A federal judge on Wednesday upheld a decision by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to ban ammunition originally designed for AK-47 assault rifles.
The decision by U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour in Seattle came in a lawsuit brought by a Redmond-based arms importer, P.W. Arms Inc., which obtained ATF permits to import more than 100 million rounds of the Russian-made ammunition, known as 7N6.
The company said in its lawsuit that in mid-2013 it successfully imported nearly 38 million rounds for civilian resale, but that in early 2014, the ATF halted further shipments as they arrived in Norfolk, Virginia. The agency tested the bullets to confirm they were armor-piercing and barred their importation for resale, a decision the company said cost it $3 million.
“The administrative record contains no evidence that 7N6 was ever used to kill or injure a police officer,” the company’s lawsuit said. “In fact, before ATF banned 7N6, this ammunition was used lawfully by sportsmen as rifle ammunition for target shooting.”
The company challenged the ATF’s decision as arbitrary, saying officials misinterpreted the definition of armor-piercing bullets under federal law.
Coughenour disagreed. The bullets contain a steel core and can be fired from a handgun, and thus classify as armor-piercing — even if the handguns that can fire them are uncommon, Coughenour said.
“As defendants aptly point out, plaintiff never argues that the 7N6 bullets do not have the capacity to pierce body armor, highlighting the disingenuous nature of plaintiff’s claim,” the judge wrote.
In its applications to import the bullets, P.W. Arms failed to disclose that the bullets were armor-piercing, the ATF said.
Internal agency emails provided during litigation also noted that this wasn’t the first time P.W. Arms had come to its attention. In 2003, federal agents seized nearly 8,000 machine-gun kits that P.W. Arms had imported from Chile; the disassembled weapons, which the company was selling with a 20-round magazine and bayonet for $250 apiece, were fully automatic, according to a search warrant filed at the time.
P.W. Arms President Stacy Prineas did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Wednesday, nor did the company’s lawyers at the Seattle firm of McKay Chadwell.