A firearms company is seeking to upend a longstanding federal ban on armor-piercing ammunition by giving people the ability to make so-called “cop killer” bullets. And with new advances in technology, the project’s creators say the process can be done cheaply and legally at home.
Atlas Arms, a firearms research nonprofit based in Tennessee, is working to develop a computer-aided design file of the bullets, and plans to release it for free to the public. People would then be able to download the blueprint and input it into a computerized milling machine, which would carve rounds out of a base material purchased separately by the user.
In a news release last week, Atlas Arms argued that armor-piercing ammunition is “critical to a well-regulated militia,” because the government is already able to use such bullets. The project, called the Dagny Dagger, is an attempt to “reclaim the forbidden fire, by outflanking the regulators’ definitions and imaginations,” the group wrote. (Dagny Taggart is the protagonist of Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.)
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has yet to approve the Dagny Dagger. A spokesperson for the bureau did not respond to a request for comment. Like many federal agencies, the ATF is currently being affected by the government shutdown.
The Dagny Dagger is the latest entrant into the rapidly evolving world of DIY gunsmithing, which in recent years has ignited a contentious battle around intertwined issues of gun rights and freedom of speech and information.
Last year, self-described “crypto anarchist” Cody Wilson drew nationwide attention when his company, Defense Distributed, began publishing downloadable blueprints for 3D-printed plastic guns. At the time, Wilson said he believed having a gun was a “fundamental human dignity” and a “human right.” He was also open about the subversive nature of his mission to create a world in which anyone with a 3-D printer and an internet connection could have access to firearms, which he claimed would lead to the death of gun control. A federal court eventually put a temporary hold on distribution of the Defense Distributed plans, but not before thousands of people got hold of them.
Efforts to undermine the government’s ability to regulate firearms have long been essential to pro-gun activists and lawmakers, said Timothy Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University who’s written about regulatory issues around guns. “This is part and parcel of the mainstream gun rights movement,” he said.
Austin Jones, a former aerospace engineer leading design efforts around the Dagny Dagger, told HuffPost that he “admired” Wilson’s work and shares his mission to “build a prohibition-proof future.” In an email, Jones said his goal is to help equip everyone with armor-piercing ammunition, including anti-government militia groups. “They’re sure to want to maintain weapons that are still relevant in a modern firefight and on-par with their most-likely opponent,” Jones said.
The sale and manufacture of armor-piercing rounds was banned in 1986, under a bipartisan measure signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. The legislation covered handgun bullets manufactured with specific metals or designs that increase their ability to penetrate bulletproof vests commonly worn by police and other government officials.
That regulatory framework still exists today, but the creators of the new campaign say their bullets will comply with federal law ― largely because they’re being designed using a model that is deliberately intended to circumvent the ban, according to Jones.
Each Dagny Dagger round is expected to cost about $2, though Atlas Arms says it hopes eventually to halve that price. The company is beginning with designs for a 9 mm round that it says will be able to “defeat all level III body armor,” which is supposed to provide protection against most handgun and rifle threats.
The ATF has fairly wide discretion in determining whether a new design is forbidden by existing law, though such rulings are often beholden to the political climate of the overseeing agency or presidential administration. While the ATF generally has a pro-law enforcement orientation and tends to be “extremely suspicious” of efforts to increase civilian firepower, Lytton said, it’s harder to predict how President Donald Trump might approach the issue.
“Part of his base is law enforcement and people who would be extremely opposed to allowing this kind of variation on armor-piercing ammunition, while another part of his base is gung ho to try and circumvent the kinds of controls we have on firearms and ammunition,” Lytton said. “Which part of his constituency he nods to really does depend on his current mood and the last person to have spoken to him.”