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What Is Green Tip Ammunition?

If you currently or have ever owned an AR-15, you likely have some knowledge of green tip ammunition. A few years back, green tip ammunition was very controversial. In 2015, this round was almost banned. So what's the difference between a regular round of ammunition and a round of green tip ammunition?

PMC X-Tac 5.56 62gr Green-Tipped Ammunition

Colored Ammo Tips

There is a lot of confusion concerning color-tipped ammunition. The boxes that the ammo comes in will give you a brief description, but these colors are not necessarily universal. One ammunition manufacturer may produce red-tipped ammunition for target shooting, a different ammunition manufacturer may designate their red-tipped ammunition for hunting. Various manufacturers may use colored tips to represent a certain bullet type or style, different powder loads, tracer indicator, jacket type, and so on. All the while, the military has a standardized bullet color code that lets a soldier know what kind of bullet it is and the specific job that the bullet is used for. On the other hand, in the civilian ammunition world, you can buy hollow-points that are color tipped in a variety of colors. You can determine the type of color tipped ammunition when you put it in context for what it is going to be used for; military, sport shooting, civilian defensive, or hunting.


What is the Difference Between Green Tipped Ammo and Regular Ammo?

Green Tips are most commonly going to be in 5.56/.223Rem caliber, and are just color-coded to let consumers know that it falls within a particular spec. These green tip rounds are designed for use with the AR platform. The reason that green tips are so controversial and different from regular bullets is because of their "armor-piercing" capabilities. Armor-piercing ammunition can be classified by the contents of the core of the bullet, However, armor-piercing rounds need more weight so that they can punch through tougher targets. So with added weight, armor-piercing rounds can also be classified by jacket weight concentration in regard to the rest of the bullet. Materials used to produce armor-piercing rounds are more dense than lead. The denser materials give the round the added weight that it needs. The added weight can also come in the form of a thicker brass jacket. When a full metal jacket exceeds 25% of the projectile, it becomes an armor-piercing round. 

PMC X-TAC Green Tipped Shells

So is Green Tip Ammunition Legal?

Yes, but it's complicated. I will cite the Federal definition for ammunition and armor-piercing to help you understand the exact distinctions between the two:

18 USC 921(a)(17):

(A) The term "ammunition" means ammunition or cartridge cases, primers, bullets, or propellent powder designed for use in any firearm.

The components of ammunition are:

  • Bullet – this is the projectile that is fired from the firearm – it is not the entire cartridge
  • Primer – this is the part the ignites the powder when it is struck by a firing pin
  • Powder – this is what burns and build gas pressure which propels the bullet down the barrel
  • Case – this is the part of ammunition that holds everything else together. It is usually metallic (most often made of brass, but can be aluminum, steel, or polymer)

18 USC 921(a)(17):

(B) The term "armor piercing ammunition" means—

(i) 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; or

(ii) 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.


In both parts A and B, the regulation is applied to the projectile, in other words, the bullet. Also in parts A and B of the definition, the emphasis is on the use of a bullet that involves a handgun. So the difference between ammunition and armor-piercing ammunition is the designed intent. One describes the intent of the round to be used in a handgun while the other focuses on if that bullet could possibly be used in a handgun. 

All of this came about with the rise in popularity of AR-15 pistols in which you would still use a .223 round, which is what most AR-15 rifles use.

An exception has been made by ATF for certain bullets. So in addition to definitions A and B, we now have a C.

18 USC 921(a)(17):

(C) 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.

All that boils down to is that the ATF has exempted 5.56/.223Rem even though it has a tungsten steel core, which is generally considered armor piercing. 

Looking to stock up on some green-tip ammunition? Our 1000rd case has you covered.

Let's Bring It In For A Landing Now

The difference between regular ammunition and green tip ammunition has a lot to do with the materials used in manufacturing and weight. While green tips are not considered armor-piercing, let's just say that they pack a heck of a punch! The ATF was primarily concerned about the safety of law enforcement officers and the rounds piercing their body armor when they suggested the ban. The argument was that AR pistols are becoming more concealable. Green tips were not developed to pierce body armor and performed poorly in tests that were conducted against body armor. Green tips were originally used by NATO for use in FN Herstal rifles and FN Minimi Machine Guns to increase range. 

So, YES, green tips are legal, and if you can find them, you can buy them.

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