ATF Bans Steel Core 5.45x39mm Imports

The ATF has pulled the plug because steel core ammo, classed as “armor piercing,” cannot be imported if it can be used in pistols.
ATF Bans Steel Core 5.45x39mm Imports

One of the hottest gun topics on the internet this week has been the rumored import ban on steel core 5.45x39mm ammunition. Facts remain few and speculation is running wild at this point, but it appears that the ATF has put a stop to all imports because a pistol utilizing 5.45x39 has been produced and steel core ammo, classed as “armor piercing,” cannot be imported if it can be used in pistols.

An importer did not receive a response to standard paperwork filed in order to bring a shipment of Russian surplus 5.45x39mm and, when they inquired about the delay, they were told “A handgun has now been manufactured that chambers a 5.45×39 round. That now makes steel core 5.45×39 armor piercing under our definition…”

Part of the debate centers on the question about whether a steel core make ammunition truly “armor piercing.” Like “high-powered assault weapon,” “cop killer bullet” is a term that has been used to great effectiveness by those pushing increased regulation of firearms, and anything that could be presented as armor piercing is going to be used that way, whether by anti-gun groups, the media, or by government agencies. Regardless of the actual armor piercing capabilities of the ammo in question, steel core surplus ammo is going to be watched very closely.

Another question revolves around the supposed handgun chambered in 5.45x39mm. In 1994, Olympic Arms angered gun owners and retailers when it introduced a handgun chambered in 7.62x39mm. Shortly after, the ATF banned the importation of surplus steel core 7.62x39mm based on the armor piercing ammo ban and cheap surplus ammo for owners of AK and SKS rifles vanished. There was much controversy about exactly how many, if any, of those pistols were sold but the fact remains that the ammo was and is still banned. If this 5.545x39mm handgun does exist and has been produced, there will probably be backlash against the manufacturer by gun owners who will think the gun maker should have known better.

The immediate effect is that surplus 5.45x39mm ammunition completely sold out overnight virtually everywhere as gun owners scrambled to stock up while they still could. The long term won’t be known until more details are revealed, but 5.45x39mm without a steel core or that is manufactured in the US remain completely legal. Stay tuned.


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