Armor Piercing Ammo vs Body Armor

Armor Piercing Ammo vs Body Armor

During your hunt for ammunition, if you happen to stumble across black-tipped ammo, which is highly unlikely, then you’re looking at a true armor piercing bullet.

The only black tip ammo still legal for commercial purchase, that we’re aware of, is the old WWII surplus .30-06 M2 AP ammo which is a rifle caliber.

Other than that, the only people with access to black-tipped handgun armor-piercing ammunition are law enforcement, the Federal government, and the US military. We’ll get into more of the legality specifics below.

Let’s get into exactly what constitutes AP ammo and what body armor will defeat it.


What is Armor Piercing Ammo?

Armor piercing ammo is designed to penetrate body armor and ballistic shields intended to stop commercially available ammunition. Armor piercing ammunition is federally banned for civilian use or ownership in the United States. The term armor piercing ammunition, according to the ATF means:

  • A projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper or depleted uranium.
  • A full-jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber designed and intended for use in a handgun and whose jacket has a weight of more than 25 percent of the total weight of the projectile.

Both definitions involve the use of an armor piercing round being used in a handgun. This is due to the Law Enforcement Officer’s Safety Act which was intended to regulate “cop-killer” bullets from easily concealable firearms such as handguns.

However, with the popularity of AR15 pistols, the ATF has cracked down on certain 5.56 NATO rounds and labeled them as armor piercing due to the fact that they can be fired from a “pistol”.

Examples of Armor Piercing Ammo

Is Armor Piercing Ammo Legal?

The short answer is yes, it is 100% legal to buy, sell, and make armor piercing ammunition.

One caveat to note is that AP ammo in the form of handgun rounds is illegal to own as a civilian, but you can legally purchase and own certain rifle caliber armor piercing ammunition. 

Rifle caliber AP ammo such as .30-06 M2 can be found on the secondary market such as GunBroker.

As stated above, the two Federal definitions define what constitutes armor piercing ammo, but the ATF went ahead and muddied the water even further with the following exemption in 18 USC 921(a)(17).

The term “armor piercing ammunition” does not include shotgun shot required by Federal or State environmental or game regulations for hunting purposes, a frangible projectile designed for target shooting, a projectile which the Attorney General finds is primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes, or any other projectile or projectile core which the Attorney General finds is intended to be used for industrial purposes, including a charge used in an oil and gas well perforating device.

So what type of ammo falls under this exemption? M855 green tip ammo falls under this exemption even though it has a tungsten steel core.

Is Green Tip 5.56 Armor-Piercing?

The short answer is no. M855 is not classified as an Armor Piercing round, neither literally nor by the BATFEs description of what an AP round is.

Although many have confused the M855 round to be armor-piercing, it is not. The steel "penetrator" at the tip of the core helps it punch through barriers pretty effectively though. It penetrates glass, thin gauge metal, thick clothing, and brush rather well.

Is M855 green tip ammo legal to own

However, don’t expect M855 rounds to plow through auto glass consistently, brick, or modern body armor. Infantry units in Iraq were reportedly frustrated that their Mil-Spec M855 ammo couldn’t penetrate windshields at shorter distances.

Armor piercing M855A1 replaced the original M855 green tip, and those rounds aren’t available to the public. With the capability to defeat the engine block of a truck at 500 yards, the M855A1 is a pretty sweet round.

M855 vs M855A1

m855 vs m855a1 green tip ammo

(Photo Credit: US Army)

The M855A1 and other AP rounds will defeat AR500 steel, ceramic, and other lower-grade polyethylene body armor. It’s extremely important to ensure that NIJ rates your body armor to stop steel penetrating core rounds.

How Can ShotStop Help Protect Against AP Ammo?

Our Duritium® Level IV+HS plate is the gold standard for maximum protection. We often get asked, “which plate gives me the highest level of protection?”.

A Common question asked is can body armor stop armor-piercing rounds? Our Level IV + HS plate is heavier than the HA plate, but it’s rated to stop at least (6) 30-06 M2AP, M855A1, and .308 AP rounds.

What makes our HS plate so special is the durability of the plate under pressure. The NIJ standard for AP protection is 1 bullet. However, ShotStop® doesn’t believe in meeting the minimum standard in any test. 

We believe in setting the industry-leading standard for weight, protection, durability, and fit.

You can look all day and you’ll never find another plate that exceeds the standards of the NIJ with AP ammo and has an overall weight of only 5.3 lbs and thickness of less than 1”. 

We’re so confident in our Level IV+HS plate, we offer a longer warranty on our Level 4 plates than anyone else in the industry. Our 10-year warranty is just one more reason it’s a simple decision for all law enforcement and military to switch to ShotStop®.


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