Banning crossbows

In Medieval Europe, several countries banned crossbows and arbalests for civilian use. The reason was transparent: protecting the monopoly of armored knights and soldiers on effective violence. Crossbows were far easier to learn than longbows and quite effective against armor at close to medium range. In our days, crossbows are still banned in quite a few places.

American government hasn’t banned the modern equivalent of the crossbow, the rifle, yet. But they did quietly ban bullets that are relatively effective against armor last year. Used primarily for dangerous game hunting, lathed brass bullets are no longer legal for civilian ownership. Even the hollow point bullets designed for controlled expansion such as shown above are considered AP based on the alloy used.

You can see the result of having only low-penetration ammunition available: most American rifles won’t defeat cover effectively. They can still penetrate soft vests but not even the wimpiest of the hard plates. In the video, the only good penetrator ends up being imported 5.45×39, mainly thanks to the relatively thick jacket. But .308 bullets available today are much less effective against cover, vehicles and armor than WW2 vintage 30-06 AP ammunition was. In combat, that puts American civilians at an added disadvantage relative to the various enforcement agencies who have armor and aren’t so handicapped in the choice of munitions.

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25 Responses to Banning crossbows

  1. ChrisJ says:

    I was under the impression that the definition for “armor piercing” applied only to handgun ammunition, and that essentially anything goes as far rifle ammo is concerned.

  2. Mike S says:

    Those lathed brass bullets are beautiful! I need some of those for my desk.

  3. MAJMike says:

    Guess we’ll need to practice head shots.

  4. Y. says:

    Mild steel ammo doesn’t penetrate that well, I suppose.

    What’s the use anyway? Even 7.62×54 in military AP loadings didn’t work well in Iraq, so it’s not like any other ammo short of .338 or .50 or such rarities would work flawlessly..

  5. Mark Smith says:

    All available material on US laws shows that armor piercing restrictions only apply to bullets that can be used in handguns. There aren’t any judicial opinions that I’ve been able to find that counteract that, nor are there any court cases I’ve been able to find regarding armor piercing rifle rounds being illegal.

    If you say something is illegal, you have to have more than the word of two manufacturers to back it up. Any single court case that hinged on rifle ammunition that was deemed to be illegal due to the armor piercing nature of the rounds would be ideal.

    • Y. says:

      If that’s so.. can’t the ATF place an order for contender pistols in all rifle calibers and be done with it.. ?

      Letter of the law and all that..

  6. Gewehr98 says:

    In searching for Oleg’s obscure reference, I’ve found one mention to an ATF ruling for .223, 6.5mm, and 6.8mm projectiles that they’ve classified as “pistol” projectiles. (Probably based on the Thomas Spithaler/Olympic Arms AR pistol fiasco that also reclassified 7.62×39 Chinese steel ammo as AP pistol)

    I’m also seeing plenty of lathe-turned brass projectiles available as I type this. Here’s just one:

    That’s not even broaching Barnes, who make a plethora of monolithic copper bullets.

    The ballistics of the lighter brass or copper bullets require some extra attention on the loading bench. They’re larger for their grain weight, and often intrude into the case, eating up valuable powder space. I’ve got some copper round stock and a lathe, and considered my own. I just need to design it, and I’d much prefer a lathe-turned projectile with a lead or steel core inserted to bring the throw weight back up to something more useful.

    • Oleg Volk says:

      Why am I getting ammo makers tell me that they can’t even hand me a single dummy round for photos in calibers known not to be pistol-compatible?

      • Y. says:

        I think it’s because the only way to have power in a notionally free society is to criminalize everything and enforce the laws arbitrarily..

        Hence they’re uncertain and don’t want to risk trouble, especially if they know the bullets would end up photographed by someone who has a reasonably high public profile and is known to dislike ATF ..

  7. I have never seen anything even remotely like sufficient evidence to support the claim the crossbows were banned for civilian ownership during the Middle Ages.

    Innocent II’s declaration had to do with warfare, and as you can see, it wasn’t very effective.

    • Will Brown says:

      For some reason your comment stuck with me. I found tretise from an English (well, British at least) source, does it qualify? Of note is 1540 and again in 1541 when Henry VIII banned crossbows in England (in favor of longbows). Admittedly this is considered more the Renaissance than Medieval period, but close enough from this end of history?

      • The 16th century is definitively in the post-Medieval period. Besides, while the exact wording of the 1509 law leaves things a bit unclear to modern ears, what seems fairly evident to me is the intent: Henry liked longbows better, and wanted them to be the prevent arm in Britain. A far cry from disarmament! This would be the equivalent of a modern monarch banning AKs, because he liked AR-15s better and thought people should own those, instead.

  8. Will Brown says:

    Which would seem to offer some historical support to the notion that (insert weapon of choice here) bans don’t actually work. 🙂

  9. Bryant says:

    Well, I’m not much on many aspects of history. But I thought it was common knowledge that Medieval Japan pretty much outlawed all weapons to the common people? If you weren’t of the ruling class, you didn’t get ANY weapon. Didn’t want the unwashed masses rebelling

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