up the supply.
Mr. Jones said he has been in touch with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to talk about his plans and that he has made prototypes.
“We’ve done about as much development as we can without purchasing ballistics-testing equipment,” he said. “We’re looking at $10,000-plus just for the ballistics testing equipment we need to continue development. After that, we really believe that it’ll continue very quickly.”
His push for legal armor-penetrating ammunition is reminiscent of the battle by Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed, a Texas company that wants to sell plans for 3D-printed firearms.
A federal court last year blocked Defense Distributed from publishing its plans online, though private individuals have taken up the mantle to share the blueprints for firearms. Proponents argue that the materials are protected free speech.
Mr. Jones said Defense Distributed was an inspiration but he had been imagining ways to bypass gun controls with technology long before he heard about its work.
He said his strategy is different.
“Their fight is about applying the tactics of decentralism to the present form of the gun control fight and exploiting the state’s internal conflicts,” he said. “The direction I take is to obsolete the technology of the firearms themselves that are described by the regulations.”
Gun control groups didn’t respond to requests for comment on Mr. Jones‘ plans, though given their reaction to 3D-printed guns, it’s a safe bet that they will oppose his effort.
The last major battle over ammunition policy started in 2015 when the ATF, under President Barack Obama, moved to ban some previously exempted ammunition commonly used in AR-15-style semi-automatic weapons.
“This seems to be an area where everyone should agree that if there are armor-piercing bullets available that can fit into easily concealed weapons, that it puts our law enforcement at considerably more risk,” said Josh Earnest, who was White House press secretary at the time.
But gun rights advocates argued that the ban infringed the Second Amendment. The proposal was ultimately scrapped, and ATF Director B. Todd Jones resigned shortly afterward.
Austin Jones said he hopes his plans provoke conservatives to confront the tension between backing law enforcement and promoting civil liberties.
“It’s mutually incompatible to support gun rights and stand for police privilege,” he said.
He added that he takes a “pretty hard-line stance” when it comes to his own views about the balance between public safety and personal freedoms, but he said everyone should be free to choose their own balance if it doesn’t interfere with the well-being of others.
“You don’t get to choose that for someone else,” he said. “You don’t get to build fences around someone else’s life and actions to keep yourself safe. You build something on your property, not mine.”